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How to Set Boundaries During the Holiday Season

How to Set Boundaries During the Holiday Season

Are you dreading the lightning rod political conversations that are sure to come this winter? You’re not alone.

These last few years have been challenging for so many of us relationally. I know the weight of the things you carry each day is enormous and, in a world that already seems so uncertain, these kinds of emotional conversations at family gatherings can just feel like too much sometimes.

Just the regular wear and tear on our relationships can be difficult to manage. So what do we do when the things we’ve lived through or the current hot button political and social issues have put an even further strain on the dynamics between us and the people in our lives?

I believe one of the most loving things we can do for ourselves and others is to draw healthy boundaries. Now, before you start to shake your head because this hasn’t worked for you in the past, hear me out: Good boundaries kept consistently are the only fighting chance we have for navigating relational challenges in a productive and healthy way.

Why? Because we all have emotional limitations. Just like spending that gets out of control can bankrupt a person’s finances, expending too much emotionally can bankrupt a person’s well-being.

I want to help you avoid that, especially as we near another election and holiday season where tensions can run high. Here are five factors to help you change your perspective and set boundaries that work:


The purpose of a boundary is to help you stay self-controlled and safe. A friend of mine recently said, “I thought I was setting a boundary, but I was actually just trying to control the situation by forcing the other person to change.” If your focus is trying to change the other person, you will quickly feel like boundaries don’t work for you. It’s time to shift your focus to what you can control with your boundary:

  • Your environment
  • What you are, and are not, willing to tolerate
  • What you do, and do not, have to give

Your boundary should help set the stage so your emotions can stay more regulated, you can regain a sense of safety, and you can feel more empowered to make necessary changes.


We can be gracious in how we talk about our concerns, our need for a boundary, and the consequences if the boundary is violated.

My counselor, Jim, always says, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean.” Remember, a boundary will most likely mean a change in this relationship for you and for them. It’s not wrong for them to ask questions and maybe even want to know a timeframe for how long this boundary will last. We can be gracious in how we inform the other person and answer any questions that are reasonable and appropriate.

Another helpful statement Jim taught me when having a potentially challenging conversation is: “Get curious, not furious.” You may find it helpful to ask questions about their concerns instead of making assumptions and accusations

We don’t want to overexplain or debate our need for this boundary. But we can be gracious in our communication around this boundary. Pre-decide and possibly even script out what you will say. We will look at some scripts together, but as a rule of thumb, I try to start with empathy and acknowledge something positive about the other person before addressing what must change.


Boundaries are for your sake and theirs so you don’t have to keep fighting against unhealthy behaviors, attitudes, and patterns. We can set a boundary, or we will set the stage for simmering resentments.

Simmering in the frustrations of knowing things need to change, or trying to get the other person to change, is way more damaging than a boundaries conversation. Yes, boundaries can feel risky. But it’s a much bigger risk to delay or refuse to have needed conversations.


We have to consider the consequences for crossed boundaries with wisdom and logic. A boundary presented as a hopeful wish is nothing but a weak suggestion. And a boundary presented as a threat will only do more damage. If we can’t or won’t follow through with a consequence, then that person will eventually stop respecting what we have to say and ignore all future boundary attempts.

I’ve found it very helpful to think through consequences ahead of time and process them with my counselor or wise friends. Here are some ways I try to structure my consequences:

  • Avoid using the words always and never or any other language of extremes.
  • Remember you are establishing a boundary in support of the relationship, not against it. This isn’t an accusation against the other person.
  • The consequence should be a statement, not a question. You don’t need to ask their permission to implement a boundary or the consequences that go along with it.
  • The consequence can be discussed but it does not need to be justified or explained. This one is usually hard for me. I tend to want to overexplain and get to the place where they approve of why I need the boundary. So, I sometimes have to speak directly, not harshly, to remind myself, Lysa, you are informing them, not debating the validity of your need.

It’s often people who need boundaries the most who will respect them the least. Don’t be surprised or caught off guard by this. You can return kindness for this frustration and even empathy for their anger. But see this as an affirmation you are doing the right thing. Stand firm and state the consequences with dignity and respect.


Sometimes we feel the pain of setting a boundary and that can make us forget the good reasons we’re setting boundaries. In number three we talked about how boundaries are beneficial for both parties in the relationship. So, let’s remember that there is also the benefit of what a boundary will do for us personally. We are taking responsibility to keep our own sanity, safety, and serenity in check. We aren’t responsible for the other person’s choices, but we are responsible for our actions and our reactions.

Here are some good starters to needed conversations on boundaries:

“I can tell you care a lot about politics and the issues you are passionate about. Thank you for wanting to share all your thoughts with me. But, I’m in a place right now where I need to guard my heart from the intensity that can sometimes arise in these kinds of discussions. Thank you for understanding that if the conversation about certain topics gets too heated, I’ll either need to redirect the conversation to less triggering subjects or we will have to hit the pause button.”

“I love you and I care about you. And at the same time, there are some behaviors that are requiring me to make changes to our relationship. When you __________ [insert the unacceptable behavior, substance abuse, or addiction] in my presence, it affects me in ways that I am no longer willing to accept. This isn’t an accusation or judgment against you. You’re an adult and your choices are your own. This is me being proactive about my well-being and making wise choices for myself. So, I am requesting that you no longer use these substances [or insert other unhealthy behavior] around me or in my home. If you are unable to agree to these parameters, then we’ll need to limit our interactions and I can no longer have you visit my home. Again, this is because I care not only about my well-being but also about keeping our relationship in a more sustainable place.”

“Thank you for being willing to talk about some challenges we’ve been experiencing in our relationship. Let’s keep this conversation calm and kind. If things escalate to yelling, blaming, or hurtful words, I will excuse myself, and we will have to resume it at another time.”

These scripts are just a few examples you can tweak to make work for you. And certainly, I acknowledge the entanglements of difficult emotions, past hurt, present trauma, and many other challenging nuances will make these boundary communications more complicated in real life.

But remember, you set boundaries to help you stop feeling so stuck and powerless and allow yourself to get to a healthier place. It’s important that you think through the positives of setting boundaries and rehearse stating them clearly beforehand from a place of strength, so if things get tough and emotional you won’t give up. It will be challenging if you have to implement the consequences, but if you’ve already made peace with this process, you won’t get nearly as confused and frustrated.

Getting to a better place is good even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment. And boundaries are a crucial step in the right direction.

You can hear Lysa TerKeurst discuss more about boundaries on the RELEVANT Podcast

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