Little Slights, Inconveniences, & Boundaries: Building Healthy and Equal Relationships

There are times in life when we have to face hard truths. These are truths about what we first see as something outside ourselves. Then realize it's something we've played a hand in. (Yes, for those of you wondering, this is the post I've been struggling to write.)

Recently, I wrote a post about getting nudges to keep going as I wrote draft after draft of this post - all discarded. Then I read a blog post about doing what one loves by Steven Cox. Shortly after that, I was inspired to write my own post about doing what one loves and then to go read one I wrote last year, also inspired by Steve, about surrounding one's self with incredible people. It was my incredible people post that got me back on track. As I read through it, I teared up. See, I'd been trying to write about how people I considered (still consider) incredible had let me down recently. It's not that I want to hurt these people or draw attention to them. It's that I want to encourage people to take note when someone lets you down that it truly is okay to talk to them about it. Yet, I had yet to take that step myself.

In a way, the ideas behind my epiphany and the truth it lead me to had been bleeding into my work for months in little hints as aside comments and generic observations. I just hadn't recognized them as part of my own life. I guess I wasn't ready for that yet.

See, here's the thing. We all let little things slide, as we should, for friends and family. The problem comes in when those little things slide to the point of becoming habitual or painful.

A friend says she'll call on a certain day but doesn't and doesn't bother to text or email or otherwise let you know that plans changed. You turned down, unbeknownst to your friend, an invitation to do something or talk to someone else because you had already commited to your friend. You don't say anything to said friend, but you're hurt. It's not so much the missed conversation, though you were looking forward to it, as the lack of consideration for your time. And then it happens again and again and again and... (and possibly with more than one friend)

A family member says they'll be home at six, so you set aside what you're working on and start dinner even though you're making great progress on your project. Said family member doesn't show up until eight and doesn't bother to call about the delay. You bite your tongue as family member breezes in and says a cheery hello. All you mention is that you're sorry dinner is cold. Wait a minute, you're sorry... (Yes, this is commonly the female in the house. Apologizing for something that isn't her fault seems to be a female affliction.) Are you kidding me?  And then it happens again and again and again and...

You call a friend in need of a sympathetic ear, but said friend gives an excuse that sounds pretty lame and says they can't be there for you right then. You say you understand and sign off feeling like your problems are inconvenient for your friend. You say nothing to your friend but you remember this next time you want to call her or the next time she calls and you listen to her gripes as you deal with an issue of your own unbeknownst to your friend because you've said nothing. Still, you ask yourself, how many times have I been there when she needed me and it really wasn't convenient for me? And, you can't help but remember she didn't return the favor when you really needed her. Still, you say nothing. And then it happens again and again and again... (and perhaps with more than one friend.)

Someone promises to do something for you on a certain day. The end of the day comes and you realize the person isn't going to do it. When you ask about it, there's no apology or even acknowledgement a promise has been broken. You basically get a "so what" attitude from the person. It's a small thing, so you don't want to overreact. Then you realize that the person not keeping his/her word is going to mess up your schedule. As you go about doing the thing the person promised to do, your mind wanders to all those times this person has done the same thing. The numbers begin to add up, and you feel seriously hurt. Still, you say nothing. It's such a little thing and you don't want to fight over something so small.

What dawns on you as your mind wanders is that it's not just this one person, it's most of the people in your life. You have become someone that people don't show consideration because you let all the little things slide. Then the little slides become habitual and the big slides begin because you've never said. "Hey, what happened the other day? You were supposed to call. I turned down an invitation, so we could talk." or "When you're late it messes up my schedule. I was in the middle of something important when you called. I dropped it to fix dinner." or "You know the other day when I called you to talk. It was really important to me, and it hurt my feelings that you couldn't be there for me. I have often set aside what I'm doing to be there for you. I don't want you to feel bad about that. It was my choice, but I just thought maybe you should know." or "When you don't do what you say you will do, it makes me feel like you don't respect me or care about me. Maybe you didn't realize that. I know it's a little thing, but I need to feel like I can count on you to keep your word."

We all slip up from time to time, and that's what forgiveness is for. It's when those slip ups become a way of life, and we feel exhausted from trying to keep all our promises and feel like no one bothers to keep theirs to us that things become unequal in a relationship. Somehow we've come to believe that if we give everything to everyone around us, they will give it back to us. That's what the law of attraction seems to say, but sometimes that just isn't true. People may not even realize they've begun to disrespect us with these kind of little slights that are so commonplace in our world these days, but when people know what our boundaries are, those who genuinely want to be part of our lives will respect them. Those who don't respect them, likely don't deserve a place in our lives anyway.

Sometimes you really have to step away from the people in your life to see this. You have to look at where you are, what you're giving to others, and what you're getting out of your relationships. It's not about keeping score. It's about making sure everyone's needs are respected and met in a relationship. It's easy in any relationship to fall into the habit of not being considerate and respectful because intimacy and unconditional love give us a break when we make a mistake, as they should. But, we should also be cognizant of our mistakes and have the courage to say "Sorry, I screwed up this time."

On the other hand, when we feel others aren't treating us the way we deserve to be treated, we need to take a step back, assess the situation, and determine our role in the problem before we address it with those we love. Then we can discuss it with fairness and a move toward growing closer rather than attacking. We may find the problem lies within ourselves, or we may find a problem in the relationship that either can or can't be fixed. Either way we need to be prepared to deal with it rather than allow it to fester between us building a wall that eventually becomes impenetrable. When we set clear but reasonably flexible boundaries in our relationships, people know how we wish to be treated.

Sometimes we realize that we've stopped setting boundaries with those we love because we want to be reliable, dependable, and/or loved. We don't call people on the little slights because we don't want to seem petty, mean, or unfair. Yet, we're not being treated fairly because we allow people to get away with not treating us with the respect we deserve. Some of you may remember a post I did a few years ago about setting boundaries, Setting Rules, Boundaries, & Limitations: A Tribute to TJ. Sometimes, I must admit, I need a reminder of how important it is to set our boundaries in relationships without building walls that shut the entire world out.


  1. Well said, T.L. It's a hard thing to determine. The main thing, I think, is to realize most people don't set out to be "users" and lazy, we just are... :)

    1. Absolutely, Kelly. It's a fine balance and often it is hard to know when to speak up and when to keep quiet. Life doesn't always cooperate. What I try to do is always think how I would want to be treated in a given situation and try to treat other people that way. It usually works.

    2. Oh, and one more thing, I can say with complete honesty I would never call you a "user" or even lazy... :-)


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