Focus on the Family Broadcast

Best of 2023: Setting Boundaries in Your Most Difficult Relationships (Part 1 of 2)

Best of 2023: Setting Boundaries in Your Most Difficult Relationships (Part 1 of 2)

In this best of 2023 broadcast, Lysa TerKeurst reflects on the death of her marriage and how she had to place boundaries in her life to protect her own mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. She offers insight, biblical wisdom, and encouragement to those needing to establish boundaries with others. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: November 8, 2022


Lysa TerKeurst: The real struggle sometimes in relationships is where we feel like we cannot say what we know needs to be said either because we’re afraid of the change tha- that might happen in that relationship, we’re afraid that that person might reject us, abandon us, or, you know, ghost us. And here’s what I say, if we are that afraid that this person would reject us, then you’re really in a relationship where that person is probably gonna reject you eventually anyways. And so I think boundaries give us an opportunity to have those healthy conversations that need to be had.

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John Fuller: That’s Lysa TerKeurst sharing some valuable advice about boundaries on this Best of 2023 episode of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. She’s got so many powerful stories and some solid advice for you today. I’m John Fuller and as you’ll hear, this discussion with Lysa took place outside of our studios, and we’re gonna pick up as Jim got the conversation started.

Jim Daly: Hey John, relationships with our spouse, with our children, with our friends, are some of the most, uh, joyful experiences on this side of heaven, but they can pose challenges as well in all those categories, right?

John: Right. Right.

Jim: I think as a parent of two boys, that’s where Jean and I (laughs) are like, “Ahh,” half the time, especially back when they were teenagers.

John: Oh yeah, yeah.

Jim: (laughs).

John: That’s, that’s the time that everything kinda blows up.

Jim: (laughs). It is.

John: And who knows what’s gonna happen?

Jim: But sometimes, uh, you know, to protect your own mental, and emotional, and spiritual wellbeing you have to draw a line, create a boundary. Um, some people are good at doing that, others are not as good.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And today we wanna talk about how you can successfully draw those boundaries and help have a, I think, a more Shalom, God’s peace-

John: Mmm.

Jim: … oriented life.

John: Well, and we have Lysa TerKeurst, uh, here with us. Uh, she’s been on the broadcast a number of times, a very popular guest. As the President of Proverbs 31 Ministries she’s encouraged millions of women, um, she’s helped them strengthen their faith and their relationships. She’s written a number of books, and the one we’re talking about today is called Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. And of course we have that here on Focus on the Family, give us a call, uh, or stop by

Jim: Lysa, welcome to Focus.

Lysa: Thank you. It’s always so nice to be with you guys.

Jim: Well, this one’s in Grand Rapids, so-

Lysa: I know.

Jim: … uh, a little different. (laughs).

Lysa: I was so surprised when I saw the travel itinerary. I was like, “Wait, I thought-”

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: “… I was going to Colorado Springs.”

John: (laughs).

Lysa: So good thing the plane knew where we were going.

Jim: Well, we-

John: Yeah.

Jim: … have plenty of friends here in Michigan, and so we’re up visiting some of those friends and doing some other things and it just worked out that we could do this together. So-

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … thank you for making the effort.

Lysa: Oh, yeah, it’s such an honor. Really is.

Jim: Yeah. Hey, let’s, uh, let’s kick it off. Uh, John mentioned Proverbs 31, what a wonderful ministry for so many women. I-, y-, this area of boundaries, when you look at it, uh, I- I- I don’t mean to make a gender distinction here, but I think women, I guess, have, um, such a desire to help those around them in significant ways that boundaries can be very difficult, and feel kinda counter-spiritual maybe in some way, that, “If I’m not doing everything, if I’m not killing myself by helping others then I’m not living up to the expectation I have for myself.” Speak to that and what women tell you through Proverbs 31.

Lysa: Yeah. Well, I’ll speak just on my own behalf of my s-, my struggle with boundaries. You know, I didn’t write this book from the point of like, “Oh, I’m so good at boundaries.” (laughs), you know?

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: I- I wrote it from a point of struggle and recognizing that where there’s chaos in relationships there’s usually a lack of boundaries. And I think the reason I personally struggled with boundaries was because I had a big question mark, “Are boundaries actually biblical? Is God okay if we draw boundaries? Is it unkind? Is it un-Christian?” And I think if we don’t have the biblical confidence that boundaries are okay then we’re always going to tiptoe around them and maybe avoid them. Plus, boundaries can be awkward. I think sometimes when people hear the word boundaries they have a couple of different reactions, neither of which are good. One is, “Ugh, somebody did a boundary with me and really used it as punishment, or control, or manipulation, and that boundary just felt terrible.”

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: Or, they say, “Oh, you know, I’ve tried boundaries and they just don’t work for me.” So it’s funny, when you say the word boundaries, people have usually a little bit of a, like, hesitant reaction to the-

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Lysa: … word boundaries.

Jim: No, it’s really true. And I- I think it’s hard … I think it- it-, like you mentioned in the Christian ethos we feel guilty having boundaries ’cause it’s almost like if you get slapped in the cheek, give them the other cheek, right?

Lysa: Mmm.

Jim: There’s lots of scriptures that caution us to go the extra mile-

Lysa: Absolutely.

Jim: … and, uh, we can, we can muddle that whole thing in terms of self-protection.

Lysa: Yes. Well, I put on, uh, my Instagram stories one time, “Tell me the verses, the Bible versus that, um, have made you feel like boundaries are un-biblical.” And people sent in lots of Bible verses. So I spent time with my theological team at Proverbs 31 Ministries and we, we went through those verses and in the back of the book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, there’s actually a resource, it’s many pages, of, “Here’s what these verses mean.”

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: “Here’s what they do not mean. Here’s how they’ve been weaponized. And here’s a script you can use if somebody uses this verse to tell you that a boundary is un-biblical.” I- I, you know, I … One of my most favorite research, theological research times with these verses is, you know, people said, “Well, Jesus said, ‘Lay down your life for your friends.’ You know?” And Jesus modeled that, he laid down his life for his friends. And that’s absolutely correct, Jesus laid down his life for a high and holy purpose, but not to enable bad behavior to continue.

Jim: Huh.

Lysa: So we must not confuse the good command to love with the unhelpful and often harmful behavior of enabling.

Jim: Yeah. And, and that’s a brilliant distinction really. Um, and we’ve talked about, uh, the context for your life and things that you’ve gone through, so these next questions are things that your openly talking about, so I’m not putting you on the spot here. But, um, your ex-husband, Art, and what took place with that is a great example I think of what you’re describing. Can you tell us what happened and just give us that brief synopsis? And we can use that as an example.

Lysa: Yeah. Um, you know, I never expected the death of my marriage. I- it was completely not something that I felt like w- would ever, would ever happen-

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: … to our family. And that’s what I call a divorce, the death of a marriage, because that’s really what it was to me. It was the saddest, hardest, most heart-breaking deal that I ever walked through. And, um, you know, I think there were many, many years where we both fought really hard. Um, and toward the end I fought really hard, but at some point you have to accept reality, and this was an unsustainable, um, reality. And honestly at that point for me, it would un-biblical to stay. So I’m always careful because, you know, I always want to honor him and so I’m careful with what I say and what I don’t say. But what I do know is I didn’t walk away, at some point I had to accept reality. And that’s what got me to this place.

Jim: Well, and you did fight. I mean, I can remember the interviews we did before, during, and after, and-

Lysa: Yes.

Jim: … uh, you know, it didn’t always work its way into the program but we would talk about where you were at and what things were happening. In that way, boundaries applied to a difficult marriage.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Um, you know, your own experience, the other women at Proverbs 31, women who share with you their struggles. What, w- w- w- w- what is that boundary problem look like in a married construct?

Lysa: Yeah, that’s a great question. Um, I think the easiest way to think about boundaries is first of all you’ve gotta have biblical confidence that God is okay with boundaries. Because if you don’t have that kind of confidence then you’re always second-guessing, “Is this the right thing to do or not?” But if you know that boundaries are not just a good idea, they’re actually God’s idea, you can approach it in a different way. Always with the purpose, the driving force of a boundary should always be love, it should not be punishment, control, or manipulation. So when I dug into the Bible, right from the very beginning in Genesis 1, I see that God established even the foundation of the world using boundaries. You know? He separated the day and the night, he separated light and darkness, he separated the sea from the land. And, you know, so we see these appropriate boundaries where one stops and another begins. But then I got to Genesis 2 and think of all the topics, all the subject matters that God could’ve chosen for his first conversation, first recorded conversation with man, and God chose the topic of a boundary.

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: And so in Genesis 2 we find God saying to Adam, “You are free,” which is important because boundaries are for the sake of defining where the freedom is. “You’re free to eat from any tree in the garden, but not the tree that’s in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die.” And so again, when you understand that God never intended the human heart to carry the weight of the knowledge of evil, God wasn’t being overly restrictive, he was actually being protective. And so freedom and protection are both so important when we talk about boundaries. And especially in the beauty and the treasured nature of such an intimate relationship in a marriage. Y- you know, boundaries should be the way that you open up wonderful communication between you and your significant other that, “This is what’s okay and this is what’s not okay.” So sometimes when we think about boundaries we think about this hard, awful conversation. And sometimes boundary conversations are really hard and awful, but sometimes they can be the way that you fight for the relationship so you don’t spend time, so much time, fighting against each other.

Jim: I think those boundary setting opportunities can be very manipulated.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Um, you know, a person that feels wounded because, “My husband doesn’t do such and such,” or, “He always does such and such.” It’s not perhaps a biblical violation of the marriage, it’s his temperament, it’s his personality, you married him.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Um, but how do you discern what is a healthy boundary and what’s an unhealthy boundary? I think it, it’s so clouded.

Lysa: It really is. Okay, so I want us to think of two really important words, access and responsibility. And again, w- w-, as I continued to study and look for examples of God drawing boundaries or indications that God is okay with boundaries, when I got to even the way God constructed or instructed the construction of the Tabernacle, which eventually became the Temple, certain people were allowed certain access to certain parts of the Temple. It wasn’t because those people were more valuable than the other people, it’s that they were required a different level of responsibility. So by the time you get to the Holy of Holies, then only the high priest, once a year, had access to the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the people. But the high priest had to perfectly cleansed and purified before he stepped into the Holy of Holies or he would drop dead. And so the highest access required the highest responsibility and also had the highest consequence for a boundary violation.

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: So I like to think of these two words, access and responsibility. To the level that we give someone access to us, and that’s physically, financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, if we’re giving level 10 access then the person we’re giving that access to needs to bring level 10 responsibility.

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: Where a lot of us get in trouble is we’re giving level 10 access, but if someone is unwilling or incapable of anything more than a level three, the distance between those two is where you will find dysfunction, where you’ll find chaos, and where there’s chaos there’s usually a lack of boundaries. So here’s an example of an unhealthy way to set a boundary. And this was my mistake, so I’m gonna own this confession time, okay? That I would want this person to lift up their area of their responsibility to match the level of access I’d given them so much. So I decided to put a boundary on them. And when you try to put a boundary on somebody you’re using external pressure to try to create an internal change. And we all know, if that person is unwilling or incapable of making that change for themselves you can create temporary behavior modification but you’re not gonna really have them become more s-, responsible with the access you’ve given them. And so instead of putting a boundary to try to force someone else to change on that person, we have to put a boundary around ourselves and be self-controlled enough to reduce the level of access down to the level of responsibility that that person is demonstrating.

Jim: Mmm.

John: Now you’re not, um, uh, th-, there’s so much here Lysa. And, and I’m wondering where does love fit into this picture? Ki- kinda going back to what Jim was saying, because if I have a boundary and, and it gets transgressed, well, love says to overlook the transgression. Or does it?

Lysa: Well, good question. God’s really clear about what love is. And I think sometimes, like I said before, we confuse the good command to love with some bad behaviors, uh, people pleasing, and, um, you know, trying to enable someone or even step in and save them when we can be a friend, we can be a spouse, we can be a parent, but we cannot be the savior.

John: Mm-hmm. Well, this is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and our guest today is Lysa TerKeurst. We’re talking about, um, some really, uh, difficult but really good things to bring to the table here. Lysa’s written about this in her book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes. And we’ll encourage you to get a copy of that book from us here at the ministry. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. And the details are at

Jim: Lysa, in the book you mentioned a comparison to Hallmark films, which I think-

Lysa: (laughs).

Jim: … is hilarious and it, we probably need a little lightheartedness in the middle of this heaviness. But talk about the Hallmark movie and how it distorts things.

Lysa: Right. Well, I think we all have visions of how we want life to be, how we want relationships to be, and so, you know, I talk about how sometimes, at Christmas especially, I’ll be watching one of these, you know, wonderfully delightful, sometimes slightly cheesy-

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: … movies, right?

John: Slightly.

Lysa: (laughs). And I’m thinking, “They have the same storyline every time.” Like the girl is in some kind of distress and suddenly she bumps into a guy at a diner and, um-

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: … you know, she accidentally spills a little coffee on him and then he just thinks it’s delightful. And then she finds out he’s a prince of a foreign land-

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: … and then, you know, they fall in love and whisks her away to the castle to live ev-, you know, happily ever after.

Jim: Never worried about the shirt. (laughs).

Lysa: Never worried about the shirt, right? But then I said, “But this is how life often goes. She’s working at a diner, she spills coffee on him, he gets so irate with her that he just says things that crush her heart. She goes home, she is still infuriated with him. Then something happens and he loses the ability to be the king of the kingdom again and so she decides to save up her money, buy the castle (laughs) and-”

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: … you know, it’s just, that’s life, right? Life is messy, and it’s unpredictable, and it’s hard. You know, love and relationships are so wonderful until they’re not. And I’m the biggest the proponent of marriage, I love marriage, I believe in marriage, I think marriage is the most precious connection between two people. So in writing this book I’m not encouraging people to quickly, you know, push their spouse away, or ghost their parents, or, you know, run away from their responsibilities in any way. Boundaries are not to shove others away, they’re to help hold us together. And really it’s so that we can open up communication and, and talk about things. You know, one time I was having this counseling session and, um, the Christian counselor that I go to see, he watched me over, and over, and over say the word expectations, you know? Like, “Expectations of this, and unrealistic expectations,” and you know, all of this stuff. And I used the word expectations, like, a lot in this once session. And finally he stopped me, he said, “Lysa, I wonder if we might choose a different word than expectations, because expectations are really simmering resentments in disguise.”

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: “What if we made the focus of our conversation our needs? Where the other person has the option to meet those needs or not. An expectation implies, ‘You better do this or else.’ Right?” So when I shifted to needs and desires then I’m able to more clearly communicate and give an opportunity for love to blossom, but not demand that love meet exactly what I think love should meet.

Jim: Yeah, and one of the, you know, critical areas in marriage particularly, but in all relationships, is expectation.

Lysa: Mmm.

Jim: I remember I- I wrote a book and the reviewer of the book said, “Jim Daly’s best advice is, ‘Don’t really expect anything out of anybody.’”

Lysa: (laughs).

John: (laughs).

Jim: That wasn’t what I was trying to say. But what I was trying to say was, “Just keep your expectations reasonable in your relationships, don’t have such high expectations that there’s no way that person, whether it’s your spouse, your son or daughter, your mother-in-law, (laughs), is gonna let you down if they’re too high.” So how d-, how do we even establish in the boundaries context the healthy expectation? What does that even look like? And are we capable of doing that?

Lysa: Okay, well I have another confession.

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: I am a people pleaser. I really struggle with people pleasing. And so as I dug around into what, what was driving this?

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: Because, uh, you know, my people pleasing would tip over into codependency. And a good definition of codependency is, if you find yourself saying, “I need you to be okay so I can be okay, so are you okay so I can be okay? Okay?”

Jim: Yeah.

Lysa: You know?

Jim: Exactly.

Lysa: And, and having this, this thing in me that I want everyone else to be happy. So for me, I would rather sacrifice my needs, my desires, and all on the altar of keeping everyone else happy. But here was the real danger of that, when I pushed myself to really consider, why was I trying to keep everyone happy? It wasn’t just to please everyone, I was keeping them happy because I was afraid if I didn’t they would take something from me that I felt I must have from them in order to be okay in the world. And when I got really honest I wrote this in my journal, “We will always desperately want from other people what we fear we will never get from God.” And so my people pleasing wasn’t necessarily to please the other person, it was actually because I wanted something from them and I w-, feared if I had healthy boundaries, appropriate boundaries, I feared that they would take that away from me and then I wouldn’t be okay in the world. And so the Lord really had to work on my heart. And all of this ties up even into marriage, you know? If we put so much pressure on our spouse to be everything for us, then I think we’re setting up a dynamic for our spouse to in essence be our God and supply everything, when that’s not possible. And that’s too much pressure to put on the beautiful but sometimes fragile nature of this intimate relationship called marriage.

Jim: I- I- … Those are such powerful observations. I’m sitting here a little bit stunned with everything that you’ve said ’cause there’s such great wisdom in what you’re saying. You know, just even in the dynamic of husband and wife and what that does, those expectations. You know, husbands tend to withdraw if we’re not meeting your expectation, because that’s part of a desire that we have, we wanna be that everything for you. And, and wives have that same goal. But then we get, you know, a little bit of a frown from our wives and we go, “Uh-oh, I’m not behaving properly, and I’m not sure why.” Ho- how do you clear up that conversation so that it’s healthy, it’s mature, and you can get to some solid relationship, in the spousal area particularly, to where you’re really heart-to-heart with each other?

Lysa: Well, I think it’s really important to do a little bit of work, to look at what has happened in our past in order to understand that what we don’t work out we will eventually act out. And often in the construct of a marriage … My counselor often says that. And in a construct of a marriage, you know, it’s easy sometimes to pull past unhealed pain into present day arguments, or into present day conflicts, or into present day tensions, and it all gets multiplied and it’s much bigger. My counselor also says, “When it’s hysterical, it’s historical.”

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: So if you’re having an out-of-proportion reaction to something at hand-

Jim: Mmm.

Lysa: … typically there’s work that needs to be done as an individual before we even try to come together as a couple. But I’m utterly convinced that communication, good, healthy communication that we choose at the right time, not when we’re tired, not when we’re hangry, (laughs), not right before we’re supposed to go to bed, you know? But if we carefully choose those times then attempt to have the good conversations about what you need and what they need. And that’s such a wonderful bonding opportunity if done properly.

Jim: Mm-hmm. You know, Lysa, this, this portion has flown by. I wanna come back and keep the discussion going and talk more about your book. But as we’re ending day one, and I’m always mindful of that person, and maybe dozens, maybe hundreds, that are listening going, “Wow, Lysa’s describing me. That’s where I’m at, I do take a lot and I have high expectations.” What are some things they can do after hearing this, other than get your book, which would be a great in-depth resource obviously? But what can they do to say, “Okay, I gotta reevaluate where I’m at with boundaries, what my expectations are with my husband, with my wife, with my kids, with my business partner, with those that I work with.”

Lysa: Absolutely. I would say take steps not leaps. So don’t listen to this conversation and suddenly think, “Oh, I’ve gotta draw boundaries in all my relationships.”

Jim: (laughs).

Lysa: You know?

Jim: That’s what would happen.

Lysa: Um, but take a step not a leap. And maybe identify one place in one relationship where there’s some chaos, where you find yourself saying, “Ugh, I just can’t take it anymore,” or, “Ugh, I’m just so worn out from this hard situation.” So where there’s chaos there’s usually a lack of a boundary. So identify that one place and ask God to help you know when would be a good time to have an appropriate conversation. And when you have the conversation, remember, you’re not putting a boundary on that other person to try to control them or manipulate them, or even punish them, you’re putting a boundary in place so that you can remain self-controlled so that you can love others well without losing the best of who you are.

John: Well, what a fantastic conversation with Lysa TerKeurst on this Best of 2023 episode of Focus on the Family. And there’s, uh, really a lot more to come next time.

Jim: I so appreciate Lysa’s vulnerability, and she mentioned establishing boundaries in relationships isn’t a form of manipulation, it’s actually healthy. Uh, boy, we tried to do that with our kids to help them understand boundaries, and here at Focus at the Family we want to help you, uh, have healthy relationships as well. No matter what situation you’re going through, a solid place to start is Lysa’s terrific book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. Uh, you can get a copy directly from Focus on the Family, and when you do, the proceeds go right back into ministry, which is so needed right now. After a year of overwhelming financial strain, social issues, and other pressures, people are hurting and they could really use some hope and encouragement. The Christmas season is the perfect time to share the hope that Jesus Christ came to give. Uh, you can come alongside those facing challenges and give families hope through your support of Focus on the Family.

John: Yeah, and thousands of people reach out to us here at Focus on the Family for assistance. They, they call us, they send mail, they send email. Couples with broken marriages, and stressed out parents, so many who need your help.

Jim: I was surprised to learn that only a small percentage of our listeners actually are contributing to the ministry. I know we put a lot of content out, I’m sure people are saying we’re well-funded, but it’s actually less than 1% of the listeners and viewers. We need your support today to save and strengthen families, so won’t you help us? Let’s touch many more people in the name of Christ. And when you donate today, a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Lysa’s book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, as our way of saying thank you for joining us in helping others. And on behalf of those folks you’ll be reaching in 2024 through Focus on the Family, let me say thank you.

John: Well, your gift will be doubled dollar-for-dollar through a special year-end matching opportunity, so God’s going to use your gift to bring healing and redemption to twice the families. Please, donate today and, uh, maximize that giving, and get your copy of Good Boundaries and Goodbyes when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or visit On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we continue the conversation with Lysa TerKeurst, and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.


Today's Guests

Good Boundaries and Goodbyes Book Cover

Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are

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