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How to Set Limits with Unreasonable People

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

One of the biggest stressors I’ve heard from divorcing women is that they’re sick and tired of other people making unreasonable demands of them.

Sometimes it’s the ex, telling you they're not sure when they'll be picking the kids up - again.

Maybe it’s the boss, demanding that you work late, but your babysitter can’t watch the kids past 6PM.

Setting hard limits comes last, when all other options (that might be considered more nice) have been exhausted. But there are times when it’s necessary. I’m going to give you a great formula to use - and practice in advance! - when you just have to stop someone in their tracks.

Before we go further, though, a very important footnote: Tone is everything. It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it that counts. The degree of firmness should be in proportion to the degree of the importance of the issue, not how annoyed you are.

Use an XYZ statement: “When you do X, I feel Y, and I’d like Z.” Focus on how you’re feeling, rather than accusing or blaming the other person. Here are some examples.

“When you decide not to take the kids for the weekend, it frustrates me and hurts the kids’ feelings. I’d like to have a week’s notice and a rescheduling date from now on.”

“When you ask me to work late at the last minute, I get upset. I’d like to explore other options to keep the project on track without me having to stay late.”

“When you don’t explain the terms on this agreement, I feel confused and anxious about how they could affect me. I’d like to understand what they mean and how it all impacts me.”

Notice that all these statements are reasonable, sound calm, and are focused on solutions. It isn’t productive to cast blame, yell or make unreasonable demands. Focus on what the problem is, and how to solve it.

Use the broken record technique. If someone responds with, "I really don't care how you feel," or refuses to consider what you're asking for, respond with, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but.." and finish with your XYZ statement. Repeat as often as necessary until they comply or, at the very least, acknowledge your viewpoint.

Create consequences for non-compliance. "You might not get everything you need if you don't ask me for projects by 4PM," or, "I won't wait for you to pick up the kids for more than 15 minutes."

These are only a few of the ways to handle unreasonable people. By building your self confidence, you can feel comfortable enough to handle stressful situations even when you're upset. Read this article to learn a fun and easy way to do that - and more!

Susan Petang is a Certified Life Coach, helping women stop being overwhelmed during and after a breakup, and start waking up happy in the morning again! You can learn more about her and The Quiet Zone Coaching here:


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