Football season is almost over.
Each year the Main Football Curtain comes to a close with Superbowl Sunday, and that’s not too far down the road. Therefore, I thought I would bring back a series I began last summer on “Boundary Education” using football metaphors. It’s time for Lesson #3. If you love football, feel you might need to learn a bit more about setting personal boundaries or learning how to utilize boundaries for the health of a couple relationship, begin your reading here:
Boundary Education for Football Fans: The Flea Flicker and Four Other Strategic Plays for Relational Competence. And, here…
Now – if you’ve already reviewed Lessons One and Two, then you probably recall the scenario we’re using to set up all our boundary setting skill practices. To summarize and briefly set the scene, you’re at a company picnic and see the one person you always try to avoid, setting up their “camp” next to your site…
Just as you are thinking strongly about whether or not to fold the blanket back up and look for another spot, you hear your co-worker approaching you and the first thing that they say is, “Wow…here we are…at a family picnic! Games for the kids, a little pool area, prizes for the tricycle race – what a set up. Our kids can’t wait to get started. So, when are you two going to get crackin’ and have your first baby?”
So, we’ve already demonstrated how you might “punt” in terms of responding to your problem colleague, and we also worked through what “taking a knee” might look like. Now, it’s time to step it up a little. It’s time to move past the neutral responses and begin learning how to make progress. I’ll show you three different ways you could consider:
First – – the Quarterback Sneak. YOU are the quarterback in your own game of life, and when someone hikes you the football (“When are you two going to…have your first baby?”) you CAN choose to make progress in your boundary setting, and in your relationship with this person. What exactly is a REAL quarterback sneak? I love Wikipedia’s take on the football plays – they do a good job of summarizing the strategy…
The quarterback takes the snap and immediately dives to one side of the center or the other. This is often a short yardage play designed when only a yard or so is needed for a first down or a touchdown. Often the only players on either side of the ball that know the play is coming are the quarterback and the center (hence the sneak aspect of it), as the play is often decided by the quarterback upon seeing the defense. The play is often called by a silent signal between quarterback and center (a pinch or a tap in the direction the sneak is headed).
To summarize, YOU are the one who is making the progress and assume it’s going to be just a short distance. It’s all you…your partner doesn’t get involved with this one. Making progress requires that you not only try to make headway with your colleague, but you make headway with your boundary setting. A baby-step, good-for-both-involved response would sound something like this –
Look, I can tell you really love having children. (You just acknowledged something positive about them that relates to their question). I’m glad you are enjoying being a father (You just told them you’re happy for their situation). However, for me and my wife, family planning is a personal topic. Discussions about when or if we will be having children will need to stay between us. When or if we’re ready to share any news, we’ll sure let you know. (You’ve explained calmly and directly that family planning discussions are off limits.)
So – it was YOUR play, you tried to make some personal progress with your colleague and you let them know your boundaries about that particular topic. Trying this move won’t hurt anything, and if your colleague is willing to accept that particular boundary you set, then you know they can possibly handle other progressive steps in developing a relationship with you. If they can’t…well, we’ll talk about that in Part 4.
The next “progress” play is called The Option. I like this play because it is a way you and your spouse can work together as a team to help each other through a situation like we’ve described. A short definition of this play is simply that when the quarterback receives the hike, he can run…or depending upon how things look, he can pitch it to his running back . If you are reading this post, but really don’t know much about football and want to learn, I’ve included a handy-dandy instruction video for you. Watch it, or skip it…your choice!
As you might tell from reading the explanation, a quarterback AND the running back have to be aware of what’s going on. In other words, you have to be attuned to each other. If YOU are the quarterback, and your partner is your running back, you BOTH have to understand the situation. I wouldn’t try this kind of move unless you and your partner have pretty decent communication with each other, and you have a high level of trust between you. Here’s our example…you’ve just been passed the ball (When are you going to have a baby?…) and your partner is with you. Depending upon who passes you the ball, what kind of day each of you has been having, or depending upon which of you thinks more quickly at that time, you might either look at each other as if to say, “I’ll take this one, babe…” or perhaps signal each other with a touch. Sports is full of secret signals – maybe a touch on the hand means, “Please take this one..” OR, “I got this one.” Whomever, takes it, then tries to make the progress.
Let’s say you give a signal to your partner that means, “Help me – can you take this?” They would then say something pretty much like I explained in the Quarterback Sneak section. This time, however, your spouse set the boundary for the both of you in a good way and helped make progress with your relationship. Or, it could have been you doing the same thing…either one, depending upon the situation. The main skill is that you are both willing to take the ball if necessary, for the good of your relationship and for setting boundaries with your colleague.
Finally, let’s talk about Draw Plays. I like the draw play because it’s basically a bait and switch for the person who is getting on your nerves. If you’re not making too much progress with your colleague, or you’ve already tried the QB Sneak AND the Option, then a Draw Play might be just the ticket. Basically, a draw play is where a QB and the formation look like they’re setting up for a pass play. The quarter back drops back like he would do if he were going to pass, the receivers continue to carry their part through up the field, but rather than passing, the QB hands the ball off to the tailback. So – draw play…confuse the defense, and then make progress in an unexpected way.
For our boundary setting example, this is going to require you, your partner, and….a third party. Yes, you read that right. You are the quarterback, your partner is the receiver, and your friend, your mom, your brother, your next door neighbor or your boss – is the tailback. It SOUNDS confusing, but it’s not. In order to make progress, you’ve got to do two things right? 1) Validate the person you’re talking to; and, 2) set your limits.
If you’ve already learned that this person is not respecting the limits you’ve tried to set, then your tailback is going to reinforce them. So, you pull a “dissecta-trifecta” (I hear that groan…)
Your partner: “**give a validation statement, acknowledge that whatever they’re doing seems important**”
You: “**define your limits – let them know what you are and are not okay with discussion**” Then, this is where your friend might protest, make fun of what you just said, harrass you and try to make jokes in order to ease their discomfort, etc. Then, your tailback comes in…
Your tailback: “Hey there, you heard him. If he says that’s a private conversation, then it’s a private conversation. Give it a rest, okay? Let’s go get some food…”
What you’ve done by bringing in your tailback is your boundary has now been REINFORCED by another member of your team. You’ve made progress by setting your limits, even if the progress with your colleague isn’t quite sinking in. The Draw Play is last option before the Hail Mary’s come in. Hail Mary’s will be our only, and last, Boundary Education play in this series. Then it will be up to you. But remember…