Boundaries are an essential component of healthy relationships. They serve as a way to define personal limits, clarify expectations, and establish a sense of safety and respect in our interactions with others. Without boundaries, we can’t really be upset about how others are treating us. Many people struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships, which can lead to a range of problems, including emotional exhaustion, burnout, resentment, and even ending the relationship. Let’s talk a little more about boundaries, why you need to communicate yours clearly, and how to go about doing that.
Why are Healthy Boundaries Important
There is a misperception that we are all playing by the same rules. We aren’t. Everyone has been raised with different rules and expectations. We’ve all had experiences that contribute to those rules and expectations. Just because I believe it is never okay to raise your voice, doesn’t mean you believe that. As a matter of fact, maybe a raised voice in your home meant passion and enthusiasm. This is why it’s so important to be aware of our boundaries as well as communicate them effectively.
Boundaries play a critical role in healthy relationships. When we have clear boundaries, we know what we’re comfortable with, what we’re not, and what our limits are. Boundaries provide structure and predictability, which can be reassuring in a world that can sometimes feel chaotic and unpredictable. Additionally, boundaries allow us to communicate our needs and desires, so that others know how to interact with us and what we expect from them.
Step 1 to Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationships – Identify Your Boundaries
Before you can set healthy boundaries for your relationships, you have to know what your boundaries are. Allow me to provide an example. A friend of mine was recently dating a man. It was a new relationship and they both dove in fast and furious for the first two weeks. She hadn’t dated in a while and was excited at this new romance. About midway through the second week, she started feeling smothered. He wanted to see her every day. He was texting messages about missing her. And he was making plans for their future together. As you might imagine, the more he pushed, the more she pulled away. In the absence of an actual conversation regarding her need for space (a boundary), he couldn’t make sense of what had changed. She first had to identify her needs and then clearly communicate these new boundaries to the other person.
Setting boundaries can be challenging, especially for those who are used to putting others’ needs before their own. There are so many fears tied to communicating our needs – Will it make them angry? Will they be upset? Am I expecting too much? Am I being demanding? What if they don’t like me anymore?
Tips for Healthy Relationship Boundary Setting Success
Let’s start by setting those fears aside. Whatever you need in your life is not unreasonable. If they are unwilling to work within your boundary, you merely have a different decision to make. In the absence of setting a boundary, clearly and confidently, you have no one to blame for the situation but yourself. Let’s start with the basics of setting boundaries.
- Clearly communicate your needs and wants. “Clearly” is the operative word here.
- Learn to say “no” when you need to.
- Establish limits and stick to them.
- Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions. It’s okay to feel what you feel. Don’t let others convince you that you shouldn’t feel any certain way.
- Be assertive, but also be willing to compromise.
- Keep a balance between your own needs and the needs of others. This doesn’t mean giving in, it means finding a compromise if necessary.
- Respect others’ boundaries as well as your own.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support.
- Be honest with yourself and others about what you can and cannot handle.
- Remember that setting boundaries is an ongoing process and may require ongoing communication and negotiation
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s important to remember that boundary setting is a skill that can be learned and practiced. Even if you haven’t set good boundaries in the past, you still can learn and improve in this area. Here are some tips for setting better boundaries:
- Know your limits: Start by identifying what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. This could be related to physical touch, personal space, conversations, or anything else that’s important to you.
- Communicate clearly: Once you’ve identified your boundaries, communicate them clearly and directly to others. Be specific about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not.
- Be consistent: Stick to your boundaries, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. Consistency is key to establishing healthy boundaries.
- Practice self-care: Setting and maintaining boundaries can be exhausting, so make sure to practice self-care regularly. This could include activities like meditation, exercise, or spending time with friends.
This might be a good place for a personal story. I have a thing about people hugging me who aren’t family or close friends. Especially at work, I have very clear lines between my work and personal life, and few people are allowed to cross those lines. It’s a boundary for me. I felt a great deal of pressure at one place of employment to allow others to hug me. I was new and wanted to fit in, be successful in my new role, and honestly, the peer pressure was great. It caught me off guard because I had never experienced this in a workplace before. I became very adept at stepping back and putting my hand up as others approached me for a hug and just said, “I’m not a hugger.”
It probably took a full year of this reminder before people quit trying to hug me. And you know what? I notice others started to do the same thing. I had given them permission to set a boundary simply by doing it myself.
What to Do When Others Ignore Your Boundaries
Despite our best efforts, there may be times when others ignore our boundaries. In these situations, it’s important to be assertive and communicate your needs clearly. Here are some strategies for dealing with boundary violations:
- Reinforce your boundaries: If someone ignores your boundaries, remind them of your limits and ask them to respect your wishes.
- Set consequences: Let the person know that if they continue to violate your boundaries, there will be consequences. For example, you might limit your time with them, or end the relationship altogether.
- Seek support: It can be helpful to talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about boundary violations. They can offer emotional support and help you come up with strategies for dealing with the situation.
Don’t Let Others Convince You Your Boundaries are Not Right
I want to take this opportunity to clearly communicate that if you set a boundary and others refuse to adhere to that boundary, they are disrespecting your boundaries and you may have a different decision to make. Too often we give people the benefit of the doubt over and over and over again. We refuse to acknowledge they are ignoring our boundaries in favor of what they want. And we let them do it.
And those who are, shall we say, manipulative, can make you feel like you’re crazy for having any boundaries at all. You are allowed to have boundaries and more importantly, you should. There is nothing wrong with your boundary. Not wanting to babysit someone’s three kids because they neglected to have a Plan B, does not make you selfish. You are allowed to have boundaries that enable you to have the life you want to have.
In the case of my aforementioned friend and her dating relationship, she clearly communicated that she needed more space and did not want to spend so much time together. He acknowledged her request and she felt really good about the conversation. They even discussed seeing each other two days later. And then, an hour after the call where she set her boundaries, he showed up with a dozen red roses. This can be very confusing to some people because the gift appears so sweet and romantic. But the truth is, he completely ignored the boundary that had been set just one hour previously.
And that is cause for concern.
If my friend were following the steps provided above, she would have clearly communicated when he showed up at the door that he was ignoring her boundary and therefore disrespecting her, roses or no roses. She would set a consequence for continuing to do this which would likely include ending the relationship. And of course, she thanks him for the flowers.
Remember, setting boundaries is a skill that can be learned and practiced, and it’s never too late to start. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is a critical component of healthy relationships and it’s your responsibility to communicate your boundaries. It’s important to know your limits, communicate them clearly, and be consistent in enforcing them.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I’ve got two other resources that do a great job and have vastly different approaches to explaining this topic: