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August 18, 2018

Priority is a word that a friend brought to my attention recently.

Priority is an important word. It’s a word that we often lump with responsibility. We have to make certain things a priority in order to succeed in life, in our career, in our finances, and more.

But lately I’ve been pondering the meaning of priority in relationship to boundaries with people.

What I have been realizing over the last few years– well decade, let’s be honest– is that there are a lot of people who I have prioritized in my life, but the prioritizing of me has not been reciprocated equally or at all. This could be called a one-sided relationship.

Now, in my experience, it’s easier to discern this with friendship. You invite said person to your house, you text said person, you buy gifts for said person, you email said person. You think you are friends with said person. But then something strange happens. You realize that said person is not doing any of those things for you. Said person is not initiating anything.

At this point, you allow said person to slowly exit your life or you can have a conversation with said person about the friendship and his/her willingness to make you a priority in his/her life as well.

I’ve experienced both: let the relationship fizzle out or work through things. When working through things, it can either work out or it can die a slower death as you try to resuscitate something that was already not really living.

Priority in relationships at work exists as well. And at church. Pretty much anytime you are interacting with people, you have to make decisions about what priority the relationship is to you. This helps you create healthy boundaries with others.

For example, it would be foolish for you to buy a new acquaintance a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses or to spend all of your free time helping him/her with something (of course there are exceptions). However, you might buy your spouse a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and there would be nothing weird about that.

So, let’s not look at friends anymore. Let’s take a look at family.

A healthy, functioning family will make family members a priority in their life– be it time, finances, energy, etcetera. It’s perfectly normal for a healthy family to text often, call often, visit each other often, exchange gifts, share vulnerable things with each other, and more.

But let’s look at an unhealthy, dysfunctional family. There are so many different types of unhealthy families out there, so for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to a family where most members are self-centered and selfish (that can fit a lot of family examples out there).

It might look like this: parents never call or visit their children, silence in every way imaginable, a sibling never gives the other sibling a gift, there is little to no communication between family members, a family member might do something hurtful to another family member but is not able to recognize that the behavior was hurtful, no one takes true interest in others’ lives, when there is communication or visiting only one family member shares about their life while never asking about the other person, when someone is in the hospital they do not tell the family, family members withhold encouragement and compliments, family members talk about themselves and boast often, family members might make another feel like a burden (ie. parents complaining about having to drive to a child’s graduation), a family member expressing hurt and desire for change but finding unwillingness on the other end, family members do not share their lives openly, family members just talk at you but real connection is not happening, family members are not vulnerable, family relationships are shallow, and so on.


How can you say you are making someone a priority if you never: call, visit, listen sincerely to the other person, ask questions, text, email, truly ask how that person is doing, give gifts, acknowledge important events or holidays, consider the other when making decisions, consider how the other person is feeling, show love, give encouragement and compliments, and more.

You can’t. You absolutely are NOT making someone a priority if normal relational interactions are not happening.

That leaves me to ask, should someone who IS doing those things in the dysfunctional family continue doing so? After all, family should be a priority.

And this is what I have been pondering for a few years now.

My conclusion– even though it might hurt– NO.

At some point, healthy boundaries have to be drawn in the relationship. It’s not about unforgiveness. It’s not about wishing ill of the other person(s). And it’s certainly not unloving. It is actually a loving thing to do. Boundaries communicate to others and to yourself. Boundaries might serve as a consequence. Boundaries can be temporary. Boundaries can be strong and soft.

Relationships are two-way. Period.

One-way relationships need to end. Boundaries need to be put in place.

It is no longer a healthy relationship if it is one-sided (one person doing all the heavy-lifting so-to-speak in the relationship).

Sometimes in order to heal or to stay healthy you have to put a strong boundary in place with family members who simply do not know how to love well. It is not easy to do. It is painful at times because you hope and pray that one day the relationship can be restored and healthy.

You cannot fix the relationship. Why? Because relationship is two-way and you cannot control the other person. Both parties must be willing to make each other a priority.

When the level of priority is off balance or is non-existent for one person then the relationship will not be healthy.

You have the option of continuing in these dysfunctional, unhealthy, life-sucking relationships. And often, we do stay in them for a long time. And some times we never put boundaries in place. But in order to stop being hurt over and over and over and over again by selfish actions of certain people, it is healthier to put some boundaries in place.

This could look a variety of ways: limiting how much you give in the relationship; discontinuing all contact altogether; lowering the level of priority that the person is in your life; changing your perspective and mindset of how you think about that person (the weight you give them in your life, emotions…) etc.

When we make healthy boundaries with those who continually hurt us, we allow space for healing to happen. We allow space for other life-giving relationships to come into our lives. We allow ourselves to be loved and we show ourselves the dignity that we deserve.

No one deserves to be treated in an unloving manner over and over and over and over again.

Perhaps one day, the person whom you drew a line with will begin to take steps to make you a priority in his/her life. At that point, you can reconsider the line you drew. But until then, that boundary serves an important purpose to help you stay healthy and protect you from getting hurt over and over and over again when you give and give and give but it is not reciprocated.

Boundaries are like gates. They are not fences. They determine what you allow in and out of your life.

So, priority. It has so much to do with how one can set healthy boundaries. 

Priority and boundaries. They go together more than I knew. 

But now I know. And now I can make necessary changes. 

Let the pruning and healing begin. 

And perhaps one day, the mending of relationships will come. But for now, it is time to make my health a priority. 

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