Asking for “space” in a relationship has become such a common request that it verges on cliché, but in the 1970s, it was completely novel. The idea of putting yourself first didn’t come out of nowhere, writes the Atlantic senior editor Julie Beck—it’s a concept that can trace its roots to the sexual revolution, the women’s-rights movement, and the rising popularity of self-help books.

Dear Therapist

Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, a 21-year-old reader wants to know how to deal with his parents as they go through a divorce, since they have been dragging him and his brothers into the conflict. He doesn’t want to be his parents’ mediator, but he still wants to help somehow.

Lori’s advice: Set boundaries with your parents, and enforce them firmly.

I know this is a tremendously hard conversation to have, because you may feel like you aren’t offering help to someone you love. But that’s not your role here. The truth is that you can’t help your parents through this, and your involvement won’t only compromise your relationship with one or both of them, but it will also affect your ability to set boundaries in relationships to come. In preserving your relationships with your parents, you’ll also be giving yourself important practice for your future.

Send Lori your questions at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com.

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