Hello Again, All-Star!!

You made it back for Phase 4! Congratulations!! Way to stick with it!

Remember to celebrate yourself -- with a resounding “Woohoo!”, some sensuous self-care, a delicious treat, and/or a good old fashioned pat on your own back. Reward yourself for successes like this, and you’ll find it easier to collect more of them!

We’ve been having such a wonderful time steeping in this material and sharing it with you over the last few weeks. We have been getting some really heart-warming feedback, and trust that you, too, are finding what you need, and enjoying your growth here. That being said, please feel free to reach out should you need anything to improve your experience in this course. We’re here for you!

Now -- do you have your coziness levels turned all the way up? Got your accoutrements of comfort with you? Remembering to breathe, fully and easily?

Alright. Let’s get to it!


In Phases 4 and 5, we’re going to immerse ourselves in the actual steps of formulating agreements  around our boundaries. This week, we’ll give you the step-by-step process for talking through when we notice we have a boundary coming into play -- whether it’s being stepped over or just activated -- naming the feelings and needs we have related to the boundary, and making a request for some agreement to be made in order to honour the boundary. Next week, we’ll circle back to run through the related process of renegotiating when an agreement goes south.

If you’d like to, you may feel free to scroll down to the bottom of this page to review the Mini-Course for Phase 4, which is pretty comprehensive in terms of the How of navigating boundaries. For our purposes in the Master Course, we’ll focus mostly on the process of formulating agreements.


There are 2 scenarios covered by the Formulating Agreements template:

  1. When we experience an action someone else is doing that activates a boundary in us; and

  2. When we know in advance about a boundary we want to make an agreement around.

In the first scenario, we may not even recognize initially that a boundary is involved. The first sensation we usually experience when someone (knowingly or unknowingly) steps over a boundary we (knowingly or unknowingly) have is repulsion. It might be a small, subtle, tiny peep in the back of our consciousness -- especially if we tend toward people-pleasing -- that just says, “Not this”. We may notice a desire to move away, to step back, to break connection, and/or find ourselves being triggered into survival mode. We may feel irritation, frustration, sadness, anger, fear, worry, or something similar. We may suddenly start telling the story that we aren’t “wanted” or “respected” or “cared for”. However it shows up -- whether the signals are loud and clear, or quiet and nuanced -- it’s worth getting good at telling when our boundaries are being tripped.

It’s also useful to remember that:

  1. Most times, people aren’t trying to ignore our boundaries. They might not know about them, might not anticipate them, and/or might be too triggered themselves to even be aware of others; and

  2. How we feel about a boundary being stepped over, is always about more than just the boundary. And in order to distill our personal truth about the boundary and our needs in the situation, we would do well to process our feelings around it, and regularly process our feelings in general, so that neither the boundary maintenance nor our perceptions about it are colored with pre-existing and/or unprocessed emotion.

In the second scenario, when no boundary is currently being activated, but we are aware of one that we wish to design an agreement around -- there may not be any uncomfortable feelings or sensations involved, that is, until we begin to consider talking about it. Often, just preparing to ask for what we want can be a triggering event. Again, the feelings process can support us here, both, to offload the emotion and to get in the best brain state for formulating agreements.


In this case, you may skip the initial stages of the Formulating Agreements template that address the actions you observed, and the feelings you notice being triggered around the actions, and begin with simply stating the need you have noticed wanting to be honoured. Then make a request for how you’d prefer your need be met.


Given what we have covered already, working with this template may be relatively straightforward. That being, said, please feel free to pose any questions, and/or requests for clarifications you may have in the Discussion Center. You may also feel free to bring some examples you’re working with to the live call on Thursday, and we’ll help make sure you are on the right track.



Ok! Bring on the template!!


 
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The Better at Boundaries Minicourse, Phase Three, that precedes this course, is available below for review!

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Formulating Agreements


This template is based on the NonViolent Communication format created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Please go to https://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/ for more information on NonViolent Communication, etc.. For extensive but not comprehensive feelings and needs lists please go to:
https://www.cnvc.org/training/resource/feelings-inventory

This template is designed to support you in navigating the process of sharing when you notice one of your boundaries has been stepped over, naming the feelings triggered for you, asserting your needs, and requesting an agreement around honouring your boundary. This framework can help you and your familiars manage this frequently tricky terrain while maintaining connection, maximizing mutual understanding, and promoting the optimal brain state for each of you to co-operate for combined satisfaction. While the formula itself is quite simple, using it in the most successful fashion depends on several caveats which we will cover in depth below.

The basic NVC format can be distilled into 4 parts: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. To coincide with the scaffolding of the rest of the Better at Boundaries Master Course, we have adapted this basic format, renaming the 4 stages as follows: Observing, Feeling, Knowing, Claiming.

While the NVC format does include time and space for a discussion of feelings, we have found that it is usually more realistic and useful to spend some time processing the feelings before attempting to use this template because both remembering the format and applying it properly are intellectual brain activities and the feelings process helps support superlative intellectual function. You may refer to the template, Empathizing with Self and Others, for guidance with the feelings process.


This template assumes, as is most often the case, that you either did not previously know you had a boundary (which is now being activated), and/or that you have not previously spoken about the boundary with the person involved in breaching it. If you are beginning from a place of noticing a boundary that has not yet been breached, you may skip to Stage 3.

Stage 1: Observing

Begin with naming observable actions. Do your best to avoid evaluations, assumptions, and interpretations of the actions you witness, even though you may feel triggered around the actions. What can you actually see or experience happening?


Observational examples include:

“Speak to me at that volume”

“Don’t call me back when you say you will”

“Leave your clothes on the floor”

“Don’t do what you said you would do”

“Don’t tell me the truth” or “Lie to me”

“Turn away”

“Aren’t talking to me”


Instead of:
“Shout at me”

“Flake out on me”

“Make a mess of the house”

“Leave me high and dry”

“Feed me a bunch of bullshit”

“Haul off” or “Check out”

“Ignore me”

Put it in the framework:
“When I see/experience/hear you ___________…”



Stage 2: Feeling

Name actual feelings that are triggered for you around (not necessarily “by” but “related to”) the observed action as clearly as possible, and again without evaluations, assumptions, or interpretations of the other’s intentions. While you may want to be vulnerable and honest about the uncomfortable feelings that came up for you, it is important to the process of forming agreements that you avoid blaming your feelings on the other person, because that invites defensiveness and disconnection. One way to keep this clear for yourself is to remember that although this situation may be putting you in touch with certain feelings, those feelings were likely there and/or available for you well before this instance, and if not triggered around this, would likely be triggered around something else.


Uncomfortable feelings examples include:

Sad

Angry

Confused

Afraid

Worried

Anxious

Concerned

Disconnected

Isolated

Helpless

Powerless

Upset


Instead of:

Betrayed

Misunderstood

Disrespected

Abandoned

Alone

Like you don’t care

Put it in the framework:

“... I feel _________.”



Stage 3: Knowing

Name needs you have that either are not being met and/or that you would like to have met around the topic or scenario in question. Often these needs become more obvious when you have a chance to first process the uncomfortable feelings that are being triggered for you, and may relate to the feelings you are having more than to the action(s) you observed. Generally, it works best to express these in terms of the raw needs themselves rather than preferences or specific actions you might like. Remember, you can use the template, Disentangling Boundaries from Survival Strategies, if you would like help naming some of your needs.


Needs examples include:

Safety

Trust

Choice

Consideration

Equality

Belonging

Cooperation

To matter


Instead of:

You to do x, y, and z

You to stop…

To be called back

To have the house cleaned

To be able to trust you

Put it in the framework:

“I need _________.”


Stage 4: Claiming

Name your clear and quantifiable request without being demanding. This is the concrete action you would prefer be taken by the other person. This is not framed as a condition of your acceptance or love of the other, nor is it designed as a way to avoid or assuage your feelings. After you have processed the feelings, you should be able to approach the request with the perspective that “it would enrich my life if ________…”. If your request doesn’t have that sensation, then you may wish to consider doing additional feelings processing in order to separate more of the emotional charge from the issue. As intimated above, it also helps if the request is something that both parties can tell has been done.


Request examples include:

“Speak to me at a lower volume”

“Call me back when you say that you will”

“Put your dirty clothes in the hamper and your clean ones away”

“Do something when you say you will”

“Tell me the truth about…”

“Stay close/face me when we’re talking/stay connected with me”

“Talk to me about the issues we have”


Instead of:

“Stop shouting at me”

“Help keep me from worrying about you”

“Keep the house clean”

“Follow through”

“Always tell the whole truth”

Put it in the framework:

“Would you be willing to _________?”



Put all together, it goes:


“When I see/experience/hear you _________…,


I feel _________.


I need _________.


Would you be willing to ___________…?”


 
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FOR A PRINTABLE VERSION OF THE “Formulating Agreements” TEMPLATE:

 
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“When you turn away when I’m talking…”

 
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“… I feel really mad, and also sad…”

 
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“I need to be seen.”

 
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“Would you be willing to stay facing me when we’re talking?”

 
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“When you turn away when I’m talking, I feel mad, and also sad. I need to be seen. Would you be willing to face me when we’re talking?”

 


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HOW

We have a lot to get to in Phase 4, so we won’t belabour the point -- we just want to remind you that this is the thumbnail version of these processes. We’re going to give you plenty with which to work, and you’re also likely still going to have some questions. You, of course, have 3 really lovely options at your disposal. Option a) Pop by the Discussion Center and pose a quandary! We’ll do our best to answer whatever it is. Option b) Join us for the Boundaries Master Course right after this mini-course closes next month! You’ll get 6 stellar weeks of digging deeper into this material with us and a group of like-minded people looking to get Better at Boundaries together. We’ll tell you more about that as we near the launch next month. And, option c) Apply to work with us one-to-one! You’ll get Natalie or Nathan all to yourself to ask whatever you need. And we’ll help you apply all these strategies to whatever relationship(s) or situation(s) you like.

Whichever you choose, we’ve got you covered.

In Phase 4, as you may have guessed, we’re going to be talking about how to claim our boundaries. We’re going to cover agreements, negotiations and renegotiations, holding the line, and making the most of everyone’s “meltdowns”. So without further ado…

The majority of the time -- up to this point in particular -- most of us don’t know we have a boundary until someone bumps into it. Then something inside us jolts and says -- “Ack! Not good.”. Some of us have moved so far in the direction of being pleasing to others (a superlatively common safety strategy), and so we may have to strain to hear that voice. But even those of us who barely have a sense of what we want at all, if we listen carefully to our body, and to our emotion(s), we’ll feel the impulse (however subtly) to move away from the person involved. And with more attention, that internal system of boundary integrity will get louder and clearer.

Here’s how to handle it when we feel triggered around a boundary being activated:

  1. First, we notice the turbulence.

    We pay attention to that internal awareness. If possible, we name the feeling coming up for us. It’s enough to say it to ourselves, because that helps the brain process the emotion from a slightly less triggered state. But we can also say it to the room, and/or to our loved one. This gives us the same neural benefit, and is often enough to alert them to our discomfort. We can say:

    “I’m feeling annoyed” or “...upset” or “...irritated” or “...sad”...

    It’s technically not anyone’s job to empathize with us (especially our younger children), but calling out our feelings and empathizing with ourselves, models what we would prefer in a healthy way; it triggers our loved one to experience a neural “mirroring” of the empathy we are giving ourselves; and at the very least, it helps us with our feelings.

    With our children, doing this process over and over in front of them (as well as regularly empathizing with them and their feelings), is a major part of supporting their emotional intelligence and facilitating the emergence of their empathy.


    If it’s all we can do, or is preferred in the moment, we can also just say:

    “I didn’t/don’t like that.”

    Loved ones can be remarkably responsive to a simple statement such as this. And if they aren’t — well, then you may want to consider whether or not this is an emotionally safe relationship.

    Parents are often surprised when we suggest just saying, “I don’t like that,” but for children who have not been punished, the concept that their parent doesn’t like something is far and away plenty of a deterrent to doing it. That phrase alone can be enough to shift the dynamic and let them know there is a boundary there for us.

    It also signals to our own brain that we are taking care of ourselves, and can ease the stress we experience around boundary infringement.

  2. Continue the feelings process as needed.

    Unless our safety is at imminent risk — when we get triggered by a boundary being stepped over, or anything really, it is actually more paramount that we address our feelings than it is that we immediately fix the issue. We all know what it’s like to feel incredibly upset and then have someone say -- “It’s not a big deal, just [blah blah blah blah]!”. And that’s literally all we hear of that suggestion, because we’re in our emotional brain and that person is talking to our intellectual brain with language the emotional brain does not like or understand. Recognizing that the boundary is just a means to connecting, and that when the boundary is crossed we experience the disconnecting, the fastest way back to connection is through the feelings that have been triggered in us.

    So even if we start with simply declaring “I don’t like that,” we want to begin talking about the feelings that came up for us as soon as possible. The best way to do that without inciting defensiveness and further disconnection, is by owning our feelings, even in terms of how we talk about them. Again, simply naming the feelings is best.

    “I’m feeling ________”. Period.

    Then, if possible, we use touch to reestablish neurophysical connection. This combination helps us get (back) into our executive brains together.


    When we experience the contravention of one of our boundaries, it’s natural to feel triggered, just as we would any time we feel disconnection. And while the boundary is important and we want to maintain it for the sake of connection, the triggering itself almost always taps into larger feelings underneath that which need to get out. So if we experience something stronger than irritation, annoyance, frustration, concern, or mild anxiety -- it’s worth investigating those deeper feelings. We can do this by asking ourselves:

    “What’s under the anger?” or “...fear?”

    We can also ask ourselves:

    “With what other feelings is this putting me in contact? And from where does that emotion really come?”

    This can help us divorce the feelings regarding the boundary from our past programming/trauma, which will make it exponentially easier to manage.

  3. Address the boundary.

    This has its own parts as follows:

    • So let’s say we notice the turbulence, and we are in our intellectual brain enough to navigate boundary or agreement negotiations. We can say:

      “Hey, we may not have discussed this before but, I don’t really like/feel comfortable with that. When that happens, I (sometimes) feel _______.”

      This phrasing is crucial. We may want to call attention to the actual action, and if we can name the verb(s) without attempting to blame or shame the doer, then that can be useful. If not, then we’re likely just going to invite defensiveness and further disconnection.

      “When I hear you talk to me at that volume…”

      or

      “When I realized that you weren’t going to arrive before I wanted to leave…”

      or (with children)

      “When I noticed that you didn’t come when I called you…”

      or

      “When I saw you throw that at your sister…” and similar examples all work pretty well.

      (“When you shouted at me,” “When you ditched me,” “When you ignored me,” “When you tried to hurt your sister,” and similar evaluations will all cause trouble.)

    • Next, add:

      “I feel/felt ________,”

      which again, is such a powerful statement, and usually enough, especially when delivered without blame, to alert our loved ones to the boundary popping up for us. And that is often enough to trip their natural empathy wiring and drive to reconnect with us. If and as that happens, we want to be receptive to them. Again, using touch to help our brains be linked up together.

    • Then we want to describe the need we have associated with the boundary:

      “I have a need to feel safe”

      or

      “...to be heard”

      or

      “...to be treated with tenderness”

      or

      “I need to know you and your sister are safe”

      or

      “...to have this discussion at a lower volume”.

      This cues our loved one in to the gravity of the situation for us. It also gives them some exceptionally useful information. Additionally, this is another signal to ourselves that we are taking care of our needs. We give ourselves a sense of our own significance here that cannot be underestimated.

    • Then after describing the scenario, the feeling(s), and the need(s), we make a request. The sum of those parts can sound like:

      “When I realized that you weren’t going to arrive before I wanted to leave, I felt super stressed, and angry, and sad. I need to have the sense that I can rely on you to do what you say you’re going to do, and to be here when you say you’re going to be — especially when I’ve made plans based on my understanding of what you’re going to do. In the future, can we plan a contingency if you’re going to be later than expected, or can you let me know when your timing changes?”

      or

      “When I’m under the covers and you get on top and pin me under there, I feel so panicked. I have a strong need to be able to move and control my own body. Would you please (or would you be willing to) hop off/come under the covers to snuggle or wait until I come out to wrestle me?”

      This formula is our best bet for creating the right neural conditions for an agreement to be made.

    • With our older kids and partners and other adults, we can make a standard agreement, as described above. They either will agree or not. If not, then we can follow up with, “What are you willing to do?”. And negotiate from there.

      With our younger kids, we will likely have to use a more st/age appropriate version. We’ve personally been willing to wait half an hour (and through all the feelings associated) for the 2 year-old to decide to get into the car seat. And that’s a worthy ideal to hold. At the same time, we recognize this level of flexibility is not always in us, or always available given the situation. If the safety of this or any of our other kids is at stake (they’re running into the street, or about to seriously injure themselves or their sibling), we may have to use our bodies to protect them. And that’s really the only time(s) we can think of when it’s appropriate to use our bodies to block theirs. There are other times, when as the parent, we may decide it’s best to remove some item that’s not ok for our child to have. Or we may gently refuse, for example, to read until after teeth-brushing has happened. We may have to enforce the boundary, even when our kid(s) can’t agree to our terms. The critical thing to keep in mind in these situations is that we want to be benevolent leaders. We want to be as kind and compassionate as possible. And we want to be in the practice of affording our children the maximum volition consistent with their st/age, with an eye to eventually relinquishing all power over them.

  4. Hold the boundary

    A fair amount of the time, even when we are highly successful at navigating the process(es) above, it is possible for the other person, especially our kids, to have feelings come up around our boundaries. Maybe they have a boundary or interest in conflict with ours... Or maybe they fear that our boundary means we don’t want to connect, or that we don’t love/like them… Or maybe they have feelings going already and bumping into our boundary triggers a release for them…

    Here’s how we can manage that:

    • As much as possible, remain in connection. Give them touch, a hug, eye-contact, a tender countenance, and/or simply calm proximity. We can be firm about the boundary, but want to remain kind about holding it.

    • Empathize with their feelings:

      “Do you feel upset/sad/angry/frutrated when I ask you to _________ [observe my boundary/do something different]?”

      or

      “What are you feeling?”

      are both great openings for working together on it. But even before that, we can begin in our own minds to empathize with how we imagine them to be feeling.

      “Oh -- they seem to be feeling some upset around this. I can understand that…”

    • If they are able and willing to share, hear out and validate their feelings. They may say:

      “I don’t want to ________ [observe the boundary]...”.

      And we can say:

      I hear that. So you’re feeling some resistance? Is there some anger, too?

      “Yeah I feel angry!” they may reply.

      “Oh that makes sense,” we can answer back.

      Or maybe they name the feeling:

      “I’m just feeling super frustrated…”.

      Again, we just confirm our understanding of their emotion. We don’t have to argue, or even agree with their feelings. Just express understanding.

    • Then wait. Being with their feelings is almost always enough to reestablish connection, help them release what’s coming up for them, and with time, encourage our loved ones to come back into alignment with us. Children especially, but adults too, may cry or rage or rail against the boundary. We just hold space for that to come out.

    • With our younger kids, we may have to gently reiterate that we aren’t moving the boundary. They may cry, or rage again. So we repeat the above steps. And we give thanks that they’ve had an opportunity to let out more of what this triggers in them.

      Because when it’s out, that means our loved ones aren’t carrying the uncomfortable feeling around with them anymore. Easing that emotional load always makes life easier for all parties involved.

  5. Renegotiate.

    In our adult relationships and as our children get older, there will be times when they do not want to honour a boundary we have. Cringe! Yes, sometimes, our boundary, as we initially envision it, or have previously iterated it, is in conflict with a boundary our loved ones may have. We can double down and reiterate if it feels worth it, but since the object of the boundary is to guide connection, it might be wiser to seek a (different) mutual agreement.

    As mentioned above, we can make our request and if that isn’t agreeable, ask:

    “What are you/would you be willing to do?”

    or

    “How would you like it to go?”

    And/or start with the emotion, as in:

    “What are you feeling?”

    And/or a more generally curious approach:

    “What’s going on for you around this?”

    There will be times when even this doesn’t work. We have a boundary, we claim it, and our loved one ignores it or refuses to honour it. We can’t force it. And really our connection is the most important thing. So we honour the boundary for ourselves as much as possible, and let our loved one do what they choose. It feels scary! And powerless. Pretty much our only choice is to trust them and our relationship with them. In our experience and that of our clients, if the relationship is strong, eventually the parties come back together. The feelings can be co-processed and a new agreement made. That’s the nature of making agreements between sovereign humans. That’s also what we’re training our kids to do in their eventual adult relationships, and (there always comes a time when) we have to practice it with them, even though we may wish we could just make them do the thing! We have to hold on and trust.


When we know of a boundary in advance…

Finally, because we are becoming more tuned into working with our own boundaries, there will be times when we know from a distance that we have a boundary we want to forge an agreement around.

Here’s what we suggest for forming those agreements:

  1. Eyes on the prize.

    We want to remember as we go into formulating agreements that what we’re doing is troubleshooting an issue with someone (our child, or partner, or other intimate) because we want to be in relationship with them. Rather than just throwing down a gauntlet to challenge or change some behavior, we’re working with a person we love in order to be able to better connect. That’s really the only reason...

  2. Bring empathy to the table.

    It’s neuropsychologically useful, when going into any agreement-setting session to find compassion for the other person involved. We can begin by empathizing with how they might feel about the situation, either as it currently exists, and/or as it may be for them when we claim the boundary we want. Or if that’s a stretch, we can go for just silently naming 10 things we have in common with them.

  3. Use the NonViolent Communication structure.

    • “When _______ happens…” or “When I see/feel/hear you ________ (verb to describe the action without evaluation).”

    • “I feel ________ (only feelings words, not ‘betrayed, misunderstood, unappreciated’).”

    • “I need _______ (only needs words, and things you need, not what the other person ‘needs to do’).”

    • “Would you be willing to _______?” or “Will you please __________?” or “I would really appreciate it if you/we could _______.”

    • Hear out the response.

    • Make adjustments to the agreement to accommodate the needs of both parties.

    • Reiterate the agreement for clarity. “So as I understand it, we are agreeing to...”

Et voila! A reliable agreement has been made!

Oh my word(s)! We knew this one was going to be gigantic, but whoa... And still you made it through!! Congratulations and full props!


There’s no extra work to do around this phase, because just coming to terms with and beginning to implement the above is plenty. We know there are caveats we couldn’t get to, such as avoiding absolutisms (like “never” or “always”), or vagueries (like “do more around the house”), or coercive agreements (like “If you clean your room, I’ll take you to get ice cream”). Again that’s just the nature of a mini-course -- and we’ll be more than happy to help you go deeper with this work (in the Discussion Center, the Boundaries Master Course, or in one-to-one sessions) as you’re ready. At the same time, we’re sure that we’ve given you enough to go on for now -- so we en-courage you to go for it!


Ok! Big hugs!! And well wishes... We’ll meet you back here for Phase 5!



 
 
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1. “I feel so irritated!”

(Or: “I don’t like that.”)

More feelings to choose from: sad, mad, lonely, anxious, worried, uncertain, frustrated, confused… For a full list click HERE.

 
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2. Check underneath your feeling. Does it have roots that pre-date this particular issue? Probably! That’s why you are so triggered!

 
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3a. OBSERVATION: “When you throw shoes at your sister…

 
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3b. FEELING:

“I feel worried …”

 

3c. NEED:

“I need to know you two are safe…”

 

3d. REQUEST: “Would you be willing to throw something softer? Or choose a different game?”

 
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3e. With younger kids - those that can’t yet enter agreements; enforce the boundary gently.

 

4. HOLD the boundary even when feelings come up.

4a. STAY in connection with touch, hugs, eye-contact, proximity

4b. EMPATHIZE

4c. REFRAIN from arguing or agreeing, keep empathizing.

4d. WAIT for realignment


(waiting time will vary)

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4e. REAFFIRM the boundary and REPEAT entire process if necessary

 
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5. RENEGOTIATE:


What works for both of you?

 
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5a. TRUST in the relationship

 
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1. REMEMBER the point is to connect, not disconnect.

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2. EMPATHIZE with their experience (even if you have different stories about what that experience was like).

3. USE the formula: “When you don’t text me back within 10-20 minutes, I feel really anxious. I need to know you are alive. Would you be willing to send a quick emoji or something next time?”