By Margaret Wehrenberg

Lighten your depression when you set a boundary and keep it.

Even when you are completely clear that someone else is not treating you with respect and you wish it could be different, depression tend to rob you of energy to make changes. It can help you to know that changing boundaries and setting limits may not require tremendous energy.

Setting boundaries does not start out as a big deal. If you are depressed, you may not have the energy for big changes. Boundary setting starts in everyday situations such as negotiating whether to take an overtime shift, accept an extra project at work or figure out social activities such as where to eat dinner, what movie to see, or when to leave a party. You don’t have to strengthen yourself for a big confrontation or prepare to lose a relationship. Rather you can start with these simple actions:

  1. Say clearly, “This is what I want.”
  2. Do not immediately add, “But I will do whatever you say if you have a different idea.”
  3. Accept it when people say, “Okay,” Don’t add more or ask if they are really okay with it.
  4. Observe how you feel. It would not be surprising if you feel some guilt or fear, but tolerate those feelings. Do not discuss them with the other person.
  5. Then observe the outcome. Did you simply get what you wanted and everyone involved was pleasant?

You can learn that speaking up does not mean conflict and gradually become more comfortable with establishing some boundaries. If the person you are with later treats you in a way that feels like payback for them being nice to you, then you have learned something about the relationship.

Sometimes boundaries are about time or money, which may mean learning to negotiate. These are both precious commodities in the life of a couple as much as they are in your work life. If you perceive that your wishes are not being met but you have never made your wishes known, then you have two jobs.

  • The first is to write down what your wishes really are. (It is not acceptable to say to yourself, “If my partner loved me, s/he would just know what to do.” Or at work, “If the boss were being even-handed, he would stop asking me to take the weekend shift.” It is unfair to expect mind-reading.)

The second step is to say out loud and explicitly what you want. There is a method you can follow, called the DESK model. To confront a boundary violation, see if you can construct a description of your situation using the following  DESK model

  1. Describe what you want
  2. Explain your reasons
  3. State what you expect your partner to do or say
  4. Know what you will do if you do not get it (which you may or may not say out loud as it may sound like an ultimatum, but if you do not know what consequence there may be, then you should wait to speak until you do.)

Here is a domestic  example:

D – I want you to pay your share of the rent on time.

E – I cannot afford to cover both of our shares, and I don’t like being part of a situation of not paying what is owed to the landlord.

S – I expect that you will pay your rent by the first of the month from now on.

K – (Even if you do not say this part out loud at this moment) If you don’t, I will lose respect for you, and eventually I will move out to a place where I pay my own rent.)

If your partner disregards you, and does not pay the rent on time, you may feel depressed and discouraged and anxiety will intensify, but a necessary step is to make the consequence clear and state it out loud. At any time that you are berated for what you want, you will need to shift to confronting the behavior directly – another topic altogether.

Here is a work example:

D- I have accepted the Saturday shift 3 weeks in a row so I want to be scheduled off this weekend.

E- I agreed to 2 Saturdays a month and I have plans this weekend.

S – I want to know that you will schedule me off as we agreed.

K- (Whether you say it aloud or not) I know that if I am scheduled more than I have agreed to, I will leave this job as soon as I can find another.

When you are conducting a successful negotiation, it is essential to start with a clear statement of your position. Otherwise, the person involved in the negotiation won’t know how to please you or when they are crossing the line. Other people in your life may not be able to negotiate, they may want to be in a position of power and fight you on your wishes just to show they have that power. If that is the case, you have further decisions to make about how much is okay with you and when it is time for you to walk away from a person who does not respect you. That is a problem for another day. You may never have to face that if you learn to identify your wants or needs and express them clearly. You may find your depression improves from the simple act of valuing yourself.

Two final notes about boundaries

  1. Do not ignore or forget about results. Talk from others is cheap. Pay attention to what they do. It can make you really depressed to keep hoping things will change when they do not change.
  2. Pay attention to what you do. Creating a boundary may be as simple as saying what you want.

Ultimately, a partner who is interested in the relationship will honor your request for your wishes to be respected. Your depression may vastly improve as you take responsibility for your boundaries and the relationship becomes more respectful.