To be effective, limits must do three things: define your expectations, clarify your definition of acceptable behavior, and explain the consequences of ignoring your limits. Without consequences, people never learn limits. Without limits, people never become mature adults who connect to themselves.
Here’s a limit-setting technique called Three Strokes, You’re Out.
The first time someone crosses your boundary, simply tell that person what your boundary is and ask them not to cross it again. Never assume that people know what your limits are unless you have taken the time to point them out.
The second time they cross their boundary, he simply reminds them of their request and tells them the consequences of crossing their boundary one more time. Make sure this is a consequence that you are ready to carry out. Telling people that you are leaving them for the sixteenth time will only make people laugh.
The third time they cross your boundary, you go ahead with your consequences.
Three strikes go like this:
Someone curses you.
You say, “Please don’t insult me.”
They insult you again.
You say, “Please don’t insult me or I’ll go away.”
They curse you for the third time.
You say goodbye. “
Three strikes, they’re out. You go away and you don’t come back until they’ve made amends. If they don’t like your rules, then they don’t have to play with you.
Now, be careful with your limits. You should never set a limit for someone else that you don’t actually save for yourself, or they will see your limit as a joke. In other words, don’t yell, “stop yelling” at your yelling kids and expect them to take you seriously. Most importantly, you must never allow your consequences to become empty threats.
What is an empty threat? Well, do you remember the last time a child started screaming in the middle of a store, and even though the parents kept threatening to take the child outside, they never actually took the child outside?
You were probably less upset about the child than the parents because the parents were creating threats, not consequences.
A threat is when you tell someone you are going to do something and then fail to comply. Whenever you threaten but don’t comply, you’re basically saying, “Don’t believe me when I say something to you.” People stop listening when they don’t believe you; so never threaten a consequence you don’t intend to carry out, or your words will be treated as jokes rather than limits.
By the way, the consequences can also be rewards. You ask someone to do something and then explain the consequences of doing it. After doing so, they get the reward. Some people call it bribery. I call it teaching people the value of free trade and commerce. What did you think a paycheck was anyway? An outburst or the reward you get for working all week?
Once you learn to set clear and consistent boundaries for yourself and others, you will be rewarded with healthy relationships.