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Coronavirus (COVID-19): a message to everyone we support.

Setting boundaries

We all have limits when it comes to other people’s behaviour.

You may draw the line at being lied to, for example, or being sworn at.

These limits are sometimes called boundaries.

How boundaries help us

When you have healthy boundaries it means everyone knows where they stand.

For example, if you all agree there should be no smoking in your home, everyone is clear and it’s more likely to happen.

Healthy boundaries make our relationships stronger. They also encourage everyone to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

What happens when boundaries are unclear

It can be hard to set healthy boundaries when someone close to you is drinking or using drugs.

We can find ourselves making threats we don’t really mean: “If you take drugs in the house again, I’m calling the police.”

The problem is, if you don’t follow through, it sends a message that boundaries are there to be broken.

It also takes away your loved one’s motivation to change because there are no consequences for their drinking or drug use.

How to set boundaries

It can be helpful to see setting boundaries as something for you and your loved one to solve together.

Ask for some time to talk things through. Be honest and direct. Try to stay calm and positive.

See how to have better conversations.

Talk about what they want and what you want. Think about what the compromise could be.

Think about the consequences

It’s important that everyone is clear about what the consequences will be if the new boundary is broken.

Some boundaries have their own natural consequences.

For example, if you stop calling in sick for your partner when they have been drinking or using drugs, there will be natural consequences for them to deal with.

But if you and your adult child agree that they won’t take drugs in the house, you will need to agree what the consequences will be if they do.

Whatever boundaries and consequences you decide on, it’s important you feel confident you can stick to them.

What to do if your loved one won’t talk to you

If your friend or relative doesn’t want to talk, you can set a boundary by saying, it doesn't have to be now, but we’ll have the conversation soon.

If they completely refuse to engage with you, you will have to decide for yourself what your boundaries are.

You could let them know what you decide in a letter.

Example letter 1

Start with how you feel and why you’re writing the letter.

I love you and I want us to stay close.

Explain where you need some boundaries using “I statements”.

I feel worried when you don’t come home at night.

Explain what you would like to see change.

From now on I want you to text me if you’re not coming home.

Say why this boundary is important to you.

Then I won’t lie awake worrying about you.

Let your loved one know what the consequence will be if there’s no change.

If you don't text me, I'll have to contact your friends to see if you're OK.

Suggest how you could take this forward together.

Please can we talk about this after dinner tonight.

Example letter 2

Start with how you feel and why you’re writing the letter.

I love you and I want our relationship to be stronger.

Explain where you need some boundaries using “I statements”.

When you’re not open with me about your drinking, I feel like you don’t trust me.

Explain what you would like to see change.

If I ask about your drinking please be honest with me.

Say why this boundary is important to you.

I want to help you and I want our relationship to be based on honesty.

Let your loved one know what the consequence will be if there’s no change.

If things don't change I'm not sure there's a future for us.

Suggest how you could take this forward together.

Please can we make some time to talk tomorrow.

Get some support

Sticking to boundaries and consequences is hard.

Try to remember that, by sticking to your boundaries, you are supporting your loved one to change.

Getting some support for yourself will help you keep your boundaries strong.

All of our services offer support to family and friends of people who drink too much or use drugs.

To find out more, contact your local service or chat to us online.