Relational Health

Resolving Conflict and Establishing Healthy Boundaries


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Safe to say I think we’ve all experienced some sort of fulfilling friendships in our lifetime where we’ve found somebody we bond with, share life experiences with, and can truly be ourselves with – even if only for a short while. Unfortunately, sometimes, these friendships can go south (in a number of ways…) and you’re left in the aftermath cocktail of drama, deceit, and hurt.

Using Non-Violent Communication Techniques (according to Marshall Rosenberg)…

When conflict arises, it’s easy to run the opposite way, or delete a number in the heat of the moment, but this isn’t always the best option for everybody’s mental health – most importantly, yours. Unresolved conflict can lead to days, if not weeks and months of anxiety, fearing the truth, fearing the person, and avoiding all sorts of social situations. So although it may seem daunting at first, confronting the person in the right manner eases anxiety – and usually clears up misunderstandings.

The following section is based on Marshall Rosenberg’s theories in his book Nonviolent Communication a Language of Life –highly recommended if you’re interested in more on the subject, or just want to learn how to communicate better in both professional and personal relationships!

He discusses two forms of honesty. In one, the focus is on “you” as in pointing all the things the other person has done wrong, and what things you demand of them. The second form, or authentic form, involves expressing what is going on with “me” as in what I am observing or feeling, and what my needs are.

When something isn’t working for you, Rosenberg discusses a 4 step style model to recognizing and working through the conflict:

  1. You observe what’s not working.
  2. You express what it is you’re feeling about that observation/situation.
  3. Describe your unmet need resulting in those feelings.
  4. Request, suggest, or facilitate a way for those needs to be met.

Observing and recanting a situation without judgement allows the other person to respond to clarity, not subjective ideas (i.e. “she wears jeans” versus “she wears some trashy, designer jeans.”).


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Hypothetically speaking, say your roommate is constantly discussing her workout routine in a way you find triggering…
“I see you’ve been running a lot of kilometres lately (observation). Do you think we could work on a healthy lifestyle together? (request) I feel uncomfortable and stressed when I hear about the time you put into a workout (feeling). Maybe we could support each other in reaching reasonable, healthy goals through positive discussion (your needs).”

Now obviously not everybody speaks so formally or scripted. However, if you follow this general model when trying to address conflict with a friend, it usually dissolves a lot of the anger and allows you to look at the situation for exactly what it is. If this method of non-violent communication is unsuccessful, sometimes it’s necessary to move on to other means to protect your own mental health.

Strong Boundaries for Powerful Situations…

Thankfully, technology has provided us with healthy ways to create boundaries around triggering situations.

If you’re friends with the person on Facebook, you can edit how they interact with you via your privacy settings, under ‘restricted profile’ options. If you find it difficult to see them in your news feed, you can move your mouse over their name and there’s a small arrow that appears along the line above their update, and through that you can see a list of options. Among these options is the ability to limit how much (if it all) they appear in your news feed. Sometimes, given drastic enough situations you can always (dun dun duuuun…) ‘unfriend’ them. This is done by visiting their profile, and clicking on the button on the top right beneath their cover photo where it says ‘friends’ (don’t worry, they won’t be notified, but may realize if they try to contact you in the future).

To protect yourself further, if you’d prefer to keep your life private from them, you can block them, in which case they can’t view your profile or any of your other activity on mutual pages. In saying all this, I’ve found it best to keep public privacy settings fairly strict, to avoid Facebook conflict in the first place. It only took a few awkward messages from complete strangers to change my settings to ‘friends only’ in terms of messaging!

Another great resource for those with smartphones, is contact blocking apps. Most North American phone companies will charge a small monthly fee to establish contact blocking through their services if you’re not on a smartphone (for example, if you’re on Bell, you can call customer service and arrange this for $5/month). After some research, I ended up finding a great app (free too!) which I installed on my phone (a Samsung galaxy s3). It’s called ‘Extreme Call Blocker’ with a blue shield icon. It has a large number of options and optimum security features. At the most extreme, you can set it so that a certain contact’s texts can’t even reach your inbox, and if they attempt calling it won’t even allow the phone to ring or reach voicemail. You can tweak these settings to varying degrees for each contact on your ‘black list’ (there’s even a setting where you can just block that person for certain hours). On the other side of things, it allows what they call a ‘white list’ which is a list of contacts you can add so that their calls are never blocked, and their number can’t be deleted. It’s operated perfectly on the settings I’ve chosen for my phone thus far.

When Parents Become Involved...

Parents are typically the most influential relationship we have growing up, but they don’t always set the best example, or can even become enablers. If you’re dealing with a situation similar to the one depicted in this video, it’s important to seek outside help. Everybody has the right to a healthy upbringing. Seeing a counsellor can really help you determine the core issues, and they can provide specific, local resources. High school counsellors are especially good with helping teens, when it can be extremely unhealthy being stuck in the same environment as your parents.

If you’re in a situation that’s endangering your health/life, don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement. This can often be the first step in getting involved with a good social worker. If you’re struggling to have a trusting, beneficial relationship with your parents, programs like Big Brother/Big Sister (click here to see how to register as a ‘little’, or follow other links on the site if you’re interested in volunteering as a ‘big’) can be a great resource, or even just scheduling time to have coffee with a trusting adult/mentor. If you’re a teen I would encourage you to become involved with a local youth group. It can be a more casual setting where you can seek help from the youth leaders in the group – they should be connected with community resources – escape from an unhealthy home environment a few times a week, and you can build lasting friendships with people you may never have encountered in other environments. If you’re shy, or unsure how to approach the topic with other adults, you can call the Kid’s Help Phone (within Canada) at 1-800-668-6868 or visit their website at www.kidshelpphone.ca.

As a young adult, parents can sometimes start to trust their kids with more information, and it becomes overwhelming or inappropriate. Have the discussion with your parents that you want to be there to help them and share with them, but you find it stressful and it can become too much when they share all their problems with you – establish exactly what you’re okay and not okay with. It’s up to each individual what sort of relationship they can handle with their parents – I have some friends who are best friends with their mom and dad, and others who work very hard at keeping an emotional distance.

Some relationships can go the opposite way, where parents continue to shelter and baby their children (I believe this is a life-long struggle…) in which the same conversation is warranted. As long as the decisions you’re making are for the greater emotional and mental health of yourself. Again, counselling is always a positive decision if you need help determining your boundaries, and why.

When YOU’RE the support system…

If you find yourself being the main support for a friend going through hard circumstances, here’s some tips on how to handle the situation…

  • Don’t ignore it or downplay their feelings. Take the time to listen, encourage them to talk it through, and clarify what they’re saying to you.
  • Know your own boundaries and keep yourself in check. Don’t force your opinions on them, or begin trying to relate by hashing over your own dramas. Be compassionate and respectful.
  • Educate yourself on resources to help your friend. Usually a health and wellness adviser from a school can assist with this, or point them towards an appropriate form of counselling.
  • Be honest with your friend, and protect their shared information. Meet them at their level, and work with them on a plan to get to a better place (physically or emotionally), make sure they know they have your support.
  • Don’t carry the burden alone. There are resources you can share with your friend and encourage them to use. If you become overwhelmed, seek out advice from a professional.

There’s a number of great resources listed on our site under different categories you could share with your friend in need. If you don’t quite find what you’re looking for, please don’t hesitate to contact me (I hunt down a lot of the resources here at Libero!) and we can do the groundwork together.

Now, go non-violently communicate!

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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.

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The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.

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