Fri, April 03

Marta Adelsman Column: Line in the sand

When my husband and I were first married, we had a regular ritual at the dinner table. He would ask, “Is there any more milk?” I would dutifully get up from the table, go to the refrigerator, and get him the milk. One day, when he asked, “Is there any more milk?” I simply answered, “Yes.” I then continued eating my dinner. He got up and got the milk for himself.

Looking back on that situation, I see that I had set a healthy boundary. I’ve had many times since then when I either blurred my boundaries or erased them entirely. As I’ve practiced drawing my personal lines in the sand, I’ve learned that two actions are necessary, and I share them here with you.

First, be honest with yourself. In order to set boundaries, you must be truthful with yourself about your real feelings, needs, thoughts and desires. If you grew up where unspoken family rules caused you to squelch your truth, then you probably learned to please others at your own expense. If no one encouraged you to exercise your personal voice, it can take some effort and focus to learn to recognize your real thoughts and feelings.

You don’t have to agree with someone or say “yes” when doing so doesn’t coincide with your deepest truth. If someone approaches you with a request that causes you inner conflict, don’t respond right away. You can buy time. For example, if your brother calls and asks if he can come live with you for a few months, refuse to feel pressured to make a decision then and there. Create decision-making space for yourself by telling him that you’ll get back to him in a day or two.

Use that time, then, to dig into your real, authentic response to his request. Write down the thoughts and feelings that swirl inside you so that you’re absolutely clear what you want and don’t want.

Second, be honest with others about your truth. In our hypothetical situation, lets say that it will not work for you to have your brother living with you. Before you give your answer, take time to determine how you will communicate your truth to him. If you feel nervous about it, write out what you will say. Then let go of any expectations you think your brother might have. Your first priority is you. If you don’t learn to listen to what you need and want, others won’t either.

Once you know what you truly want to say, say it! At first, it may feel extremely difficult. Once you do, however, you will undoubtedly feel liberated, full of strength. . . and guilty. The guilt hangs around only because you’re not yet used to believing you deserve to say no. Guilt wants you to believe the lie that you’re responsible for others’ happiness. Fortunately, the more you stop listening to it, the sooner it disappears.

If you want to live freely in a healthy and balanced way, you must learn to draw your boundaries clearly. Like exercising a little-used muscle, drawing your line in the sand and not allowing others to step over it becomes easier the more you practice. Sometimes it takes the support of someone who has learned how to do it.

You will respect yourself. And others will come to respect you more as they learn to get their own milk.

You can contact Dr. Marta at or (928) 451-9482.

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