MS Society Teleconference on Setting Healthy Boundaries

Steps for Setting Healthy Boundaries

By Karen Tripp MS

Speaker, Author, Counsleor

Why is setting Healthy Boundaries important?

Because care givers are 63% more likely to get sick than non caregivers of the same age.

What are Healthy Boundaries?

Healthy boundaries are when you take care of your own needs while caring for someone else’s needs.  A relationship with healthy boundaries shows an ebb and flow of two people caring for each other.  They are two independent people that share themselves with one another while still caring for themselves. #1 priority is relationship.  Relationships are healthy when both people’s needs are fairly consistently met.  This is true with ALL relationships: parental, child, spouse, employer or friend.

What are Unhealthy Boundaries?

Unhealthy Boundaries are when your needs or the needs of your loved one are consistently not met.  Two extremes of Unhealthy Boundaries:

  1. Rigid Boundaries: The relationship is unwilling to change to meet new needs of one or both people. Taking care of your own needs is the #1 priority. EXAMPLE- A Parent treating a 16 year old as a 10 year old.  Typically under sensitive. “Whether or not your OK has nothing to do with me.”
  2. Enmeshed Boundaries: The relationship fluctuates constantly by one or both people trying to meet the other person’s needs and not their own.  #1 priority is the other person’s needs.  EXAMPLE: Treating a 10 year old as an adult, looking for child to be friend, helper, support instead of a child.  Typically over sensitive.  “I’m not OK if you’re not OK.”

Things to know about Healthy Boundaries:

1. Each relationship falls between extremely rigid on one side and extremely enmeshed on the other.

Mark where your caregiver relationship falls.

My needs are most important                     _                  Their needs are most important

 Their bad days…         

do not effect me                                                                      make me a wreck 

2. A crisis typically makes boundaries more extreme not more moderate. With health issues, the sick person often becomes self absorbed to focus on survival.  This can lessen after crisis.

3. Each relationship has different boundaries.  You may be excellent at taking care of your needs with your boss or your kids but not as a caregiver.

4. The easiest way to maintain a healthy boundary is to take turns.  Sometimes one person in the relationship needs more care giving than the other person.

  •  You ask the boss to leave early so you can go to your kid’s baseball game.
  • The wife is having a difficult pregnancy and needs bed rest.
  • A husband’s job requires a season of extended overtime.
  • A child is failing a class and needs extra attention doing homework.
  • A parent loss their spouse and needs help dealing with the estate.

The thing is that with MS it’s harder to take turns.  You have to pay special attention to see that both partners get a turn.

How do you change your boundaries?

Boundaries can become more healthy by changing how you cope with your needs.  Exploring ways to have both people’s needs met can improve every aspect of a relationship.

Step #1            Identify Needs 

This is much harder than it looks.  When we are each struggling to get the basic needs taken care of, who has time to think about this other stuff?  And yet it is by finding ways to get these needs met that a caregiver’s stress will decrease, rest will improve and health will begin to stabilize.  Some of these needs may seem impossible to fulfill.  That’s Ok.  Acknowledging the need is a huge first step.

Which needs below relate to you?

I need:


To be useful.

To feel attractive.

To be needed

To feel important.

To have help with my kids.

To relax.

To feel in control.

To be listened to.

To be told I am appreciated.

To be told I am loved.

To be respected.

To have help with my parents.

To feel valued.

To have fun.

To know I am doing it right.

To know someone understands.

To have a car pool.

To feel appreciated.

To be lovingly touched.

To focus on something other than illness.

To be rested.

To give to others.

To not feel alone.

To laugh.

To be fulfilled sexually.

To know my loved ones are cared for.

To be secure financially.

To have someone mow my lawn.


Step #2                        Identify who can fulfill needs.

No relationship can fulfill all our needs. The best parent, the best spouse the best friend can not take care of everything we need.  To have healthy boundaries in your care giving relationship you have to be open to receiving care from others.  This can be hard.  It’s easy to get caught up in who you want to fill a specific need, or who should fill a need or who you won’t let fill a need.  Many times it is the lack of other people involved in the needs of a care giving couple that can make once healthy boundaries become uncomfortable.

It’s tempting to scratch people off your list of people that can care for you because they are not local.  Don’t do that. Many of the needs on the list from step 1 can be met long distance.  Email, phones, letters are wonderful ways to let others touch your life.

Complete the questions below.  Remember, many needs can be fulfilled by more than one person.  EXAMPLE: How many people do you need to have listen to you?  Should be more than one.

1. Needs from the list above that I would like my loved one with MS to fulfill.


2. Other people that can be a support in my life. (think of my parents, their parents, siblings, old friends, neighbors, new friends, work associates, clubs, groups, teams, etc.)



3. Needs from the list above I would like these people to fulfill.


Step #3            Share your needs with others.

One of the hardest part about asking your loved one with MS to show more attention to your needs is that they will probably ALWAYS have more needs than you.  Always.  Don’t be tempted to think “Being listened to or appreciated or touched is not as important as their MS.”  It’s not true.  Your relationship is one of the most important things in their life.  Therefore, caring 

for your needs is a major priority for their health physically, mentally and emotionally.

Another hard part about sharing your needs is the fear that you will be disappointed.  You might.  Reshaping the boundaries in a relationship so that everyone can be cared for is difficult.  You need to know it will take more than one attempt.  It will take persistent sharing of your needs and giving specific directions of how they should fulfill it. 


  1. Which need would you like filled? To be appreciated.
  2. Who will you ask to fill th
    is needs? my loved one with MS
  3. How would you like them to fill it?” “Say ‘Thank you, I appreciate you cooking my dinner.”
  4. How will them doing this make you feel? It will make me feel appreciated.

Complete the questions below for two needs of yours you would like to have filled. 

  1. Which need would you like filled?
  2. Who will you ask to fill this needs?
  3. How would you like them to fill it?
  4. How will the person doing this make you feel?

About Karen Tripp

Beyond being a Christian Counselor and the President of Cancer Companions, Karen loves to read (she's a great reader) and loves to sing (she's a bad singer) in her home near St Louis, MO. Cancer has personally touched Karen's personal life through her dad - a 23 year colon cancer survivor. Impacting lives for Christ through her speaking, writing and counseling fills Karen with a passion which infuses every task she approaches. (except matching socks. Karen hates matching socks.)
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