Dynamic of boundaries and counselling approach

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When one hears the word boundary, what comes to mind is something in the form of a fence, or a demarcation line.  Cloud H and Townsend had the same in mind, but not in terms of physical property or physical fence but a demarcation line in relation to relationships or the drawing line in a marriage relationship.  They define a boundary, in simple terms, as a property line[1].   It marks the start and stop of something. Utility of boundaries for a healthy and balanced relationship is essential.  Cloud H’s triangle of boundaries involves three important aspects: Freedom, Responsibility and Love.

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Why the use of boundaries in marriage? According to Cloud H and Townsend J. (1999), boundaries are helpful for the realization of ones freedom.  Paul writes to the Galatians on freedom in the book of Galatians 5:1 and says that through freedom Christ set us free, therefore we should not be subject to a yoke of slavery but instead we should keep standing firm.

Cloud H, and Townsend (1999), state that a number of options present themselves when one realizes the freedom they have from a partner or from anybody else in any relationship.  They add that, through boundary, one is able to know where a person’s control starts and where it ends.

Moreover, boundaries aid in defining what freedom one has and what freedom one does not have.  An individual cannot force another individual to do something, as this is a violation of God’s basic law of freedom that He established.  Therefore, love only works when each partner discovers his or her freedom.  In order for love to work, the realization of each spouse’s freedom is of paramount importance (Cloud H. 1999).

Cloud H emphasizes that marriage is by no means slavery, and that the basis of marriage is on a relationship of love founded on freedom that each spouse is free from the other and therefore, free to love the other. That love exists only in freedom and not control or its perception.  Freedom comes with boundaries. Setting boundaries helps a couple know where one partner’s limitation ends and where the other begins, what the problem is, where it is, is it in one or the other?. Therefore, through boundaries both parties are better equipped to identify the root cause of the problem.

Having known the benefits of boundaries, it is important to know how to set them in the relationship.  One of the steps to setting boundaries and succeeding in relationships is taking responsibility for ones own actions.  The part one has played in the presentation of a particular problem in the relationship.  Since God created humans as free, He bestowed responsibility for humans’ freedom-freedom comes with responsibility.

As free humans who are responsible, the Bible instructs us to love Him and love others.  When we follow the three: Live freely, be responsible for own freedom, love God as well as each other, life becomes wonderful inclusive of marriage.

Examples of boundaries include the Language: One’s words or lack of them define a person to the other. Speaking out defines boundaries on the contrary silence only destroys it.  Truth is another important one- Relationships should be based within the boundary of the Truth- that is the Word of God, outside of which would be detrimental.  Another one is Consequences: this defines the boundary of what one allows oneself to be exposed to. Thus, actions can speak louder where words have failed.

Emotional distance is also necessary when a problem instilled by a particular partner keeps recurring. If a partner is in a hurtful relationship and the partner keeps doing hurtful things.  Other people can also be used to set boundaries: a third party can be instrumental in the repairing of a broken relationship due to issues such as excessive drinking, promiscuity, dishonesty amongst others. Other people can aid in resolving a conflict. Time is also another example of a boundary.  Setting time to work on certain issues in the relationship is necessary as opposed to dealing with them in the heat of the moment.

Cloud and John stress that all these boundaries are important but each couple must know what is important for what time.  Truth may be the right one for a particular problem but emotional distance may not be the right approach.


“How to help people change; the four step Biblical process” by Jay E. Adams is a profound book that illustrates the steps that a counselor, particularly a Christian one, should take in-order to succeed in counseling.  Adams shows the way that the counselor should follow and the pitfalls that should be avoided for success in counseling.

The idea of Adam is that Christian counselors should endeavor to help people through change that is spiritually-oriented. Their goal is or should be sanctification or rather change towards God.  Therefore, successful counseling occurs when a Christian is made more like Christ.  He adds that moving either toward or away from Christ is not at all neutral as presumed by many, but it is a serious moral issue[2].

In my view, one of the strengths of his book is the idea that human relationships are not a two-way affair but instead they are a three-way affair.  In other words, change that is accepted biblically considers the relationship of the person in relation to God as well as in relation to man.  With that in mind the whole counseling process becomes complex compared to simple efforts applied in effecting change without referring to God. For that reason a counselor wishing to counsel in biblical concepts should anticipate the change’s complexities.

The other strength in this book is the emphasis that God should not be ignored through the counseling process. This happens through Christian counsellors adopting theories and practices of counseling that are simplistic, that are composed by unbelievers and that do not give a place for God.  When this happens, in no way will those apparently good results hold up in the long-term.  They may succeed for a while but eventually they will collapse.

Adams therefore explains that change that is good socially may be evil religiously.  He backs his statement by adding that external changes should follow an internal change of heart proceeding to God.  Failure to that it will lead to a self-righteous person quintessential of the Pharisees who followed the laws of God yet their hearts were far away.   Preventing evil cannot be equated with promoting good.  In retrospect, counselors should be able to tell apart righteous change coming from Christ and the change that is self-righteous of the Pharisees and scribes of modern-day.

Despite various merits of Adam’s book, it also has its weakness.  For instance he puts much emphasis on God’s principles and rules while totally and intentionally ignoring the individual’s environment, societal norms and laws of that particular area where the individual needing counseling comes from.

Furthermore, his perception of morality is solely based on the Bible and God’s principles.  Anything outside is non-valid and inconsiderable.  Therefore, counseling process according to him, will only succeed with the application and adoption of God’s principles and rules alone.

However, Adam’s book compliments Backus and Chapian’s book ‘Telling Yourself The Truth’.  This book involves individuals being in a position to ignore and forget all the lies they have made themselves to believe and tell themselves the real truth.  It is a book that involves the thoughts of an individual towards themselves, how they perceive their lives and their attitude towards the problem.

Just like Adams book, Backus and Chapian emphasize on the internal change as opposed to just external.  They state that one is how they think and that one should stop lying to themselves or stop believing in lies and confront their inner selves and tell themselves the truth.

Backus and Chapian’s book, just like Adams’, puts emphasis on the idea of a complete turnaround of one’s life thus resulting to change.  It involves battling with the mind[3].  What one thinks and believes within themselves is how they become and eventually how they will react to life and their surroundings.  It is also similar in the sense that it avoids the shortcuts which is the external change only and instead deals with the longer route which is the truth of oneself and God that ultimately leads to real and true change.  Also, both books compliment each other as they are backed by God’s word – the Bible.  Various scriptures have been used to emphasize and drive a point home in reference to the Word of God which is the voice of God.

The books however differ in the sense that Backus and Chapian’s book “Telling Yourself The Truth” emphasizes on highlighting the false beliefs that individuals carry along and how to deal with those lies and eventually get rid of those lies.  In addition although there is use of scripture the use of verses that are specific to a certain problem, unlike Adam’s book, is lacking.

All in all, both books gear towards equipping counselors to change.  A change that is not only extrinsic: but most of all intrinsic.  They both involve a change of heart for the person.   This occurs through a complete turn around of behavior by the individual. They both involve processes that are not just based on simple societal theories that in effect, only lead to short-term change.  Instead they involve processes that conceive a permanent change of heart to the individual.

In conclusion, based on both books, it is evident that for change to occur in a person going through problems, simplistic approach to counseling is not enough.  There is a need for the counselor to initiate change of heart for the person that will gear him or her towards God.  Closeness to God and following his instructions leads to a change that is not temporary, but permanent.


Adams, J.E.  (1986). How to help people change.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing

House.Retrieved from   ISBN: 031051181X

Backus, W.D., & Chapian, M.  (2000). Telling yourself the truth (20E).  Minneapolis:

Bethany House Publishers. Retrieved from ISBN: 0764223259

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J.  (1999). Boundaries in marriage.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House.  Retrieved from  ISBN# 0310243149

[1] Cloud, H., & Townsend, J.  (1999). Boundaries in marriage.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House.  Retrieved from  ISBN# 0310243149

[2] Adams, J.E.  (1986). How to help people change.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing

House.Retrieved from   ISBN: 031051181X

[3] Backus, W.D., & Chapian, M.  (2000). Telling yourself the truth (20E).  Minneapolis:

Bethany House Publishers. Retrieved from ISBN: 0764223259


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