On Sunday I took a look at what it takes to raise and release wise children into the world. I said it involves two things: offering choices and consequences. Download Parenthood: Hitting the Target here. We raise wise children by helping them to take responsibility and make good decisions.
But for you non-parents I hope you see the application to other relationships. Choices and consequences are what we should all be using to establish boundaries in our personal relationships. Too often people feel the need to take responsibility for the problems that other people create. We get guilted into solving their problems just like children often guilt their parents into solving theirs.
For example, a wife asked me once if I could find her husband a job. Now, I don't mind helping people out...passing along tips to find jobs or whatever. But behind her question I sensed a weak boundary. What she was really saying was..."my husband is lazy. He won't look for work so now I have to do it for him." And what she didn't realize was that she was now trying to pass that responsibility onto me. I told her that I'd be happy to keep my ears open but if he didn't want to look for a job that that was the real issue. She shouldn't try to solve HIS problem. (And neither should I). She should consider giving him choices and consequences for his decisions.
For some of you. this probably opens a number of follow up questions for your particular situation. It's complicated, I know. Maybe come in and see me. We can talk through a solution to your particular scenario. But don't solve other peoples problems for them (unless that's your job and you get paid for it!). Life is too short and you have enough of your own problems to solve!