Most of your relationships with good people have good boundaries.
However, some of your relationships might be toxic without you realizing it. You must learn to identify and replace them and establish healthy boundaries.
Boundaries help you maintain your self-esteem and independence, both of which are vital for feeling secure in a relationship.
Healthy boundaries with significant others make it easier to resolve conflicts, keep the love alive for a long time, and grow together in positive ways. They make your bonds vibrant and easy-going.
However, setting the 7 essential relationship boundaries without being controlling can be challenging, especially with close people and if you’ve never done so before.
Let’s look at how you may build healthy, effective boundaries in your relationships.
If you want to know how to set boundaries politely, then first learn to say “No” without being rude.
How To Set Healthy Boundaries In A Relationship
You must have good boundaries with your family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
Here is how to set healthy boundaries in your relationships:
1. Spot Unhealthy Boundaries In Your Relationships.
Unhealthy boundaries are either porous or rigid.
Spot any porous boundaries in your relationships that you may have allowed to develop over time.
When I was in medical school, I stayed in an all-boys hostel. There was a guy who would routinely wake up naked and go into other people’s rooms, sitting on their beds with no regard for hygiene.
We all hated it, but we didn’t report it to the hostel warden since he was otherwise a great person. So, we forced him to carry a towel to sit on.
Unhealthy boundaries allow others to do the following:
- Set unrealistic expectations from you.
- Interrupt your productivity and workflow.
- Disturb your peace with unnecessary intrusions.
- Burden you with their duties and responsibilities.
- Invade your private moments and personal space.
- Take your money and use your stuff without asking.
- Reduce your self-respect, self-worth, and self-efficacy.
- Question and curtail your autonomy and independence.
- Commit to others on your behalf without your permission.
- Do not separate your needs, desires, and wants from them.
- Give you physical, emotional, and psychological discomfort.
Unhealthy porous boundaries at the workplace may allow peers or bosses to disrupt your schedule or hog your time. It may cause you to bring your office work home, blurring the line between work and life and exposing you to mental fatigue and unhappiness.
Recognize also that the boundaries you have set are not rigid. You may add new restrictions or relax old conditions to any existing boundary as new situations arise.
Remember that it is your decision to change your boundaries as you see fit, not anybody else’s. Never ask others or seek their permission to set your boundaries with them.
Keep room to negotiate around certain people’s demands and needs before building new boundaries, such as your family and your employer.
How to set boundaries with toxic friends?
Stay away from them. You don’t need a friend who doesn’t keep good boundaries.
Unhealthy boundaries allow others to blame you for their actions or emotions.
2. Recognize & Share The Benefits of Healthy Boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries means accepting full responsibility for your own behaviors and emotions (while refusing to take accountability for other people’s actions or feelings).
Knowing and sharing the benefits of boundaries in a relationship can inspire both of you to set and keep them.
- Boundaries help prevent unnecessary stress and conflict.
- Healthy boundaries can lead to more trust, tolerance, and intimacy.
- They can improve communication and understanding between people in the relationship.
- They can help establish a sense of respect and autonomy for both people in the relationship.
- They allow you to feel more in control of your own life, current actions, and future aspirations.
- Boundaries can also foster a sense of safety and security, and make the relationship more resilient.
- They give you a healthy personal balance rather than feelings of being overwhelmed or undervalued.
Healthy boundaries help build long-term, successful relationships that you are proud to be in rather than feeling constricted or unhappy.
- Physical boundaries help you stay safe and relaxed.
- Intimacy boundaries call for consent before any intimate gesture.
- Material boundaries mark out who can ask you for your belongings and money.
- Time boundaries tell others that you are focused on your work and do not want to be distracted.
- Emotional boundaries urge others to heed your well-being and avoid anything that may agitate you.
How do you set your emotional boundary?
By deciding how you’ll allow others to treat you.
The strength of our boundaries influences our ability to protect ourselves. We are vulnerable to abuse if we do not set clear emotional boundaries.
2. Be Open About Your Needs In The Relationship.
To have a healthy and fulfilling relationship, you must be open and honest about your needs, expectations, and frustrations.
- Start by identifying your own needs in the relationship and what you are and are not comfortable with.
- Communicate your needs to your partner in a transparent, sympathetic, and peaceful way. Remember this adage, “You don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree.”
- Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs, rather than blaming or accusing your partner.
- Be willing to listen and understand if your partner has different opinions on your boundaries.
- It is acceptable to have different ideas about personal boundaries. Keep an open mind and be ready to negotiate and compromise to achieve a balance that works for both of you.
- As you lay your boundaries, remain open to hearing your partner’s needs and boundaries as well.
Before setting boundaries, make two lists: one of your relationship expectations, and the other of your life goals and priorities.
- “What do I want, and what do I expect to get, from this relationship?
- What are my priorities in life that may conflict with this relationship?”
Then, find the point of balance between your expectations and priorities.
A rude comment from someone we’ve known for years says nothing about us. It says a great deal about them. Remember, boundaries need modification and maintenance.
3. Specify Your Need For Physical and Mental Space.
Realize that it is normal to need personal space and time for yourself in a relationship.
- Express your need for space to your partner in a clear and respectful way.
- Set boundaries around how much space and alone time you need and make sure that your partner understands and agrees to these boundaries.
- Consider finding activities or hobbies that allow you to have some alone time and give you mental space to recharge your batteries.
- It is fine to take a break from constant communication and to enjoy some silence and non-interaction inside the relationship.
- Set boundaries around the use of technology, such as agreeing to put phones away during certain times or setting limits on how much time you spend on social media.
- Respect your partner’s need for space as well and try to find a happy balance that works for both of you.
Seek professional help if you are having trouble setting boundaries in your relationship around personal space and alone time.
“Good fences make good neighbors.”— Robert Frost
4. Say “No” When You Don’t Want To Do What Others Want.
Many of us struggle to say “no” to friends and family for fear of offending them. It is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
- Make yourself internalize that it is okay to say “no” to things that you are not comfortable with or don’t want to do.
- Practice asserting yourself and communicating your “No” boundaries to your partner in amicable ways.
- When an unreasonable request comes from someone who isn’t close to you, your “No” does not need to be explained or qualified.
- Use “I” statements to express your reluctance, rather than getting aggressive at, or criticizing and accusing the person.
- Your partner may have different reservations and viewpoints. So, when you’ve had your say, patiently listen to their perspective.
- Find a balance between your “no’s” and theirs, without competing against each other (“You said No to that last week, so I will say No to this today.”)
- Try to reach an agreement, as compromises are essential in every partnership.
- Don’t hesitate to say “No” right away around activities or situations that you find awkward, disgusting, or illegal.
Saying “no” can be tough, because we mostly think our refusal will invite their refusal. But we forget that their future behavior is not based on our present compliance.
A simple “No” to a request that would disrupt your “flow” or break your other commitments is a just act. Use it more regularly instead of doing what they want you to do while cursing yourself.
Never forget that your colleagues are not your family, and your company is not your home.
5. Communicate Under These Guidelines While Setting Boundaries
You can’t get anywhere with one-sided boundaries.
Expecting people to respect your boundaries simply because you want them to is unrealistic. Worse is arrogantly declaring your boundaries like a dictator.
Take the other person into confidence while you set your boundaries with them. Effective communication is the key to setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in a relationship.
Here are the general guidelines for when you set boundaries:
- Avoid favoritism in relationships.
- Do not allow emotions to cloud your decisions.
- Be intentional, clear, precise, and direct about your boundaries.
- Be assertive by using powerful words rather than passive sentences.
- Only set boundaries that make you feel comfortable and not regretful.
- Be respectful and non-confrontational when communicating boundaries.
- Use “I” statements, but do not ignore the other person’s “I” or “You” statements.
- Use active listening skills to fully understand your partner’s perspective and needs.
- Don’t use ultimatums or threats to end the relationship as a means of setting boundaries.
Tell people what boundary rules you have set for them. Ask them politely and clearly to stay within those when they are with you.
Get them to agree that they understand you and give their word to honor the new rules (this part is crucial when setting boundaries with narcissists).
Tell them boundaries are a healthy and honored part of your every relationship and assure them you will also honor their boundaries.
Of course, some people will resist some of these, but you have to stay strong. Let them know that the boundaries you set for them are absolutely necessary for you to grow into the best version of yourself.
A few quick ideas on setting boundaries are:
- Tell them what you feel they must respect.
- Do not assume their reactions or replies.
- Follow through with your boundaries.
- Take responsibility when any of you violate.
- If you see red flags (such as being afraid to speak your mind in case of repeated boundary violations, or one-sided conversations by the other person), then consider walking out of the relationship.
Recommended Healthy Boundaries book
Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin – How to Recognize and Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine explains what healthy boundaries are, how to recognize if your personal boundaries are being violated, and what you can do to resurrect them.
“If someone you don’t trust stands too close to you, move to a distance that feels safer.”— Anne Katherine
What are the 7 types of boundaries?
The 7 common types of boundaries in relationships are:
1. Physical boundaries: These pertain to the physical body and personal space, such as the need for privacy, physical touch, and sexual boundaries.
2. Emotional boundaries: These pertain to the display and management of emotions, like the ability to set limits on other people’s emotional behavior and the ability to manage one’s own emotional reactions.
3. Mental boundaries: These pertain to thoughts, beliefs, and opinions, like the ability to separate our own thoughts and beliefs from those of others.
4. Spiritual boundaries: These pertain to one’s spiritual beliefs and practices, such as the need for privacy and respect in spiritual and religious practices.
5. Material boundaries: These pertain to material possessions and resources, such as the ability to say “no” to requests for money or other resources.
6. Time boundaries: These pertain to the ownership of time, like the ability to set limits on the amount of time spent with others or on specific social activities.
7. Energy boundaries: These pertain to the expenditure of energy and resources, like the ability to set limits on the amount of energy spent on others.
Setting boundaries is a personal process and some people may also find additional types of boundaries relevant to their unique situation.
What are the 4 steps to setting healthy boundaries?
Four general steps to set healthy boundaries are:
1. Identification: Find out what your needs and wants are in a relationship. Define your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs and your material, time, and energy needs.
2. Communication: Communicate your boundaries to the other person clearly and firmly. Express your demands and desires in a direct, honest, and courteous manner. Send them a written memo, if required.
3. Enforcement: Enforce your boundaries after you have communicated them. Set limits on your socially shareable time or say “no” when necessary to safeguard and maintain your boundaries.
4. Re-evaluation: Re-evaluate your boundaries as your needs and situation change over time, and adjust them accordingly. If needed, set new boundaries or modify existing ones so that your space and priorities are not encroached upon.
How do you keep people from interrupting you while you are doing something intensely personal, like meditating or sorting your worries?
- Put a Do-Not-Disturb sign on your door that specifies the time you wish to be alone.
- Message your boundaries ahead of time so they are well aware of your unavailability.
- Email your boundaries to those involved — it can be extremely helpful, as you can point out any violations with evidence.
Seek support from a therapist or counselor if you are having trouble setting or enforcing your boundaries with your partner.
Finally, remember that the timely setting of healthy boundaries goes a long way in averting conflicts and restoring trust and camaraderie in a relationship.
Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.
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