Need boundaries with friends


Need boundaries with friends


your avatar   Kathy, 27-year-old woman

Because neither my husband and I are confrontational people, we have allowed a problem with our friends to escalate to an unbearable point. I am a 27-year-old wife and mother of a one-year-old child. I admit to not being terribly social; I am content to be with my family and friends on occasion (perhaps two to three times a month). My husband is a much more social creature, and I have always tried to understand that and be as accommodating as possible.

Unfortunately, he's friends with a couple who we see quite frequently (3 to 4 times a week). Although they are friends that I "inherited" from my husband, I can honestly say that I for the most part enjoy their company, and have made a greater effort to get to know them better, and for them to get to know me as well. I especially enjoy entertaining, and we have turned their weekend visits into dinner parties, and it has been great fun.

The problem is that they expect a great deal from us and give little in return. I am a person who enjoys having a clean house, and when they visit, not only do they not offer to help tidy up or bring food, they have ignored my repeated requests to at least pick up after themselves. After every visit, I clean up napkins and wrappers off of my carpet. They have spilled beverages on my white rug, and have not offered to clean it up. I suppose that might seem a bit uptight, and perhaps it would be if it ended there. They constantly come over uninvited, although we have told them several times to call before them come over. Now they have started to "analyze" me almost every time they visit. I have expressed to them several times that I am a private person, and I do not wish to be the topic of conversation, but to no avail. We recently had an extremely tense moment, when the husband of this couple went too far, and I was a bit snappy. They telephoned me the next week to tell me I was mean! They have also complained because we have gone out and did not invite them.

They recently moved to another apartment to be closer to us. Now they only live 10 blocks away, and they still spend the night at our house at least once a week. An apartment just became available in my building, and they applied for it. I can be frank here and tell you that I did not hand their application in. I could easily go on and on. But I have tried to be understanding. They both have an extremely violent relationship, it is both physically and verbally abusive. I think when they spend time with us, it helps to diffuse their problems. They can be funny and caring.

I don't wish to end the friendship, but I have tried to set down some "rules" and they have been ignored. It feels like the friendship can only be on their terms and I am fed up. As much as I love my husband, (and he has done almost as much complaining as me!) he will not confront them, and it leaves the dirty work to me. How can I get them to truly respect our boundaries without damaging the friendship?


    Margaret Burr, MA, MFT


You are right; you "have allowed a escalate to an unbearable point". This, in and of itself, is interesting, and I wonder about this. What psychological purpose has been served by you and your husband not limiting these escalating boundary violations? You mentioned that this couple may "diffuse their problems" by spending time with you; but what do YOU get from their abusive treatment of you?

I'm suggesting that there may be some difficulties or lack of communication in your marriage. You have invited this couple who are rude and sometimes even cruel to you to be part of your life. It seems likely that the chaos they bring with them does something for you, your husband and your marriage. What purpose is served by your behavior accommodating and colluding with their destructiveness?

You ask, "How can I get them to truly respect our boundaries without damaging the friendship?"

What friendship? You seem to be a bright, articulate woman; you are a responsible mother and caring wife. My guess is that some deep-seated self-esteem problems inhibit your basic common sense, and it's very likely that your husband also has similar insecurities. Please seek some counseling to deal with these issues of self-worth before your child gets much older. He or she will need you to be firm and strong to set limits and boundaries for him or her, and your relationship with your child will be worth the effort.

Good luck.

Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT

This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit:


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