One of the most important things that people can do in their relationships is to set healthy boundaries.
And yet, many of us struggle with this. The mixed messages we get from childhood, media, and cultural influences all make it challenging to set healthy relationship boundaries.
Healthy relationship boundaries are a way to honor your own needs, communicate those to your partner, and help both of you get what you want out of the relationship.
People have a lot of misconceptions about setting boundaries. They also have a lot of difficulty figuring out the right way to do this within a relationship. It’s a skill that you can learn. Doing so will be good for you individually and within your relationships.
Why Setting Healthy Relationship Boundaries Is So Important
You’ve probably already heard a lot about establishing healthy boundaries. But do you really know why it’s so important to set boundaries? Here are a few of the biggest reasons:
- Defining your boundaries helps you get clear on what is and isn’t okay for you in relationships. Sometimes we feel murky about this, then we don’t understand why we’re unhappy.
- You’ll stop saying yes when you mean no and vice versa.
- You get to define how the people in your life treat you. Therefore, more often than not, you’ll be treated as you desire.
- It’s easier to make decisions about how to handle your relationships (or even if we still want to be in them) when you can see a boundary violation for what it is.
- Relationships are safer, happier, and more authentic when all parties involved can express and respect one another’s boundaries.
- Healthy boundaries improve individual self-esteem because you’re honoring your own identity.
Creating Healthy Boundaries Enables Good Relationships
If we don’t have healthy boundaries then one of two things will often happen:
- Either we will let people violate our time, energy, emotions, thoughts, and/or physical space
- Or we will push people away so that they can’t threaten us in those ways.
Either way, our relationships are unsatisfying. On the other hand, when we are able to set healthy relationship boundaries, we can enjoy our relationships fully.
What Types of Boundaries Are There in Relationships?
Did you know that there are many different types of boundaries in your relationships? Moreover, you can have healthy or unhealthy boundaries in all different types of relationships (family, workplace, friendships, etc.) It’s not just for your romantic relationships, although that’s certainly a major place where you’ll want to set boundaries.
Mark Manson has a terrific succinct definition of healthy boundaries:
“Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others.”
Making that more specific, though, some common types of boundaries in your relationships include:
- Emotional boundaries: respect for the validity of your feelings, your right to express them, knowing when and what to share with you and others
- Physical boundaries: respect for your space, belongings, and health
- Sexual boundaries: respect for communication and consent in all things sexual
Other types of boundaries in relationships include boundaries related to your time, energy, thoughts, and material items.
You might also learn to set healthy boundaries in the relationships you have with inanimate objects. For example, set social media boundaries in order to get the most out of those tools without letting them negatively impact your mood, self-esteem, or relationships.
Another Way of Looking at Types of Boundaries
Note that there are three boundary strengths: weak, flexible, and strong boundaries.
- You can set a boundary that’s too weak and becomes ineffective. Look at those and find ways to strengthen them.
- A flexible boundary is one that you’re clear about but might change with situations. For example, usually you keep Friday nights as a downtime for yourself but when your partner has a true emergency and needs you, you’re comfortable releasing that boundary.
- Strong boundaries are the things that are absolutely not okay with you. These are clear and good to have. However, be aware that they can become rigid. In other words, check in with yourself periodically to make sure that these strong boundaries are still right for where you’re at in life.
Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries
The first thing that you need to do is figure out what your boundaries are. This isn’t always easy, especially because they may be fluid and change with circumstances or time. However, they more attention you pay to your emotions, reactions, and experiences in relationships, the better you’ll get at figuring out the boundaries that are right for you.
Here are some tips for setting healthy boundaries:
- Notice your needs. When someone or something upsets you, don’t react or blame. Instead, consider it an opportunity to figure out what boundary was crossed. This is a great way to begin noticing your boundaries.
- This isn’t the time to be a people-pleaser. If you’re always worried about making others happy then you can feel really unclear about your own boundaries. Take the time and space to quietly assess what the right boundaries are for you.
- If boundary setting is hard for you, start small. Asserting that you’d rather watch this movie or order that type of pizza is the type of small step you can take.
- Get very specific. “Don’t talk to me that way” is vague. Instead use, “I need you to lower your voice” or “we can talk when you’re able not to use swear words.”
Tips for Communicating Your Boundaries
While it’s critical that you take those first steps to figure out and set your boundaries, you can’t do this alone. No one in your life can read your mind. In other words, also important to learn how to communicate those boundaries to others in your life.
Here are some tips for healthy boundary communication:
- Try engaging your partner in a conversation about partner boundaries. A general conversation that’s not specifically about your relationship can help you gauge your partner’s willingness to set healthy relationship boundaries with you.
- Speak with love. Let the person know that you care about them, this isn’t a reflection that you don’t, and that nevertheless your boundaries are important.
- Use a script. “I feel (x) when (y) happens so I need to set (z) as my boundary.” You’re not blaming anyone. Instead, you’re clearly staying what you need and why.
- Stay firm but calm. When you’ve clearly communicated your boundary, there’s no need to argue. If the other person wants to argue about it, simply disengage.
- Reiterate directly as needed. For example, regarding a boundary about your physical space: “While I understand that you just went into my room to grab a phone charger, I still really need you to ask me next time before entering my room. I would gladly have gone and gotten that charger for you.”
If you struggle to set healthy relationship boundaries, know that you are not alone. This is something that many people struggle with. The good news is that it’s something you can learn how to do better.
Our professional therapists can assist you with defining and communicating the boundaries that will work for you. Contact us today for an appointment.