5 Tips for Setting Boundaries in Relationships
All healthy relationships have boundaries. Setting boundaries can be hard, especially when you create new ones within a relationship. New boundaries can cause stress, anxiety, and pain in your relationships. Even so, stick with your boundaries because they communicate that you are a priority. Having boundaries ensures you can engage in healthy, meaningful, and respectful relationships.
As you work towards setting boundaries, keep in mind that the only people who get upset when you set boundaries are those who benefited before you set them.
To create healthy boundaries, you need to:
- Know why boundaries are good
- Know the types of boundaries you can have
- Believe in your personal rights
- Learn the skills to create and communicate boundaries
- Remove your barriers to creating boundaries
1. Why boundaries are good for you
- Improved relationships with self and others. Boundaries protect your relationships from becoming unsafe. Boundaries teach others how to treat you. Boundaries help others learn to control themselves.
- Flexibility. Boundaries can help you connect or prevent you from connecting with others. You can alter them as you learn.
- Sustains emotional energy. Boundaries help you keep energy for yourself, so you don't burn out.
- Gives you space to grow. Communicating boundaries is an act of vulnerability and openness. Opening your boundaries to people in a safe way keeps you growing.
2. Types of boundaries you can have
You can create different types of boundaries in various areas of your life, depending on your priorities and situation.
- Material boundaries: your belongings and how you lend, borrow, handle things, etc.
- Physical boundaries: your personal space, non-sexual touch, privacy, etc.
- Mental boundaries: your thoughts, values, and opinions. You can choose who can influence you and how.
- Emotional boundaries: your feelings and emotions. You can separate your emotions from other people’s emotions. You don't accept blame or guilt for things you are not responsible for. You express your feelings in healthy and non-harmful ways.
- Sexual boundaries. Refers to your comfort with sexual activities, how, when, where, and with whom.
- Spiritual, cultural, and religious boundaries: your beliefs and cultural practices. You have a right to practice and act from those beliefs in a non-harmful way. You can choose how to share or not share them.
3. Believe in your personal rights
These personal rights are not enshrined in law, but they are your rights regardless. Knowing and believing these rights also means understanding other people have these rights. Setting boundaries is a way to protect your rights from infringement of others.
- The right to ask for what you want.
- The right to say no.
- The right to change your mind.
- The right to make mistakes.
- The right to know and follow your own values, standards, and beliefs.
- The right to express your feelings, good or bad, in a way not harmful to others.
- The right to not be responsible for others’ feelings, behaviours, or problems.
- The right to expect honesty.
- The right to your own needs and personal space and time.
- The right to be in a non-abusive environment.
4. Skills for creating and communicating boundaries
The foundation of boundaries is in knowing where to create them and your rights. To create boundaries, you need to be okay with discomfort, and to deal with negative reactions.
- Be assertive: Use “I statements” to assert yourself in a non-aggressive way. For example, “I feel worried and afraid when you don’t call when you will be late coming home. I need you to call or text that you will be late, even if you can’t tell me by how long.”
- Say no: “No” is a full statement, it needs no explanation nor justification. Start saying no to small, low risk things for practice.
- Set up safeties: Password protect your phone and computer. Don't give your passwords away. Turn your phone off when you want to be alone. Don’t work outside of work hours. Schedule your alone time.
- Get support: Ask people you trust to support you in keeping your boundaries. Use these people when you feel like breaking your boundaries.
5. Removing your barriers for creating boundaries
You may have barriers to setting up boundaries. Those barriers can be from how you grew up, habits, or trauma. Common barriers to setting healthy boundaries include:
- You put others’ needs and feelings first.
- You are not sure of your own values, feelings, beliefs, or identity.
- You do not feel you have the personal rights listed above.
- You think setting boundaries will threaten your relationship.
- You are afraid of a negative reaction from others.
If you’re interested in learning more about setting boundaries, see our therapeutic groups.
Mark Frederick, MC, CCC
Mental Health Therapist