Setting Boundaries with Relatives


Policy Enforcement
So I have a former sister in law that we’ve kinda gotten close, still rocky sometimes. I’m pretty much the only one she talks to or confides in which I’ve tried helping her to meet others so it’s not all on me but she has no interest. I feel she is deeply depressed and should honestly seek therapy but it’s not something she is willing to do. I can handle it for the most part.

Where it gets complicated is when her venting and confiding includes my brother and their custody issues over my niece. Right now a fight is brewing and I really, really, really don’t want to be a part of it. Yet he is venting to me and she’s doing the exact same thing. I get both sides and I have way too many of my own issues to be involved. But if I say that, if I say I don’t want to be in the middle or if I say I just can’t deal with that stuff right now- it makes them both upset and they both assume I’m supporting the other one and turning my back on each.

I love my niece to death, I would do anything for her. But she’s not my kid. I shouldn’t be put in the middle of their drama just because they can’t figure out how to communicate with each other. They are good about not fighting in front of her but that’s as far as it goes.

I’m too tired and have too much going on. But I don’t know how to set that boundary without them each thinking I’m betraying them.


There good news and bad news. The good news is you will be taking major steps in self-care.

The bad news is, you pretty much have to get to the place you don't care what their reaction is because it is very rare that someone says, ' oh I'm so proud of you for setting boundaries and taking care of yourself'. Not gonna happen.

Any time we start setting boundaries it gets people upset. So stand firm with what you say, or you will be right back to square one. Good luck.


I love that line from Ladee about hardly ever would a person say ooh I am so proud you are setting a boundary when you are doing it with them....

but from my experience and honestly one of the most important feature I have that allowed me not to decompose in my lowest of point of my PTSD is setting my boundary with people including those very close that I cannot live without (figuratively speaking here).

Now what I learned very early on in my adulthood is this: most people may balk at boundary setting from the get go (for various reasons - the main one being entitlement to our attention) but at the end, they actually respect you more! I do not recall anyone who took my boundary setting so far that they left my life for good. Nope! (actually I left if they push it back like my mother).

So I know this is very radical but I think they will respect you more if you firmly but consistently set the boundaries but also understand what you may gain from knowing their issues because we as humans ever do something we are not getting something from - this is just as important to check so you are not sending mix messages.


I don’t have any words or wisdom, I’m afraid, so don’t know why I’m posting really. Just wanted to say that I feel for you. It’s a tough situation.

I have something similar going on but with my dad, sister and niece who all live together in a very gloopy, co-dependent dynamic. It’s a different scenario than yours but I think there are similarities : my dad and sister both wanting to moan about the other to me while doing nothing themselves to actually move the situation on productively; my stress around my niece who suffers by being caught in this dynamic that isn’t of her making or choosing; my struggles to set boundaries with them when they both want me to take their side.

I spoke to my T about it this week - said how stressful I was finding it and that I need to find ways to set boundaries with them better and to be less impacted by their relational stuff. We’re going to dig in to that more.

If I find anything that helps, I’ll let you know!

In the meantime, I’m just sorry you’re in this position as it’s a hard place to be.