Why Boundaries? a clarification by Maurice W. Harker, M.ed

(The following is an excerpt from the book “I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay”, By Maurice W. Harker, M.ed. You can download it for FREE – HERE)

I'm Not Okay, You're Not Okay, but That's Okay book cover

Ideally, and in a perfect world, relationships would be perfectly interdependent, synergistic, symbiotic, mutually edifying, cohesive, safe, intimate, and integrated.  I am confident that most, if not all who enter marriage have a hope that their marriage will be like this.

 It has been my experience that people, especially women, have a very strong drive to create and be a part of such relationships.  I refer to this strong draw as part of Celestial Orientation.  

To achieve such a relationship, both individuals would need the wisdom and the ability to effectively edify one another without hurting each other, taking too much, or expecting too much of the other.  In an ideal relationship, boundaries would be counterproductive.

Unfortunately, none of us are mature enough to experience an ideal relationship.  

Unfortunately, because we are all still developing, or reacting to experiences in our lives, each of us will either over-give or over-take at different times in a relationship.  

Each of us will hurt our loved ones from time to time on accident and hopefully, not on purpose.  Becoming aware of this imperfect state is one of the saddest moments in relationship evolution.  

When you begin to realize that both you and your partner’s ability to be interdependent, synergistic, symbiotic, edifying, cohesive, safe, intimate and integrated is compromised for one reason or another, to maintain fortitude, both of you are going to need to create and clarify your Boundaries.  

Each will need to grieve the loss of the preferred boundary-free relationship, and learn how to set up a system of semi-permeable boundaries that will allow each to maintain safety and strength, while at the same time allowing as much interaction and exchange as possible.  

Because of our mortal state, it is highly unlikely that we will ever reach a boundary free relationship in this lifetime.  But that is okay.  A highly functional and enjoyable relationship can be built nonetheless.  

I have written the above introduction because many have verbalized that they don’t like the concept of Boundaries.  

Women tend to be very reluctant to implement boundaries because of what I call, “Celestial Orientation”.

They are internally driven to Nurture relationships, not create stops in relationships.  

Men tend to be bothered by the implementation of Boundaries because in their deep cravings to Preside, Provide, and Protect, boundaries can get in the way.  

The gaps and distance created by Boundaries impact the fluidity with which the men can fulfill their stewardships.  

I support all in working toward a boundary-free lifestyle, but this can take many years, so please be very patient and yet determined at the same time.  

Let us be dedicated and show love to our partners by allowing them and doing what we can to provide the environment they need to grow.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:13   

Gentlemen, please be the first, Presiding, to understand how to Provide and Protect a greenhouse for your wife’s development.  

And if you do so, after a season, she will bare fruit (Nurture) 100 fold.  The Greenhouse must be strong before the plants with grow and bare fruit.  (This article is primarily one-directional; addressing the topic in behalf of women.  I will attend to the topic in behalf of the men more thoroughly at another time.)

Boundaries are: (by my definition) a list of conditions needed for each individual in a relationship to survive and thrive, and when significant damage has occurred, boundaries include a list of conditions needed for each individual in the relationship to heal.  

Quite often, both spouses feel hurt by significant misbehaviors of the other.  If that is true, before a couple works toward repairing their relationship, I recommend each gain clarity on the description of the environment that will be needed for each to survive, thrive and heal.  

(Keep in mind that if we have any type of Double Burn Victim Scenario, neither spouse will be of much use to the other for the first stage of recovery.)

Start by making your first draft of the three lists described below.  Do not expect your first list to be your last list.  

It can take a full year to clarify your three lists accurately, and then any changes to your life circumstances can create a need to change your boundaries again.

Boundaries: Healthy Environments Needed for Growth

It might help to clarify by thinking of yourself as a plant.  

plant growing

Plants need certain conditions to survive and thrive.  They need the climate to be conducive to their growth; safe and nurturing.  Plants don’t need perfect environments.  They just need consistently safe and nurturing environments.  

Boundaries: “A description of conditions needed in order for an individual to both survive and thrive (Greenhouse), and when a relationship has been traumatized, this list will also include the extra conditions (Incubator) needed to heal.  

Boundaries consist of the following three lists:

1st List: Threats to Safety: the list of behaviors/conditions/environments the individual cannot survive and/or thrive in.  The following must be kept outside the walls.

Examples: “I cannot survive or thrive in an environment where you…

  • Participate in sexual activity involving someone other than me (your spouse)
  • Make any advances (sexual) on my person that are not welcomed.
  • Participate in any behavior that represents an interest in someone other than me (your spouse)
  • Sabotage my ability to parent my children in a good way.
  • Defame/misrepresent my character to others (sincere efforts to provide relevant information to wise helpers is allowed)
  • Allow your anger to surface in such a way that I (or my children) feel threatened
  • Misrepresent the truth to me.
  • Withhold information that is relevant to me.
  • Allow any behavior or words that imply that you will leave me without sufficient resources
  • Allow any behavior that is a threat to the safety and security of me, my children and you.
  • Make financial decisions that threaten the security of the family.
  • Break promises.
  • Break trust.

2nd List: Nourishment: The following is a list of behaviors/conditions/environments I need in order to survive and thrive.  A plant can’t grow if it is only protected, it also needs nourishment.


  • Brings warmth and psychological nourishment into all interactions
  • Preside, provide and protect (What a wife needs from a husband) –
  1. Preside- describe/clarify how you want the relationship to be in it’s final state (GPS destination). [This needs to be done early in the relationship repair process.  If the spouses do not have the same destination, then the relationship will become strained again and will eventually break.] Demonstrate efforts to pull the relationship and family toward the final destination.
  2. Provide- when a man takes on a wife, and adds children to her stewardship, in a patriarchal relationship, he takes on the responsibility to make sure she and the children have sufficient for their needs.  Emotional nourishment, sufficient financial resources, kindness, encouragement, time, etc.
  3. Protect- The man will do what is necessary to keep himself and his family safe from threats to himself, his wife and his children.  If he has behaviors that threaten his wife and/or children, whether intentional or accidental, he will keep himself away from them with as much vigilance as he would keep an outsider away from them.
  • He will need to demonstrate his ability to identify threats to himself and the family and can describe and practice the actions that will successfully fight off any attacks (especially from Satan)
  1. A relationship is not yet functioning on a Celestial Level if the wife has not yet healed and grown to the point where she is able to nurture her husband.  As with a plant, this is the natural state of every woman I have met.
  • When she is healed enough, she will Enhance the Confidence and Competence of her husband.
  1. “Perfection is not required – but I do need to know you are investing as much as you can.  I commit that I will invest as much as I can.  I will maintain my integrity.  I understand that it is not my place to demand more from you today.  You will need to understand that it is not your place to demand more from me.  If we are both doing our best, and we are still insufficient for eachother, we need to allow relationship building to wait (see “How to Build a Bridge”)
woman in hospital

3rd list: After the Trauma – in order to Heal – The Incubator – Think of the violated person as being in an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) – How would you treat them? What would you expect of them?  What adjustments would you need to make to survive and thrive yourself if they became unavailable?  Keep in mind that there is a possibility that both husband and wife feel traumatized.  Special instructions included when that is the case.


  • You cannot ask anything of me while I am in an incubator.  If I can contribute, I will.
  • Like one who has experienced 3 degree burns, I will need extra careful treatment.  Interactions that might not hurt a normal person might be very painful to me.  To be near me you will need to be both willing and able to not hurt me.
  • I will be of little use to you during this time.  If you have any needs, if we are going to be in a relationship during this time, you will need to find a healthy, non-threatening way to get your needs met.
  • You will need to be trained by specialists on how to interact with me.  I am not a specialist in helping myself or you get through this.  Please get the necessary training from people who actually know what they are doing.
  • If you feel like you are traumatized too, then we will both need to get our needs met from others who are healthy, strong and wise, instead of from each other.  (See Double Burn Victim Scenario)
  • And if we keep hurting each other, or one keeps hurting the other, on purpose or on accident, we will need to adjust our arrangements, create some kind of separation, until one or both of us is strong enough to get out of the incubator.

Creating/Enforcing the Greenhouse and the Incubator: “I must respect myself as a living organism.  I must respect that I need certain conditions to survive and to thrive, and when traumatized, to heal.”  

Boundary enforcements can often be clarified with ”If….Then…So…” statements

Climate A  (Fulfilling the 3 lists above) – If you think, feel and behave in this way, then I find that I grow and become stronger and bear more fruit, so it would be wise for me to keep you nearby.

(Farmers well understand the need to invest without the expectation of getting anything in return for a season.)

 If the land and the climate are sufficiently stable and fertile that good things can grow for all, then it would be wise for the two to stay together so both survive and thrive.

Climate B  (Fulfilling Threats to Safety and the Incubator lists, but not the Nourishment list) – If you think, feel and behave in this way, then I find that I will need to set aside time for myself to gather my own nourishment, so we may have less time together.  

This is not a threat, but a necessity.  

I will be responsible for my own feelings and I will learn to not have negative feelings about your limitations. During this time, I will do my best to create a pleasant co-habitation until otherwise instructed by God.

Climate C (Fulfilling Nourishment, but violating Threats to Safety and the Incubator lists.) – If you think, feel and behave in this way, then I will not be able to enjoy or appreciate your efforts to Nourish me.  

dying plant

A plant cannot take in nourishment when it is being damaged.  So, I will need to withdraw to a safe distance.  I will need to change my interaction patterns with you in such a way that you cannot hurt me.

Climate D (Violating all 3 lists)-If you think, feel and behave in this way, then I find that I am becoming more damaged, so I am going to need to continue withdrawing from you until I am at a safe distance (ongoing Trauma/ Betrayal Trauma).  

Most people can survive one or two earthquakes or tsunamis if they live in a Climate A region.  

Most people can survive in Climate B for an extended period of time, if each can become good at self-nourishing, but it will hover at the Co-habitation level until both are able to Nourish the other.  

When both Climate C and Climate D conditions prevail, it is time to start packing your wagon and prepare for a move to a safe place, which may include divorce.

(For meticulous training on understanding and how to implement these principles, please join the free therapeutic WORTH group)

Enforcing Boundaries

Start with “Doing Weather Checks

As I watch many women attempt to implement the current term Boundaries, I feel sadness and pain as I watch them continue to try to survive for years in the same, uninhabitable climate region, highly vulnerable to more earthquakes, tsunamis and drought.  

They default to conversations (or arguments) that are like broken records; the same over and over and over again.  I hope to be able to help you break those cycles.  

It is not easy, but there is a way to do it.

This book (“I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay) contains a concept called “Doing Weather Checks”.  

It is kind to hope that people can change.  

As a psychology specialist working with human minds for many years, I have observed that change is possible but takes a great deal of focused work by the individual, and the changes usually progress differently than expected, and more often than not, differently than the spouse is hoping for.  

Also, disappointingly, these changes and evolutions rarely occur because of what a spouse says when not invited to give feedback.  

When working with a fellow human being, I invite you consider that people are like the weather.  You can often predict what they are going to do and say based on their past behaviors and words.  

No matter what you say to the weather, it is not going to change.  Sadly, I see many people, trying to enforce their boundaries similarly.  

They talk, talk loud, talk firmly, talk long, yell toward someone who is not inviting or requesting the information.  It is about as useful as talking to the wind and the clouds and the rain.  

When severe and bad weather are coming (severe and hurtful behavior on the part of the other), they don’t withdraw to a safe distance, but they keep talking, hoping it will make the difference.

It is good to have hope, but if environmental patterns show predictable signs of earthquakes and tornados, withdraw to a safe distance until the environmental conditions become measurably and predictably safe.

“Are you saying I should just give up?”  

No, but I am encouraging you to implement a few principles.  

“If you keep doing the same thing, you are going to keep getting the same result.”

It is important to understand that in order for a human mind to take in new information or ways of thinking, organize it in a useful way, strategize ways to change behavior permanently, and then follow through on that plan is a very complex and challenging process.  

Observe what it is like when someone is trying to get you to learn something that is so important to them. 

Observe how even more complicated it is when they get all intense with you! It is really hard to learn when someone is trying to force you to learn.

deer in headlights crossing road

Many people look at me like a deer in the headlights when this concept first starts to sink in.  “That’s not fair!”  or “So, we are just supposed to let him or her be like that?”  “I’m the one that is going to have to change if I am going to survive and thrive in this situation?”  

Interestingly, our human minds are very creative and resilient when we hit different or severe weather conditions.  We just never thought it would be necessary in a marriage.  

If you thought you were moving into a pleasant, warm nurturing environment (marriage) only to find out that there are earthquakes and tsunamis beyond anything you would have expected, it is a very unpleasant prospect to consider whether or not to buckle down, or to move away.

It is not fair, and whichever path you take, it will more than likely severely disrupt your life, but let us remember the pioneer women who left Nauvoo and travelled to the Salt Lake valley in order to get away from a hostile environment and to get to a healthy environment.  

If you find yourself in Climate C or Climate D, you will need to go into what we call Pioneer Woman Mode.

Unusual circumstances…It has been my experience that there are some unusual circumstances.  

As in the situation where Nephi was instructed to cut off Laban’s head, or when Moses is on his way into Egypt to release the Israelites, an individual can be inspired to take a course of action that does not appear to be logical, but very much feels like inspiration to the one being instructed.  

There is a possibility that the instructions you are getting from God, for your situation, is to not follow the instructions I have listed above.  Ask yourself, “Is it a Calling for me to endure something that is harder than what is logical to endure?”  

Be very careful with Comparisons, Fairness and Normal.  When you sense that you are being instructed through Divine revelation to remain in a difficult situation, the conversation becomes more about making the best of the situation, seeking miracles, and hoping for/expecting empowering miracles than about withdrawing to a safe distance.

A Clarifying Illustration on Enforcing Boundaries

Two Wagons crossing the plains analogy…

Imagine two wagons crossing the plains near each other, but not aware of each other.

Then they meet…

Ideally, both wagons are self-sustaining (have and are able to acquire sufficient resources to make the full journey successfully) and can continue to thrive on their own, without any assistance.

Ideally, when the two wagons meet, they both have the desire to create connection based only on the edifying idea that life would be more enjoyable with more friends, not out of necessity.

Ideally, both are not only able to survive and thrive, but they are also so prosperous that they have more than enough for themselves and desire to share their surplus.  As they strategically share their resources with each other, they can develop a synergistic, Interdependent Relationship*.

Unfortunately, this is not the most common situation when individuals approach marriage in current America (and quite possibly most other cultures).  This is the ideal, but it is not the most common.


Imagine a different version of the wagons scenario.  

A less than ideal scenario.  

2 pioneer wagons meeting

This time, when the two wagons meet each other for the first time, one or both are not self-sustaining.  They each have insufficient for their own needs and definitely no surplus.  

These wagons are covered wagons so it isn’t known what the other person has in their wagon, and they don’t really know what is (or isn’t) in the other wagon.  When they meet, there is a hope (maybe even a desperate hope) that the other has surplus and will be able to meet their needs.

They meet.  They have a little fun together.  They like being with each other. Hopes are shared.  They each work hard to “be there” for each other. A contract is made.  Promises are made to make each other’s lives better.  


“I have this need, and based on our contract and your promises, you should meet my need.”

“But, I don’t have enough for you. In fact, I came to you because I have a need, and based on our contract and your promises, you should meet my needs.”

“I don’t believe that you don’t have what it takes to meet my needs, I think you are just withholding to be cruel. If you don’t meet my needs and keep your promises I will have to hurt you.  I won’t be able to help myself.  It will be an automatic reaction to my disappointment.”

“If you hurt me, then I will have to build a wall between us.”

“If you build a wall between us, I will either abandon you, build my own wall, or break your wall down.” Etc., etc.

This pattern is part of a Codependent relationship

Please, please, please! Check yourself.  

Did you enter this relationship with a wagon insufficiently stocked in hopes that the person you married would fill in the gaps?  

“I am looking for someone who will meet my needs.”  

Sadly, this is a popular concept in relationship literature, but it lays a foundation for the type of relationship that becomes Codependent.  It is described more in detail HERE, but as a reminder;

a piece of codependency is when both individuals behave poorly and attribute the poor behavior to the other person not meeting their needs. 

Emotional codependency can be observed when your behavior is contrary to your integrity and dignity with the excuse or explanation that such a break of integrity is because of what the other person does or does not do.  

It is healthy to have a very strong investment in a relationship and in the development of your spouse, but the above is a representation of a codependent investment.

It is true that the best of relationships include individuals sharing resources with each other from their wagons, but in an Interdependent relationship, they don’t do so out of necessity, but because the synergy of the resources makes for the 1+1=3 dynamic.

Cautions with the term “Boundaries”:

One of the main reasons I struggle with the use of the term Boundaries, is because it does not include an explanation of the origins of the problem, nor does it include a solution to the problem.

An inaccurate conclusion as to why the other person isn’t meeting your needs:  Moroni and Pahoran found themselves in a similar situation.

Moroni and his men were running out of resources.  

Their wagon was empty and they were starving.  

It was Moroni’s contractual understanding that Pahoran had promised to supply Moroni and his men with resources in exchange for the protection Moroni and his men were providing to Pahoran and his people.  

Moroni came to the (false) conclusion that Pahoran was withholding his resources because of personal pride or some other character flaw.

Moroni had failed to consider that Pahoran’s resources had been drained and he was not able to come to Moroni’s aid.  

Imagine if Moroni had decided. “I don’t believe that you can’t help me. I am just going to come and take what I need from you. And I’m going to continue to expect even more of you.”


covered wagon

-Before the two wagons met in the ideal scenario, each had developed their own system for surviving, thriving and creating surplus before they even met.  

They were probably getting their needs met by going to the resources God provides, i.e. the land for crops, the mountains for hunting, water for drink and fishing, forests for trees. “Come unto ME (not another human) and I will give you rest.”

In order for two wagons crossing the plains to survive, let alone thrive, BOTH are going to have to spend a good portion of their time going out to where God provides resources (not the other person’s wagon), gather enough for themselves and enough to share, before returning to the wagons each day.  

If one (or both) discover a need and then go to the other’s wagon and wait until that need is met, both will begin to starve.  When people begin to starve, they become unpleasant to live with.

Self-Check: Who took care of you after you left your parents and before you were married?  

Some of you spent time serving as full-time missionaries before you were married.  

Who paid attention to your needs during that time?  I hope you discovered what I call the Hinckley Principle – “Forget yourself and go to work!”  

Did you understand that the keys to enjoying marriage are the same as the keys to enjoying a mission? You cannot be edified by the missionary experience if your attention is on whether or not the mission is meeting your needs.  

Perhaps, someone even told you a false principle, “You give while you are on your mission.  

You receive when you are  married.”  “He that loseth his life shall find it, and he who seeketh his life shall lose it.”  

This is especially true in marriage, but both have to be anxiously engaged in filling their own wagon with the intent to share.


-If you find yourself in a relationship like Climate A, I encourage you to maintain and strengthen your premarital habits of going to God to gather up resources sufficient for yourself and surplus for the others each day.  Share your resources as much as you can.  

If you find yourself short on any resources, I encourage you to strategize and commit to striving to bring more resources next time.

-If you find yourself in a relationship like Climate B, you will both need to regularly verbalize commitment in hope of moving the relationship up to Climate A, but in the meantime, make the time to fill your own wagon.  Yes, it is hard, but it needs to be done.

Remember, “Any plan that is based on someone else changing, automatically puts you in a position of dependency or codependency”



You, too, have to be involved in providing yourself with a Greenhouse and/or and Incubator.  Make a list for yourself in the same way you would for another person in how they treat you.

-I will not let myself “run faster than I have strength”

-I will not participate in conversations or interactions where the Spirit is not present to facilitate and clarify communication.

-I need to react and respond with integrity, dignity and authenticity.

-I will not be reactive; instead, when something happens, I will respond with practiced speed, accuracy and strength because I have practiced behaving according to my values system in difficult situations.  

-I will not allow myself to misbehave just because someone else misbehaves

Another caution:

The main reason I struggle with the common use of the term Boundaries is the emotional reaction of the spouse when I am working with a couple who has the goal of healing their relationship.  

Imagine, ladies, if your husband started a conversation with, “First, I want to go over the boundaries I have for you.”  

Unfortunately, the term Boundaries, implies “ways to keep you out of my life.”  

It is my hope that in this document both spouses will understand that Boundaries are not a threat to the relationship, but a description of conditions needed for a relationship to survive, thrive and heal.

Unfortunately, one of the common dynamics that occurs is a disagreement over these descriptions.  Boundaries are usually violated because one behaves in a way that they feel in the moment is necessary.  “I needed to have that sexual encounter because…”  “I needed to be that angry because…”

Or boundary violations are on accident, “I didn’t mean to hurt you again when I….”

Whether on purpose or not, violations hurt.  Therefore, please take your protection seriously.  

Clarifications: Boundaries are NOT…

  • Boundaries are not Expectations – expectations imply control.  
  • Boundaries are not Threats – “You better do this, or else!”
  • Boundaries are not Punishments – Because we have the limitations of humans, we lack the wisdom necessary to create reward/consequence systems for fellow adults.  This is the work of a God.  Please avoid creating a boundaries with the intent to punish or teach a lesson.  
  • Boundaries are not Control – The list is not intended to control the other person, it is just a list of conditions needed to survive, thrive and heal. The other person may choose whether or not to make the adjustments, but if not, the speaker will need to withdraw from the relationship sufficient for themselves to have an environment that allows them to survive, thrive and heal.

If you want to learn more, please download the free ebook I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay or enroll in the Marriage Repair Workshops.

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