How to Set Healthy and Effective Boundaries in Relationships

How to Set Healthy and Effective Boundaries in Relationships

“If you are a giver, please learn your limits because takers don’t have any” – unknown

Boundaries are an important component of any healthy relationship. Yet, people often struggle to know exactly how to set them with others. Identifying appropriate boundaries in relationships can be confusing and implementing them can be scary. However, with the right tools you can easily begin taking steps toward self-advocacy. This article offers a roadmap to setting effective and healthy boundaries in your relationships. 

What are Boundaries?

Interpersonal boundaries are defined as “the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships.” They are highly personal and dependent on one’s values. There are many different types of boundaries: mental, emotional, material, internal, conversational, physical, and time-based. 

benefits of setting boundaries in relationships

The important thing to remember is that boundaries are set by communicating your values in an assertive, clear, and direct manner. They are, in effect, what you are willing to tolerate from others without reacting or enacting some consequence. When someone consistently maintains healthy boundaries in relationships, they do not sacrifice their personal values for others. This promotes autonomy and self-respect, and ultimately improves their relationships as well.

How to Identify Unhealthy Boundaries in Relationships

When your boundaries are not fully understood or respected, it can manifest in many challenging ways. For example, you may feel your efforts are often one-sided. Being the listener in conversations may be a familiar and emotionally draining role to you. Your resources feel so depleted that you don’t have anything left for yourself. You may also notice your preferences are often overlooked. Over time, you might begin to believe that you aren’t doing enough, or you may grow resentful.

You may also experience somatic cues when a boundary is crossed. Our bodies constantly provide us with feedback in the form of physical sensations, so pay attention when this happens. For example, you may feel a sense of claustrophobia or tightness in your throat. Picking up on this somatic connection will not only help you identify boundary-crossing in the future, but it will also help you clarify the boundaries in relationships that feel most appropriate and comfortable for you now. 

If you resonate with any of these experiences, consider defining or even redefining boundaries in your relationships. Doing so has been linked with numerous benefits to overall well-being. Boundary setting allows you to address unhealthy dynamics head-on, build your self-confidence, and maintain meaningful, long-lasting relationships.

benefits of setting boundaries in relationships

Practical Application: How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships with Others

To set healthy boundaries, getting comfortable communicating assertively with others is important. Start in small ways and be gentle with yourself.

  1. Practice Saying “No”. 

This might sound like:

  • “I don’t have time to talk on the phone tonight. I’ve had a long day and am feeling tired.”
  • “I covered your lunch the last time we hung out, so I am only going to pay for mine today.”
  • “I can’t help you move this weekend, I have other plans.” 
  1. Practice Setting Limits.
  • “I have 15 minutes to discuss this with you.”
  • “I only lend people money if it is less than $20.”
  1. Promote Your Personal Autonomy.
  • “Since you chose last time, I think I would like to choose where we eat tonight.”
  • “I would actually prefer to spend this weekend alone.”
  • “I respect your opinion on that issue, however, I see it differently.”
  1. Talk to a Therapist

If this process feels confusing or overwhelming, consider seeking out the partnership of a therapist. They can help guide you through this process while providing a safe and empathetic space for growth. If you would like to set up an appointment with a therapist today, please give us a call at (704) 800-4436 or visit our website to send an email.

Tips to Remember

Below are some tips to keep in mind as you practice.

  1. Boundaries should be clear and specific.

Clarity and specificity create the highest probability of success that your boundaries will be upheld. Exchanging accurate information about expectations builds mutual understanding and is critical to healthy communication. It also instills a sense of accountability in another person because now there is minimal room for misinterpretation.

  1. Boundaries may need to be reinforced.

Some people may not respect or respond favorably to a boundary being set. If this happens, consider reinforcing the boundary by communicating it again, possibly in a new manner. Address the fact that you already set a boundary and that they crossed it. This might sound like:

“Last week I told you that I am not comfortable discussing this topic, and you have brought it up twice since then. I am letting you know again that I do not want to be a part of this conversation.”

If boundaries are repeatedly disrespected after attempts to reinforce them, it may be necessary to implement a stricter boundary. This might sound like:

“I have already shared with you that guests must leave by 9 pm so that I can get ready for bed. You have stayed at my house until 10 pm twice since then. I think it is best that we only spend time together on the weekend.”

  1. Boundaries do not require an apology.

Point blank – you do not have to apologize for sticking to your values and respecting your own autonomy. 

  1. Boundaries can evolve.

There is not always a perfectly obvious boundary that should be set. Because they are highly personal, it is important to reflect on how you feel after setting them. Further, people may respond differently than you expected. You may end up realizing that you need more strict or less strict boundaries – and that is okay. Flexibility with yourself is key.

Affirmations to Consider

With all of this in mind, you may have an idea of where you want to begin. Remember, change takes time. Further, self-advocacy is limited by what we believe we deserve. Thus, be kind to yourself and trust the process. Maybe even consider incorporating some of the below affirmations into your daily routine:

“I accept that I cannot please everyone all the time, and that I am still enough.”

“I’m worthy of getting my needs met, and so I will ask for what I need.”

“I will not tolerate requests that require me to sacrifice my values.”

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