How to End the Emotional Tug of War in Relationships

Emotional tug of war doesn’t end with childhood games

I remember the days of playground tug-of-war. Whether it was in elementary school or church camp it was always fun to see which team could pull the other into the mud, across the line or just off their feet. It was more than a physical tug of war it was an emotional one as well. Winning was a great feeling, losing not so much. As winners, we would strut proudly by the losers laughing as they wiped mud off their face or rubbed their sore hands. As losers, we were looking for any excuse for the loss besides being weaker than the winning team.

In due time, the childhood games come to an end.  Unfortunately, however, the emotional tug of war doesn’t end without some very intentional growth. This tug of war starts inside our heads and eventually spills out into our relationships with the appearance of anger, resentment, being stressed out, physically maxed out, and emotionally drained. What is this emotional tug of war? The battle between setting healthy boundaries and people pleasing.

The tug of war between healthy boundaries and people pleasing looks like this:

Saying no to an individual vs. Saying yes to your priorities and goals

Making your own decisions vs. Always deferring to the other person

Sharing your opinion vs. Always agreeing with the other person’s opinions

Being happy or liking who you are vs. Being crushed when someone doesn’t like you

Acknowledging & expressing your feelings in a healthy way vs. Suppressing feelings and becoming angry and resentful

Knowing your limits and practicing self-care vs. Feeling selfish and frequently finding yourself in over your head

I own my words, thoughts, actions vs. Owning the other individuals reaction to them

In this battle, can be two winners

Unlike childhood tug of war, when it comes to setting healthy boundaries there can be two winners. Each person in the relationship wins a healthier and happier relationship. A relationship where each person is loved, respected and accepted for who they are. This doesn’t mean there won’t be relationships lost when you begin to set healthy boundaries. Yes, in the short term, you may grieve the loss of a relationship. However, the reason that person chooses to leave is because they were only in it because they knew they could abuse and manipulate you.  When that ends, they are gone.  However, in the long run, you will find yourself surrounded by great relationships that will last a life time.

Grab your journal; it’s your turn to grow

Take a few moments to reflect on your relationships.

  1. In what relationships have you set healthy boundaries? Take a few moments to express your gratitude for that relationship. Thank the individual for loving and accepting you as you are. Thank them for the respect they have shown you in a recent boundary you have set.
  2. In what relationship do you find anger, resentment or perhaps just exhaustion starting to bubble up? What boundaries do you need to establish?
  3. In thinking about your relationships (work, friends, family) how effective are you at setting boundaries. 1 = need to implement them asap and 5 = healthy boundaries in all relationships.  Anything less than four, consider adding a book on boundaries to your reading list. Boundaries are the single most important factor in the health and happiness of your relationships. And relationships affect every other goal you have in life. Every single one!


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