My husband and I were live-in apartment managers for six years before we moved from Alaska to California. What a difficult job that was! We had authority over this 34-unit complex–power to enforce rules and even power to evict tenants. These tenant, though, also happened to be our neighbors.

In the beginning, we adopted the method of wearing different “hats”—our friendly neighbor “hat” and our firm manager “hat”. It seemed like a necessary thing to do. It was extremely difficult for me as I was usually the pushover. I had a hard time being the “mean” person and enforcing rules. Josh, on the other hand, had no problem wearing this hat while maintaining good relationships with most of the tenants.

My philosophy on hat-wearing slowly began to change as I learned more about boundaries. I’ll tell a story to illustrate my point.

In one of the units near ours was a young and extremely volatile couple. The boyfriend would drink and they would get into crazy screaming matches late at night that half the complex could hear. Josh and I had managed to develop somewhat of a relationship with these two, so they respected and trusted us. But now we were in a situation where action needed to be taken. We could not allow them to continue disrupting their neighbors.

What would we do? Would we put our firm manager “hats” on and tell them like it is? Would we allow our frustration over the situation to get the better of us and begin yelling at them to shut up? Or should we just avoid conflict altogether to stay on good terms with them?

Nope. This is where good boundaries come into play. With the understanding that we have authority over the building and over who goes and who stays, Josh and I approached this situation calmly and even lovingly. We empathized with this poor young couple. We knew enough about them from speaking with them that they just didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship.

On the other hand, these tenants were still in breach of their rental agreement. A boundary needed to be enforced and they needed to be faced with the consequences of their actions. Josh went upstairs to their unit and spoke with the boyfriend and I offered to give his girlfriend a ride to her parents’ house so that the two could have some space.

This gave Josh the opportunity to have a respectful conversation with the boyfriend, connecting with him man-to-man and letting him know that we’ll have to evict him and his girlfriend if they continue to disrupt their neighbors. Meanwhile, I spent the car ride affirming the girlfriend’s worth and value as a woman since she seemed to be mostly on the receiving end of the verbal abuse.

Our message to them that evening was this: Our heart is for you. We care about you and would rather not have to evict you, but we will enforce the rental agreement for the protection of our neighbors.

Empathy and boundaries. These two concepts go hand-in-hand. Without boundaries, I couldn’t have had the emotional clarity to maintain a compassionate heart for my neighbors. My feelings would dictate my words and actions. If my neighbors were behaving well, I would be nice and loving. If they were disobeying the rules or being rude, I would get mad and either be rude in return or just stew silently. Either way, there’s no room for compassion or empathy. Boundaries guard my heart so that people’s actions don’t affect my love for them.

It’s funny how we twist this around and believe that our boundaries are the things that communicate hate or rejection to people. Boundaries aren’t hateful. It’s our words and actions (that flow from our hearts) that tend to be hateful or uncompassionate when we fail to have appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are taking authority over what is ours to begin with. In this case, Josh and I had authority over the building. Boundaries also allow others to feel the consequences of their actions. We weren’t threatening to evict our neighbors because we hated them; they were merely faced with the consequences of their actions.

Through this experience, Josh and I were able to maintain a respectful relationship with this couple–even when they disobeyed the terms of their rental agreement, even when we were awoken from a deep sleep to the two of them screaming and slamming doors. That was only possible through proper boundaries—not rescuing them from the consequences of their actions, but allowing them to face that reality.


Helpful reading:

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk

The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero

The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I appreciate your feedback. Do you have a relationship with someone that always seems to end in hurt, anger, or bitterness? What boundaries could you enforce that would guard your heart against their poor choices and help you to have more compassion for them? Please comment below!