Coldplay and the S.L.O.W.E.X.I.T Steps for Setting Boundaries and Letting Go
Summary: This post shares eight things you can do to practice setting boundaries and letting go in difficult relationships.
I recently took a leap and started relationship therapy group with some courageous and insightful participants. It was so meaningful to do this work with them. This post is dedicated to those people as we wrap up our first group cycle.
In this group, which I called the “Going Home Family Systems Group,” we explored relationships with our families of origins, and how these relationship networks influence us. There were many dynamics to explore, and a lot of emotions that came up. A major theme was how to set and maintain boundaries in order to support healthy relationships and ourselves.
The creative energy and needs of this group moved me to create an eight-step process and mnemonic for setting boundaries, especially in difficult relationship situations. I call it the S.L.O.W.E.X.I.T.
I chose the song “Fix You” by Coldplay to accompany this post because of its solemn, yet hopeful, accepting qualities. His slow walk in the video helped me come up with the acronym. The melodic refrain, “lights will guide you home,” and the moving progression of the bridge capture the feeling of excitement or embarking on a new therapeutic journey with this group.
If you are working on setting boundaries and letting go, you can either sing this song with a slight rewrite “I WONT try to fix you.” Or you can sing with the original lyrics remembering the “you” that you are fixing (healing!) is yourself.
S.L.O.W.E.X.I.T Steps for Setting Boundaries and Letting Go
S is for the “Serenity prayer.” This prayer was composed by American theologian Reinhold Neibuhr in the early 1930s, around the same time 12 step programs, lead by the original Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), were developing and beginning to spread their wisdom. AA adopted and popularized the prayer. The prayer is most commonly quoted as:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
It is a beautiful way to ground yourself back into the realities of what you can and cannot control so that you can begin your process of acceptance and moving forward.
L is for “Let go.” In this process, prioritize letting go of automatic and problematic thinking. It may be harder to let go of feelings, as they may need to run their course in their own time. Feelings may land more in the category of what you can’t control. You have a bit more agency over your thoughts. You are especially invited to let go of any judgments, criticisms, and irrational thinking that come up for you.
O is for “ask Once.” If you are setting boundaries in a relationship, you must also refrain from crossing others’ boundaries. If you have clearly asked once, and the other person is not moving anywhere near collaboration with you, once may be your limit. Asking over and over starts to veer into the realm of trying to control someone else. If someone has no plans to collaborate with what you are asking, multiple requests for change may push them away further than you intended.
W is for “Within.” The most important boundaries are the ones you maintain within yourself. While sometimes it’s important to clarify boundaries, over-expressing your boundaries can turn into a controlling behavior. Many boundaries we hold do not need to be shared with the other person. You don’t need to overstate how you expect to be treated, what behaviors will cause you to take space, or give ultimatums about when something needs to happen. You just need to understand these boundaries within yourself and have the confidence to take space when they are crossed.
E is for “Escape plan.” If you know you are going into a challenging relationship situation, have an escape plan. If it’s just a call or conversation, have some polite ways to exit the conversation if need be. If you are traveling, make sure you have budgeted not only for the trip assuming all goes well – have a budget for escape transportation and lodging! This can help you feel less anxiety, knowing you have the means to escape if need be. Finally, find a mental and energetic escape for yourself through something you love to do.
X is for “don’t detach with an aXe.” Detaching with an “axe” means that you take space in an over-harsh way. Your goal is to heal enough to set boundaries in an assertive, serene way, not with reactivity, and not with malice.
I is for “use I-focus.” I am not the first relationship therapist to impart the wisdom to speak from your own perspective, and I won’t be the last. My special guidance here is that you ground from the humility that your truth is subjective and that the other person has a valid truth as well. Trade in a labeling judgmental take such as, “you are XXX,” for more vulnerable expression such as, “I am feeling XXX, and I need XXX.”
T is for Team. When you need to take space from an upsetting relationship dynamic, remember the supportive relationship dynamics in your life. Call on them as needed, especially to process the difficult feelings that come up for you and to encourage behavior you can feel good about.
By Chris Martin, Johnny Buckland, Guy Berryman, and Will Champion
When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse
And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
And high up above, or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try, you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth
Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face, and I