How To Set Boundaries In Any Relationship

Every relationship needs boundaries. It doesn't matter if it's a friendship, a romantic relationship, a working relationship, or a relationship you have with a family member; boundaries are paramount for our well-being. If we don't have boundaries for ourselves, we run the risk of being taken advantage of or being hurt. People will walk all over you, and because you didn't make your boundaries known, you will have done it to yourself (via Harley Therapy).


"Stating our boundaries is about showing respect to ourselves and our own needs," licensed counselor and the chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University, Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., tells Women's Health. "Our first and most important relationship is with our own selves. If we do not tend to this relationship, we are not going to be able to manage optimal relationships with others. By setting boundaries, we are confirming that we believe that we are worthy of respect."

But not everyone is able to set boundaries because not everyone is capable of standing up for themselves and declaring what's okay and what isn't. Sure, it can feel awkward at first to let those in your life know what your boundaries are, but because it's so important to your mental health, it's an awkwardness worth overcoming.


Decide what boundaries you need

Boundaries are personal. What one person might never allow in a million years may be totally cool with someone else, so much so that they can't fathom why it might be a boundary issue for anyone. Boundaries also run the gamut: from physical to emotional, to sexual, to intellectual, to even boundaries in regard to your time (via MindBodyGreen). You can have a boundary for just about anything. 


If you don't like to be hugged, let the people in your life know that. If you don't want to socialize longer than an hour or two on a Friday night, then that's something else to make people aware of too. No matter what your boundaries are, none of them are wrong. We put boundaries in place to protect ourselves and if it feels like you're putting yourself first in these situations, know that you are — and that's a good thing (via Self). It's called self-preservation. 

Don't wait to share your boundaries

Because sharing boundaries can feel awkward and maybe even a little nerve-racking, sometimes people prefer to put off sharing them — bad idea. People aren't psychic, well, some may claim to be, but in general, most people aren't mindreaders, so you shouldn't expect people to know what your boundaries are. What's the worst that can happen? They lash out and tell you that your boundaries are wrong or bad. If so, thank your lucky stars! How someone responds to other people's boundaries says a lot about them, and if it's negative, you've dodged a bullet (via Psychology Today).


So, don't beat around the bush or procrastinate on sharing your boundaries. If you do, you run the risk of the other half of your relationship assuming things about you and for you.

"This is one of the main reasons why, after a while, people get resentful toward their partners or feel bad about themselves when they see they were not as clear about setting their own boundaries," social psychologist and sexuality counselor Sara Nasserzadeh, Ph.D. tells Women's Health. Procrastinating is for that 20-page college thesis, not your boundaries. 

Communicate them clearly

So, you've established what your boundaries are, and you've decided you're definitely going to share them as fearlessly as possible with the people in your life; now what? Communicate them and do so clearly, as opposed to dancing around your boundaries using words like "maybe," or "I guess so" that are not definitive. You need to be both assertive and matter-of-fact in your delivery.


"If someone sets boundaries with assertiveness, it feels firm but kind to others," licensed marriage and family therapist Jenn Kennedy tells Healthline. "If they push in too aggressive, it feels harsh and punishing to others. Assertive language is clear and non-negotiable, without blaming or threatening the recipient."

Non-negotiable is the keyword here. Don't waiver or negotiate your boundaries. Boundaries aren't up for debate. Although your set of boundaries can shift with time and circumstances, they shouldn't change on a dime because of someone else (via Choosing Therapy).

Ask them what their boundaries are

Boundaries shouldn't feel like a laundry list of things you just ramble off to someone. Boundaries should be a conversation where everyone involved shares what their boundaries are too. Everyone has them, after all. 


"Everyone's got their own space and comfort levels when it comes to boundaries," dating coach and author James Preece tells PsychCentral. "It's [about] respect and showing them 'I love you for who you are, and I'm going to give you the space you need.' Respecting people's personal space is a very important boundary in itself."

When we allow people into our lives, no matter what the relationship is, we should welcome them with open arms and free of judgment. Why? Because that's what respect looks like. If you want someone to acknowledge and honor your boundaries, then you have to be willing to do the same (via Glamour UK). It's a two-way street.

Know what's forgivable and what isn't

Even if you've been clear as day with your boundaries, it doesn't mean that someone might not slip up. For example, if one of your boundaries is to not be contacted after midnight unless it's an emergency and someone does, you need to decide if they get a one-time pass or a mini-lecture on how they've crossed your boundaries. Of course, there are absolute deal breakers that don't deserve a pass, so you need to decide exactly where certain boundaries fall on the spectrum of deal breakers (via Self).


"People will either come to understand that being in a relationship with you requires a certain level of respectful behavior from them, or those relationships will end and you'll have space in your life for healthier ones," psychologist and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching Lisa Bobby tells CNBC.

Boundaries are essential in all relationships. While there's no arguing that knowing what your boundaries are is the easy part and communicating them is the hard part, it's still something that needs to be done. Setting boundaries isn't just about self-respect, but setting a standard for those around you to respect themselves too.