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Where do I set my boundary line?

Published on July 5, 2014 by mncmommy

A couple of months ago my younger sister called saying " I need my big sister, can I come talk to you" I invited her over and she immediately started talking about her anger, resentment and frustration with her husband, my husband and I listened and expressed that they should both get help from a professional asap, they have two girls ages 5 and 1yr and we did not think it was a good environment where there is constant fighting, we even gave her phone #'s and names of some trusted professionals. We did not follow up or hear if they followed through with our advice. Then yesterday I got a text from her again asking if she could bring the kids over to play with my daughters ages 7 & 6yrs and that she wanted to talk. I did not want the kids to hear anything so I set them up with an activity and we went to talk, she told me she had an affair and her husband found out and they had been arguing for the last week and things have gotten bad she even said "I know I should feel bad about what I did but I don't" a couple of times she didn't even realize the kids had come around and could hear and I had to whisk them away! The only thing I could say was she needed to get professional help right away! and I gave her contact info again. I love my sister and I am concerned for my nieces but I am afraid once again she will not take the advice and get help! It's hard to not want to be there for my sister and it is constantly on my mind, but I also don't want this to affect my family and kids. I do not want to enable my sister to use me as a "garbage disposal" by talking it out yet not get help! It has now become a major conversation between my husband and I because we are so concerned for our nieces, sister & brother in law! How and where should I/we set the boundary? It's very hard to turn the " light switch on & off"(talk and think about them)! Thank you!


It sounds to me that you and your husband have already set your boundary in the way that you need to. Your just second guessing it because your worried so much about your sister. You’ve done all that you can already by telling her to seek professional help multiple times. If she comes to you again, just continue to do that. If she pushes you for advice or if you feel like you’re getting too “sucked in” with this then you may want to start adding something along the lines of “I love you, but it is not my responsibility to help you with this. I’m not going to be a dumping ground for your problems.” You can play around with the wording as you feel is best appropriate for you, but I recommend always letting her know what you care before you set a boundary like this. Hope that helps!

It would be interesting for you to explore how you could detach yourself from the emotions you are feeling in lieu of your sister. The best way to assist her is to remain supportive, not of her behavior but of her journey. If she does not want to get helped, this is not your responsibility and blaming her for not following your advise might not help any of you.

You have set boundaries mentally but you are still struggling to enforce them emotionally. It means that you are living in your sister's life fearing for her and her kids. From my professional experience, fear will only bring more difficult conversations for you and your husband in addition to pollute your relationship with your sister.

The best weapon is to ask her open-ended questions without pushing to get the answer you want to hear such as "How does it make you feel?, What do you truly gain from this situation? How will your kids respond to the situation if they find out?." This will hold the space for her to think and to realize how "damaging" this situation can be for her and for her family. The more you tell her to seek help or the more you patronize her, the less she might actually feel comfortable to do it because of the guilt and the shame she will experience.