What are our relationships? They are the social ties that offer us a sense of security and belonging.
What are the boundaries in a relationship? They are the fence-lines in relationships telling the other person what things they absolutely cannot do when they are with you.
Boundaries give us power, but only when we consistently maintain them in our relationships with others, while also respecting theirs.
Definition of Boundaries
Boundaries are the limits of our acceptance and tolerance in any of our relationships. In effect, all relationships have certain well-defined and ill-defined boundaries. While some of these may be healthy, others may be unhealthy.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Boundaries
Unhealthy interpersonal boundaries can make us vulnerable, disorganized, and stressed, while our healthy boundaries can keep us safe, sorted, and peaceful. The table below marks the differences between healthy and unhealthy boundaries:
Setting boundaries might be our best bet for having healthy relationships that last long. When we set healthy boundaries, we ensure that we have more happiness in our lives and our relationships.
People, however, may set unhealthy or unnecessary boundaries in their relationships. It’s a toxic thing to do, even if it’s a convenient way to hide behind our phony personas. At the end of the day, such boundaries can erode our intimate relationships.
Guide To Setting Relationship Boundaries
In whatever relationship you find yourself in life, whether it’s family, love, or even professional, the most important thing is to set clear and defined boundaries. These are healthy boundaries.
Many of us struggle on a regular basis with how to say “no” to friends and family without offending them. We suggest you inculcate the habit of saying “no” when you don’t want to.
Healthy boundaries eventually lead to long-term, successful relationships. So, how do we go about the process?
The key to creating boundaries is to focus intently on what expectations one has from a relationship, and then, compare those against their personal life priorities. Finally, they must set boundaries based on a careful balancing of expectations and priorities.
First, assess your current situation. Start by asking yourself:
- “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?”
Make a list of the things that are most important to you. Write down your goals, ambitions, aspirations, desires, needs, expectations, and duties in one place.
Then consider how many of those you are willing to sacrifice because of the priorities in the relationship. Scratch them off your list. The final list would be one that strikes an optimal balance between what people expect from you, what you hope to get from them, and what you desire for yourself.
Finally, write down the boundaries you wish to establish in each of your important relationships so that none of your own priorities are violated.
For example, you would not want your best friend to claim your evenings in exchange for the new online classes you just joined. Or, you may not want anyone in your family to approach you when it is your meditation time.
Here are the guidelines for when you set boundaries:
- Be intentional, clear, and precise.
- Avoid favoritism in relationships.
- Do not allow emotions to cloud your decisions.
- Be assertive by using powerful words rather than passive sentences.
- Only set boundaries that make you feel comfortable and not regretful.
Tell people what boundary rules you have set for them. Ask them politely and clearly to stay within those when they are with you. More importantly, get them to agree they understand you and give their word to honor the new rules.
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.
When you tell them boundaries are a healthy and honored part of every relationship, assure them you will also honor their boundaries.
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 (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.
How To Set These Six Boundaries In A Relationship
The six main types of boundaries one must set in any relationship, including marriage, are growth, financial, emotional, mental, digital, and physical boundaries.
1. Growth Boundary
Another name for this boundary is the boundary for Personal Space for Growth. It gives you the ability to set your priorities right while keeping you and others happy.
The growth boundary is especially important for people in intimate and romantic relationships. It presents them with opportunities for personal growth, along with their occasions of togetherness. Consider the following question:
“If the romanticism goes out of your romantic relationship, what’s left of it?”
Beginning there, you will find what remains is respectful affection for each other. That kind of love can come only when a couple maintains healthy boundaries. For example, being together does not mean one may demand that the other person reveal all their passwords to them.
You need to set this boundary with your family members too. To ensure your personal growth, make sure they know about your schedules and goals.
People say your family is everything to you, and for the most part, they’re right. But don’t sacrifice your personal goals to meet the needs and desires of your family and forget to live a happy life.
2. Financial Boundary
Is having a joint bank account with your spouse beneficial to your marriage? Should you always give money to your friends and family when they ask, even if you don’t have enough?
Setting financial boundaries is vital for all of us. It is a modern virtue to learn to refuse our loved ones politely that we do not have surplus money to give out to them.
Save yourself from drowning in debt by giving someone more than you can afford. You’d be wise to tell them you can’t give them what they want.
Financial boundaries help you in reaching your monetary goals. These financial objectives are even more critical in getting you to where you want to be in life when you retire. Here are several examples:
- Paying off your debts.
- Purchasing life insurance.
- Preparing for long-term financial stability.
3. Emotional Boundary
Emotional boundaries involve one’s feelings and emotions.
Interestingly, when the opposite gender uses endearing terms, many individuals, particularly women, cringe. Some people even consider these to be harassment.
Being close to someone does not always necessitate such endearing expressions. You can still express your love and concern for them without using such phrases.
Also, even if you’ve known someone for a long time, don’t use the L-word on them. Such phrases may send the wrong signals to the recipient or express an altogether different message. Playing with people’s emotions is never a good idea.
4. Mental Boundary
Everyone is different. Every person has different perceptions and opinions, and no one needs others to force their viewpoints down their throats.
If one feels strongly about an idea, instead of making unproven and opinionated arguments, they should back it up with facts. One should always try to convince your audience reasonably.
And, even if they do not agree with the paraded line of ideas, one must never make them feel trivial or stupid.
Having mental boundaries for yourself and others shows that you are concerned about the psychological well-being of your relationships as well as your own.
And, of course, if you care about your loved ones, their mental wellness should be of utmost importance to you.
5. Digital Boundary
The world has progressed into a global digital village. People live a large part of their lives online, especially on social media.
As a result, you can no longer confine yourself to the confines of your physical environment. You also need to draw obvious lines of interaction in your digital world.
You should set guidelines for social interchanges with your loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. You also have to have boundaries for your fans, followers, and connections.
You could ask yourself: “What do I like or dislike about the dynamics of social media?” Once you have the answers, start by clarifying the following with them:
- Can we add one another to the group chats without asking first?
- Do we need to tag each other in unconnected posts?
- Is it okay to check through each other’s devices without permission?
To keep a relationship alive, people in a romantic partnership may need to clarify the boundaries as:
- Do we need to announce on social media that we are dating?
- When is it okay to call or message each other?
- Do we have to reply every time, even when I feel it is unnecessary?
- Do we have to follow each other’s friends on social media?
- Do I have to like and comment on all your posts, even if I do not want to?
Remember, you can always review these boundaries later. You can change and redesign them as you get more comfortable with each other.
You may even want to add or dissolve certain boundaries as your relationship evolves.
6. Physical Boundary
Your body is yours, and only you choose who gets close to it. Physical boundaries are meant to protect your body, privacy, and personal space. They help to mark discrete lines between private and public spaces.
Sexual boundaries refer to ones that get violated using sexually suggestive words.
Most of us dislike people invading our privacy or getting too close to our personal space. To avoid that, we should set our physical boundaries.
- Do you dislike people hugging you? Then you must make it clear to them.
- Do you detest others using your items? Then let them know.
- Do you despise their talking about people close to you? Then tell them you feel it is wrong of them to do so.
Benefits of Setting Relationship Boundaries
These are the benefits you gain from setting boundaries in your relationships:
1. Unquestioned Respect
A land without laws cannot have any rules broken. Thus, if you set no boundaries in your relationships, everyone is free to do or say whatever they please.
But with boundaries, you shield yourself from words and actions that can hurt or harass.
For example, setting the growth boundary ensures people around you know you have a steadfast goal, so they will not try to deter you from that. They make sure to remember your schedule and know it is out of the question to tamper with it.
2. Well-Deserved Love
Setting boundaries allow people to love you for who you are. Having well-defined boundaries lets people know what not to do with you.
Since they know your nature and preferences, your responses and reactions, and your likes and dislikes, they know when not to cross the line. It ensures you have love and affection that does not waver over time.
3. Better Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is the art of identifying your own needs and feelings. It helps you separate them from the others and the environment.
Boundaries make sure that you understand your needs are at least as important as those of others in your life. Relationship boundaries inspire you to fulfill your needs without worrying about what others may think. With boundaries in place, you become more self-aware and live a more satisfying life.
Creating boundaries gives you the physical and mental space and time you need for growth.
4. Stable Personal Health
Personal health is about taking charge of your well-being by making conscious decisions to be healthy. It is also as much about getting rid of people who wield toxic control over you.
Setting boundaries helps you distance yourself from unhealthy people and habits. They increase self-esteem and reduce anxiety and stress. They also help reduce the possibility of depression.
Thus, boundaries help manage mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical health.
When you do not set limits on what people can do to you, they can hurt your emotions even without meaning to. They might even ride roughshod over your feelings, causing bitterness in your relationship. But well-established boundaries ensure you get excellent treatment from others. This behavior from others helps you to maintain stable health.
5. Bigger Opportunities
Would you prefer to get involved with someone with no clear goals in sight? Or a person whose everyday life goes according to fixed schedules?
People would rather trust their crucial tasks to the latter type because they know those will get done on time.
Now, opportunities can come through friends and family. But they would prefer to recommend you based on how disciplined and organized you are. And this they can find out with ease in the way you treat those close to you. So, does a procrastinator with fuzzy life goals stand a chance there?
Do you mix work with pleasure? Can people push you around any way they like because you are good-natured and soft-hearted? Believe it or not, these bits of your nature will not get you far in life. So set boundaries and get opportunities.
6. Authentic Relationships
The reality is you can’t please everyone. No one can.
With boundaries, you get to know who are the people that can stand the test of time and adversities and stay true to you. These are your real well-wishers, not fair-weather friends. Thus, boundaries help you find out your authentic relationships.
And if having boundaries means you would no longer be able to be close to some people, then so be it. You can’t be a people-pleaser without being a self-saboteur.
Setting healthy boundaries lays a firm foundation for relationships. If boundaries are clear, people know at the outset what kind of person you are. And once they choose to be close to you, they already know what not to expect from you.
Setting boundaries helps forge strong relationships with clear definitions. Healthy boundaries allow us to find our comfort levels in the relationship and let our self-esteem grow.
In the end, your loved ones know you better and have more respect for your choices and decisions. If everyone could set relationship boundaries, they would avoid misunderstandings, hostilities, and bitterness.
Books On Boundaries
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by John Townsend and Henry Cloud
- Boundaries: How to Draw the Line in Your Head, Heart and Home by Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert
- Establishing Boundaries: How to Protect Yourself, Become Assertive, Take Back Control, and Set Yourself Free by Patrick King
- Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free: The Ultimate Guide to Telling the Truth, Creating Connection, and Finding Freedom by Nancy Levin
- Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship by Adelyn Birch
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Authors’ Bio: Leon Collier is a freelance writer from Edinburgh who writes about pop culture, history, travel, self-development, education, and marketing. Leon offers extensive writing services on assignment online websites. Edited and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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