It can often be really hard to say “no” to someone in your life, and it can be even more difficult to know when you should or shouldn’t get involved with someone else’s struggle. When it comes to making decisions about whether to get involved or not, it can be important to weigh a couple of key questions.
1. Do I have the capacity to solve this problem or provide the support needed?
For many people, we can think that we have the capacity, but can quickly find ourselves over our heads with commitments. I used to LOVE to make meals for families with new babies in our community- cooking for others happens to be my love language, and it was a great way to help out with the adjustment. As the years have gone by, I have found that the commitment of a meal demands a lot more of me than it used to, and I have even forgotten people’s meals after committing to bringing them! The delivery would end up being rushed, and not nearly as caring as was the initial commitment.
I had to start to decline the meal lists, simply because my capacity was at its limit. When the requests come in, you must first check to see if you have the availability. Don’t try to project availability on future you, either, because if you couldn’t do it the day it came in, chances are future you will be just as busy on the week that it needs to be done. Same thing with financial requests- if you can’t afford what is being asked, do not agree, because future you likely also won’t be able to afford the commitment.
2. Am I the person to solve this problem?
By nature, I am a fixer. When I see issues, I love to try to do what I can to make them better. I do this with houses- my husband and I have remodeled three houses together during our marriage. I do this with furniture- reupholstering is like magic to me. I also love to do this with people in my professional work- I tend to see people where they would be in life if we can line up some of the places that are askew. In all of these contexts, being a fixer is pretty fabulous. The challenge is that I often have to remember to turn off my fixer tendencies when the relationship does not call for this role.
For example, my friends do not want me to fix them, they just want to be my friends. I have a lot of really specialized training, but I would not treat anyone who is a close friend or family member because that violates the bonds of that relationship. What I often see is that people want to fix, even when this is not being asked of them. Your friend who wants to vent about her bad relationship may ask for your advice, but you also have to know that her relationship is up to her and not within your capacity to fix.
3. Why do I want to provide this support?
For so many people, we can think that providing support will be the thing that gets them on the path to being in a better place. The challenge can be that this effect can start to fade as support becomes ongoing. I see this a lot with older parents supporting children who should have reached a place of independence. The parents cannot help but provide the support because they know that they have the means and they are the only one who would provide it, and then they are continually devastated by the fact that their support never seems to result in the desired outcome.
If the idea is to help someone “get back on their feet” then you need to do it in a very planned manner. Support should not be open-ended but rather conditioned on their ability to also take on responsibility. If you are agreeing to do a task because you think it will build your ego or endear you to a friend, then chances are you will be disappointed by the outcome. Relationships flourish when they are built in a place of mutual pursuit, not from a place of ongoing service.
Try testing these questions with the next request, and see if it makes your response feel easier. To keep the conversation going, what other considerations do you think you need for good boundaries?