Vexations and Conundrums – April 2023


People who have healthy relationships enjoy better health. They have a better immune system and a longer life.

How do I know this? I just attended a wonderful Zoom seminar presented by Vasavi Kanneganti, LCSW (a licensed social worker and mental health therapist) affiliated with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston, Texas. The sponsoring organization was The Women’s Fund for Health Education & Resilience.

The first thing that may come to one’s mind is the closest relationship we have, perhaps a life partner, spouse or close family member. One may assume the person lives in the same household. However, a variety of healthy relationships, including those outside the home, is also needed to achieve overall better health goals.

We must assess the big picture of our relationships and whether any of them are causing us undue stress. Stress results in negative outcomes such as sleep issues, effects to heart health and even behavioral issues like depression and anxiety.

The characteristics of a healthy relationship are listening, sharing feelings, respect and honesty. Problem issues are jealousy, competitiveness, judgments, time/schedules, mental health issues, conflicts of interest (huge!) and even common misunderstandings.

What is a great way to improve our relationships? Set boundaries. This is a difficult action, but it is not optional. We must define to others our expectations and what makes us comfortable. To increase respect, we must state boundaries in clear communication.

The manner in which I was raised required that women were agreeable and compliant. This setting of boundaries flies directly in the face of how I was trained. I needed more information to help me grow and move in a different direction.

Ms. Kanneganti held the tools to setting the rules.

There are different types of boundaries which I’ll briefly outline. Physical boundaries prevent abuse or feelings of violation of one’s privacy. “Move back, please,” “Don’t rub my back,” or merely saying “no” or “stop” qualify as desirable statements. One may stop the telling of sexual jokes which are deemed offensive.

Intellectual boundaries address issues like telling children inappropriate things, such as a parent sharing an extramarital affair. Someone calling something “stupid” versus “I don’t agree with that,” shows the power of words in remaining positive in an interaction. Also, if someone acts like something is “not a big deal” when the receiver of the message thinks it is important. How we respond is crucial.

Material boundaries involve things such as debts and how they are paid. Another problem is people who violate time boundaries by usurping an unusually large amount of our schedule. Then there are those persons who want “free things.” We can turn down requests. This is healthy and requires no apology.

Setting boundaries is not easy. Perhaps at first there will be pushback and resistance. People may want to bring up history, trying to make one feel guilty for change. It is hard for people-pleasers to say “no.” They may fear appearing mean.

Guilt is natural, but one must act anyway. We don’t have to wait for circumstances to become intolerable to set lines in the sand.

“I won’t tolerate what I’ve been accepting” or “This is not working for me anymore,” are both strong statements.

If challenged, one must repeat the boundary, state the violation and stand firm. Boundary setting is a practice. Enforcing the boundaries is critical. Remind yourself of the peace and value these steps will bring to your life.

There are a few hints for how to stand firm. One may end a conversation. “I’m hanging up now, bye,” or “I need to leave as this is causing me anxiety.”

If there are material boundary issues, one might outline the expectations. “If I lend you this and something gets on it, you will need to dry-clean it.”

Broken boundaries may lead to counseling or the need to sever a relationship. These are life-changing steps, but the result is a better life.

We all can say “nope” to things we may have tolerated before. The choice is ours. Good health to you!

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Katina Pontikes
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