For a thorough Study on this, see the "Boundaries" books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend:

When to Say Yes, When to Say No / Boundaries In Marriage / Boundaries With Kids / How People Grow /+ more

Available on line at Christian Book Distributors, Search under "Boundaries" or "Cloud Townsend"

Proverbs 25:28

Can I set limits and still be a loving person?

How do I answer someone who wants my time, my energy, my money, my love?

How do boundaries relate to submission? To love?

Is a boundary the same as a barrier?

Can I forgive someone "with strings attached"?

DEFINITION - Boundaries are invisible "identity lines" and "property lines", that define "Me" from "not me", and define what areas of my life I am responsible to God for.

In "physical form" they are "carved out" by these:

Your skin / geography / time / your room (or desk) / your preferences (likes, dislikes, interests) / time / emotional distance / truth (starting with the word of God) / verbal declarations / your personality / your spiritual gifts

Galatians 6:1-5: About "Helping People"

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted. Carry each others burdens, and in this way, you are fulfilling the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can know if he is commendable, without comparing himself to someone else. For each one should carry his own burden."

In verse 2 - "Burden" is "Baros" (Gk), referring to a heavy weight, absorbing ones resources. Also 1 Thes 2:6 (Paul didn't want to be burdensome), and Matt 20:12 (laborers complaining of being over-worked.)

In verse 5 - "Burden" is "Phortion" (Gk), referring to lighter, daily duties, or resources that would be carried in a knapsack. Jesus refers to this in our daily walk with him (Matt 11:30) saying "my burden is light."


vs 1 - Are we qualified to restore the person? Are we willing to do so gently? Is there danger for us?

vs 2-3 - Can we help them as unto Christ, or do we have another motive?

vs 4-5 - Should the person be left to carry this burden himself?


Compliant / Avoidant / Controlling / Non-Responsive

(And some people are more than just one!)

"COMPLIANTS" - Don't establish their own boundaries clearly, and then resent you for crossing them! They can't keep the BAD OUT.

Possible Causes - Children who weren't allowed sufficient freedom to say NO, in terms of either their own interests, abilities, or even protection. Phlegmatic temperment will tend towards compliance naturally. Fear of rejection, hurt, or other negative consequences. Treatment - Recognize their viable standing before God, reinforced by a support group or close friends.

"AVOIDANTS" - Have boundaries that are too high, with insuffient "gates" to let the GOOD IN. They wind up being over-worked and non-intimate. They are uncomfortable receiving help, and have a hard time accepting love.

Possible Causes - Over independence, due to too much responsibility in early life. Choleric/Phlegmatic temperament mix, or Melancholy temperament. Reaction to abuse. Excessive pressure to achieve. Treatment - Patient love that allows them to be vulnerable without danger.

"CONTROLERS" - Don't respect the boundaries of others. They push until they get what they want. If you tell them "No", you're "letting them down." They must think they out-rank you, or that they're just on a more important mission, or that they're a higher form of life. But their desires trump your boundaries.

Two Types:

Aggressive (Physically abusive, or verbally abusive using threats, gossip, or peer pressure.)

Manipulative (Using seduction, bribes, or guilt. They give you a gift. You thank them for it, thinking it's "free", but when you don't give them back what they want, you're no good.)

Possible Causes - Choleric/Sanguine temperament mix will have some tendencies towards it. Also, possible developmental issues reulting from a lack of genuine love. (So to get love they try to demand it, but when they "get it" they know it's not real because it wan't given freely.) They also have trouble recognizing the love that they ARE getting, since it doesn't always come in on their terms. Treatment - A real dependence on God and submission to him. God may use trials to produce this. It would also be helpful if the people they're abusing would fight back.

"NON-RESPONSIVES" - All too self-aware, and don't look beyond their own boundaries. So they consume and don't love back. Result: no real love either way.

Possible Causes - Melancholy temperament can cause some to "live in their own little world", and if blended with Phlegmatic temperament, it gets even worse. Developmentally: the non-responsive was often "spoiled" as a child. They were talented or good-looking, and so received far more attention than they had to "pay" for. (This social tendency often continues into their adulthood.) Feeling self-sufficient, they can become critical of others weaknesses rather than sympathetic. Lots of childhood's "winners" wind up in this losing category. Treatment: God will often shake these people through trials. Meanwhile, friends need to stop carrying on both sides of the friendship.


Can't Initiate

Can't Respond to









1 - IDENTITY (Who you are in God's eyes) - Romans Chapter 8

2 - RESPONSIBILITY (God's calling in your life) - 1 Cor 15:58

3 - RESPECT (Your attitude towards others) - Matt 7:12

4 - SOWING AND REAPING (The way the world works) - Gal 6:7-8

5 - MOTIVATION (Guard your heart in all relationships) - Psalm 139: 23-24


1 - POWER (God working in You to walk in wisdom, love, holiness. You are responsible for You.)

2 - ACTIVITY (Developmental learning curve)

3 - EXPOSURE (Pro-activity vs. Retro-activity)

4 - ENVY (Don't gaze too long at your neighbor's yard, or you'll forget what's in yours)

5 - EVALUATION (Harm vs. Pain, acceptance vs. dissapointment, other trade-offs)

(These 5 Principles & 5 Techniques are explored in more detail below, under "Boundaries In Marriage")


(A devotional Bible Study outline)

1.) Phil 2: 1 - If we're really interested in love. . .

2.) Phil 2: 2 - If we're really interested in unity. . .

3.) Phil 2: 3 - If we're really interested in peace. . .

4.) Phil 2: 4 - BE C O N S I D E R A T E .

5.) Phil 2: 5-11 - Christ our ultimate example.

6.) Phil 2: 12-13 - You can do it!

Here is a partial list of attributes and benefits connected with CONSIDERATE people:

Able to listen & communicate / Don't run off at the mouth / Able to encourage / Hold the door / Appreciate variety of people / Are builders / Have a great reward / Show up on time / Don't cast pearls before swine / Pick up their mess / Think and then Act wisely / Have lotsa friends / Share their faith meaningfully / can you think of any more?


His Love? (Rom 5:8, Eph 4:17-19) - He reaches out to everyone. Does he give everyone what they want?
His Word? (Heb 4:12,13, 2 Tim 2:9) - It will accomplish its purpose. Does it change everyone?
His Power and other eternal aspects? (Omni…etc.) - Even powerful properties are subject to character.
His Holiness? (Psalm 5:4, Isaiah 5:20) - No evil shall stand in his presence. He rebukes those who call evil good.
His Salvation? (2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16, John 3:36) - Available to all, though Christ alone.
His "Personage" even within Trinity? (John 12:49, 16:13-14) - Christ obeys Father, Sprit glorifies Christ, etc.
His relationships with people? (Matt 21:24-27) - An example of declining response: a boundary!

How this effects YOU


CONVERSATION - The easy window

The fastest way to "read" your own boundary maturity, or that of others, can often be through conversation. Watch for symptoms in five areas:

TIME - Does one party do way more than half of the talking? Is there lots of interrupting?

SUBJECT - Does each party get to express their own interests? Are areas of common interest found?

TONE - Is one party much louder, or even vulgar, or abusive, or domineering?

RELATIONSHIP - Is the relationship of the conversation reflective of the REAL relationship: mutual friends, or teacher-pupil, parent-child, or is one party assuming an inappropriate domineering role?

TARGET - What is the purpose and result of the conversation? Who started it and why?


Forgiving Others - Matt 6:12-15, Matt 18: 23-35, Eph 4:32 - "Forgive the way God does."

Four things that doesn't mean:

1.) Condone (Don't say wrong is okay.)
2.) It doesn't hurt (Sin always hurts somewhere.)
3.) Blindly allow for repeat performance (Protect yourself.)
4.) Relationship same if no repentance (They need to face reality.)

Five things it does mean:

1.) Let God judge (Don't take vengeance, don't slander.)
2.) Release from debt owed. (Don't empower others to enslave you.)
3.) Don't be bitter (Rebuke self talk. Don't hate. No pampering or excuses.)
4.) See clearly (See offender for who they are: good & bad points.)
5.) Love. (Be considerate. Care. Pray.)

Explaining it another way: (paraphrasing from "Boundaries" by Cloud & Townsend):

"Many people have a problem determining the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. They fail to deal with outside invasions because they feel that they have to give in to the other person again or they are not being forgiving. In fact, many people are afraid to forgive because they equate that with letting down their boundaries one more time and giving the other person the power to hurt them again.
"The bible is clear about two principles: First, we always need to forgive, but second, we don't always have to achieve full reconciliation. Forgiveness is something that we do in our hearts; we release someone from a debt that they owe us. We write it off, and we no longer condemn them for it. They are "legally clean" before us. Only one party is needed for forgiveness: ME. The person who owes me the debt does not have to ask for it. It is a work of grace in my heart.
"This brings us to the second principle: we do not always achieve reconciliation. Jesus bought forgiveness for the whole world, but the whole world is not reconciled to Him. There are many people who have not "owned their own sin" (admitted and repented), and appropriated his forgiveness. That would enable reconciliation.
"Likewise, we do not open ourselves up to the offending party until they have owned their part of the problem. We look for "fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:8). True repentance is more than saying "I'm sorry." It's changing direction.
"You need to clearly communicate that to the offending party who seeks reconciliation. Tell them that you forgive them, but you do not yet TRUST them, for they have not proven themselves trustworthy. There has not been enough time to observe genuine change.
"Remember, God is out model. He did not wait for people to change their behavior before Christ took their condemnation. But that does not mean that everyone has a relationship with Him. People must choose to own up to their own sin and repent, and then God will open himself to them. Again, reconciliation involves two. Do not that that because you have forgiven, that you have to immediately reconcile. You should offer reconciliation, but it must be contingent upon the other person owning their own behavior, and bringing forth trustworthy fruits." (page 251-2)


"Boundaries In MARRIAGE"


"Boundaries In the WORK PLACE"

"Boundaries Amongst FRIENDS"


1 - IDENTITY - Who you are in God's eyes

Character - (Who you are as a person.)
& Elements - (God-given gifts, personality, goals, etc.)

Mark 10:7-8 - In marriage, it takes two to make one. The Two are "positionally one", and have made a permanent commitment to their union. But the relational "oneness" is built over time as the relationship grows. Will the relationship reflect Christ and the church? (Eph 5: 22-33)
Complementing Vs. Completing -
Complimenting is balancing of function or style. One is good at business, the other at home-making. One is sanguine, the other phlegmatic. One sings, the other runs the sound board. Together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Each identity is enhanced, the experience is blended, and the combination bears fruit. This is two becoming one.
Completing is balancing the other's immaturity. One is lazy, so the other becomes a workaholic. One is domineering, so the other becomes a doormat. When you attempt to use another person to balance off immaturity in your own character, it never works. You can't skip the process of maturity by marrying into it.
If you're praying for God to send you someone good, ask yourself, why would He?

Helping each other to find identity in the marriage: Pray, share honestly, encourage, participate.
How to screw it up: Demand, nag, be a leach, manipulate. It won't work because unless you engage the heart of your spouse, you're really not connecting with their identity.

Do you as an individual TREASURE these things?
Relationship (son-ship) with God / Relationship with spouse / Personal integrity and holiness
Personal growth (development & change) / Pursuit of success using God-given talents (purpose.)
Do you bring these treasures to the marriage?
Your boundaries (principles) must protect these treasures.


"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - Matt 7:12
Your spouse is not just "your possession".
Protect your spouse's identity, and freedom of choice.

PRO-ACTIVELY ASK - Do I intimidate you? Embarrass you? Disrespect you? Smother you? Drag you down? Are you free to be YOU when you're with me? Do I encourage you to grow? To give? To smile?
As you ask these questions, let them answer fully. Don't interrupt and don't defend yourself.
If your spouse is trustworthy (ie, respectful of you), you'll eventually get some constructive answers.
If your spouse is untrustworthy (ie, sees this as an opportunity to invade your boundaries and conquer more of you for themselves), then you should still promise them you'll try to improve. Then ask their permission to start a reverse conversation on the questions, so that you may express how feel.


John 3:16 (God so loved that He gave) - Agape love is freely giving to another, for the benefit of the other. It is a choice, not a compulsion (1 John 4:18 Perfect love casts out fear.)

If I "give" out of a fear of loneliness, or anger, or guilt, or losing love, or losing approval, or pressure, or manipulation, then am I really showing love? Or will I just resent it?
"YES" only has meaning if I am free to say "NO." So…

Don't take away your spouse's ability to love you by taking away their freedom to say NO.
Protect your own right to graciously say "No" when you cannot say "Yes" without resentment, fear, or future payback.
Obligation and Commitment:
You will at times say "Yes" out of specific commitment to the family. Recognize these times and count them as loving.


Gal 6: 1-5 - We are responsible TO each other, not FOR each other. - Rom 14:10

2 Extremes:
Neglecting - Don't be self-centered, inconsiderate, aloof or hurtful. Take responsibility for your own identity, character, and duties. Look to nurture your spouse.
Enabling - Don't rescue or enable immature or sinful behavior. Don't hold yourself responsible for all of your spouses feelings or moods. Deal with boundary violations.


Our Actions Have Consequences - Gal 6: 7-10
Nurturing, respecting, loving and being responsible - will bear fruit
Violating the boundaries of identity, respect, motivation and responsibility - will cause damage

Functional Violations - Eg: Over-spending, being dis-organized. Result: Material suffering.
Relationship Violations - Eg: Anger, pickiness, vulgarity. Result: Emotional withdrawal.
The Cure:
"Offended party" needs to graciously and honestly confront, not enable.
As much as possible, limits of behavior should be set so that
The CONSEQUENCES of the behavior fall upon the OFFENDER as much as possible.



"How can I get my spouse to…" Try nagging? Manipulating? Crying? Peer pressure? Do these methods "engage the heart" where genuine, deep down change will occur?
"How can I get my spouse to…" The answer: You can't. God didn't give you power over them.
"In the flesh" we don't even have power over ourselves (Rom 7:15) So we must yield to God's spirit.
And by His spirit: Your will is free! (Galatians Chapter 5). So here's your power:
You can choose to yield to the spirit, and reap the fruit of the spirit accordingly. OR
You can choose to yield to the flesh, and reap that fruit accordingly. SO…
Use your God-given power on YOU. It's the only plan that will work.
What can I DO to solve a problem that I'm ready to blame (justly or not) on someone else:
a.) Take ownership of your hurts & feelings.
b.) Communicate honestly like an adult. Include reciprocal listening. (ie, respect).
c.) Grieve "Loss" and recognize the situation for what it is.
d.) Choose your own action (including boundaries or options.)
e.) Pray for your spouse, commending them to God.
f.) Carry on with your own life, before God.
This strategy ensures your own survival, and will INFLUENCE them.


We need to take the initiative to progress in life, problems and all, rather than be passive.

Parable of the Talents - Do you think the guys who gained 5 or 10 talents only made 5 or 10 deals?
And the one who chose to be passive: he was held accountable for his inactivity.
Hebrews 5:14 - Live and Learn. Hebrews 10:38 - Don't shrink back.
Developmentally, who learns the most about relationships, boundaries, or anything? The one who is active enough to experience success and failure, and humble enough to learn from both!
Passivity is often caused by fear or laziness. Evil thrives when no one sets limits.
Problems in an Active/Passive Relationship:
A dominates P. P can't say "no", and won't set boundaries. Who loses?
P resents A, or becomes dependent on A, or, in reaction withdraws emotionally from A, even abandoning.
Intimacy suffers and neither person grows.


Dorothy was wrong. It's okay to look beyond your own back yard. We will gaze across our boundaries, and into the lives of others, to observe some good and bad. And we can learn from both.
It is GOOD to DESIRE the right things, if they are attainable:
EG - Character qualities we see in another, success, fruitful ministry, abilities, even nice things.
Psalm 37:4 - God wants to give us the desires of our hearts, as long as we're thankful & good stewards of what we have now. Being CONTENT is good. (Phil 4:11-12). Being COMPLACENT is not.(Heb 5:12).
A healthy IDENTITY in Christ helps us to know the difference. (Adam & Eve failed here.)
ENVY wants the prize regardless: "I'm miserable and incomplete without______, and I can't get it on my terms, so I'll resent and complain and be nasty to express my situation."
Envy causes barriers, and prevents healthy relationships. It gives excuses for lack of a healthy identity, responsibility and respect. It leads to manipulation or passivity.
SO - Distinguish honestly between your visionary desires and envy. How? By an honest examination of your own identity (& abilities), and an honest examination of the FRUIT that this "desire" puts in your character.

In problem-solving: Know the difference between PAIN and HARM.

EG - To quit smoking (or any vice) is PAINFUL. To continue is HARMFUL.
EG - A husband feels sorry for the hard life his wife has endured, and notices how happy she is when she's shopping. So he allows her to over-spend, as she medicates her childhood injuries. And so they can't pay their bills. But if he takes away the credit card, she'll be heart-broken. What should he do?
1-Denial. 2-Admission. 3-Acceptance. 4-Pain & Sorrow. 5-Resolution. 6-Wresting 7-Yielding.
Help your spouse through EACH PHASE of the change.
To set limits that cause pain & INJURY is REVENGE, which God rebukes. (Romans 12:19)
To set limits that cause pain & GROWTH is God's strategy too. (Heb 12:10)



EG - Eric is sometimes sarcastic to Judy. She takes it for years, then finally blows up at him in front of everyone. Eric is shocked, and everybody's embarrassed. Is Eric really wicked or is Judy crazy? What would have been a better strategy?
Reactionary Boundaries - To some extent, they are inevitable. The reactionary strategy is not sufficient. Impulsive screaming matches are not adult behaviors. Love can be lost, damage done, and children offended when they're the standard boundary-setting method. As adults, we need to grow out of the "victim" role of constant protest.
Pro-Active Boundaries ("Exposure") - Call a meeting. Maintain honesty and respect. Express yourself graciously, and acknowledge your spouse's expressions also. Listen, clarify, understand, empathize, and embrace your spouse's view.
EG - He says "My job is very difficult lately." She says "Well do you think I have it easy with the kids?" He withdraws because she has NEGATED his honest expression. She loses connection & doesn't know why. They need to EMBRACE each other's IDENTITIES better, and engage in EXPOSURE:
He should honestly say: "Honey, when I tell you of my struggles, it only makes things worse when you criticize me, and then turn the subject to yourself. It makes me want to withdraw from you emotionally. I don't want to do that, I want us to be closer. But if you continue to negate and lose interest, we'll both lose out." (or "I'll go to other friends for support.")
WE NEED TO REQUEST AND PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR EXPOSURE. Then we can help each other determine if our feelings are justified or not, and how to seek God's help accordingly.


(from Chapter 3 of "Boundaries In Marriage" by Cloud & Townsend)

0- ) Who's problem is it? (Discuss scenario of the "late husband".)
1- ) The "Good Spouse"
If you're the "innocent party" in a problem, recognize four roadblocks to resolution:
a.) Comparison - Ignoring your own faults & responsibilities, which are small compared to theirs.
b.) Helplessness - Limiting your tools to compassion and compliance, vs. honesty & consequences.
c.) Pride - Thinking you're better because you could not possibly do what they've done.
d.) Duality - Expecting different standards of respect for yourself because you've been good.

2- ) Taking Initiative upon yourself to make changes:
Matt 5:23-24 - If your brother has something against you: YOU GO TO HIM.
Matt 18:15 - If you have something against your brother: YOU GO TO HIM.
"Improving Your Marriage" doesn't start with "Improving your spouse". It starts with "Improving You" and letting your spouse be free to choose, with fair consequences.

3- ) Taking Ownership of our own character & spiritual growth.
(A re-phrasing of the laws of RESPONSIBILITY and POWER. We must seek God first. We must be more concerned about our own souls and relationship with God, than about fixing our spouse. God wants CHARACTER GROWTH (aka "spiritual growth") from us, not warped character that we can blame on someone else.

4- ) Freeing Your Spouse to Grow, by setting Limits on Yourself:
(Discuss scenario of the "irresponsible husband".)
Futile tools: Nagging. Controlling. Blaming. Complying to seek approval.

5- ) Setting Boundaries With our own Character:
a.) Recognize our own responsibility and priority to mature.
b.) Recognize that it's a continual process. Be patient and progressive.
c.) Seven Character Problems and Steps towards solutions:
1- ) Denial - Face and identify your own sin. (1 John 1:8-9)
2- ) Withdrawing from Relationships - Examine the real reason that you turn and run.
3- ) Irresponsibility - Tells others to quit nagging, but to set limits and consequences, the kind that cost YOU.
4- ) Self-centeredness - Welcome "reality checks" of others.
5- ) Judgmentalism (Critical Spirit) - Ask for honest feedback about how your criticism hurts others. (1 John 4:18). Receive compassion and forgiveness from God for yourself, and then pass that on to others. Beware the "attacking conscience".
6- ) Controlling (Manipulating) - Control eliminates love. (Gal 5:1). Control also prevents growth. Discard the tools of manipulation. Ask your spouse to describe how they feel when you try to control them. Is this what you want? Value respect and freedom.
7- ) Playing God - Above all, submit to the leadership of Christ. This we do out of reasonable obligation (Rom 6:13) and genuine love (John 14:23).

(Back to Bible Principles Main Page)

(Back to The Boltons Front Page)