What are our relationships? They are our social ties that offer us a sense of security and belonging.
What are the boundaries in a relationship? They are the fence-lines in any relationship telling the other person what things they absolutely cannot do when with you.
Boundaries give us agency when we are consistent with others maintaining them, and at the same time, we 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. Look at the picture-table below to better understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy boundaries:
With relationship boundaries set within healthy parameters, we also make sure of more happiness in our lives. Setting boundaries might be our best bet for having healthy relationships that last long.
However, people may set unhealthy and unnecessary boundaries in some of their relationships. And that is a toxic thing to do, even when these may come as handy ways to hide behind lofty but fake personas.
At the end of the day, unhealthy boundaries can slowly eat into our close-to-heart relationships.
Guide To Setting Relationship Boundaries
In whatever relationship you find yourself in life, be it family, romantic, or even business relationships, the most important thing is to set clear and defined boundaries. We otherwise know these as healthy boundaries.
Healthy boundaries eventually build up into successful relationships. So, how do we go about the process?
One big boundary struggle many of us face quite often is how to say No to friends and family without hurting them. Learn how to do it on a priority basis.
The secret to setting boundaries is pinpointing what you want from each of your relationships exclusively. Then, finding out your personal priorities in life. And finally, setting boundaries based on a fine balance between those expectations and priorities.
Analyze your current situation first. Before setting up any boundary, start by asking yourself: “What do I want from my relationships? What are my absolute priorities in life?”
Make a list of the things that matter the most to you. Gather your goals, ambitions, aspirations, desires, expectations, needs, and duties in one place. Then run your thoughts over how many of these you are ready to sacrifice or let go because of the priorities set by other people. Scratch them off your list.
The final list would be a precise list that strikes an optimal balance between what people want from you, what you hope to get from them, and what you have your heart set on for yourself.
Finally, write clearly what boundaries you want to set in each of your vital relationships so that none of your priorities get violated.
- 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.
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.
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 the boundaries you set for them are absolutely necessary for you to grow into the best version of yourself.
As 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 main six 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 essential for people in intimate and romantic relationships. It gives them opportunities for individual growth, perhaps more than the moments of mush and schmaltz.
Examine this question: “If the slush and the mush go out of your romantic relationship, then what’s left of it?”
Beginning there, you will find what remains is respectful love for each other. And that kind of love can only come from healthy boundaries.
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 most of it is true. But do not hollow out your personal goals to cater to the needs and wants of your family and forget to live a happy life.
2. Financial Boundary
Is having a joint bank account with your spouse healthy for your marital life? Should you always help your friends and family with money whenever they ask, even if you do not have enough of it?
Setting financial boundaries is vital for all of us. Learning to say “No” when we do not have enough means to support our loved ones is a modern virtue.
Save yourself from wallowing in debts because you gave people more than you could afford. It would do you real good to tell them you cannot give them what they want.
Financial boundaries help you achieve your money goals. These financial goals are even more important to get you where you want to be in life when you retire. Examples are:
- Paying off your debts.
- Purchasing life insurance.
- Preparing for long-term financial stability.
3. Emotional Boundary
Emotional boundaries involve one’s feelings.
Interestingly, many people, especially women, cringe whenever the opposite gender uses endearing words. Some even describe these as harassment.
Being close to someone does not always warrant such charming terms. You can still show your love and care for them without resorting to such words.
Also, be careful about using the L-word on just anybody, even if you have been friends for ages. Such terms might send the wrong signals or convey an entirely different message to the recipient. You do not want to play with people’s emotions, do you?
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.
To have mental boundaries for yourself and others show you care about the psychological well-being of your relationships as well 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 cannot limit yourself to keeping boundaries on your physical world alone. You would 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?” And once you have the answers, start by clarifying the following with them:
- Can we add one another to 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 revise these boundaries later. You could 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 mean to protect your body, privacy, and personal space. They help to mark discrete lines between private and public spaces.
The 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 Clear Boundaries in Relationships
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 allows 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 the 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 you understand your needs are at least as important as those of others in your life. The 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 a 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 families. 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 more 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 at education and assignment online websites. Co-written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. Writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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