Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others - Brené Brown

Your Guide to Healthy Boundary Setting In Relationships

One of the most stressful things that can happen in a relationship is when boundaries are not respected. Whether it is your romantic partner, your family members, or your boss, having your boundaries tested by someone close to you can be emotionally exhausting. That’s why healthy boundary setting in relationships is so important for maintaining positive personal relationships.

As a recovering people pleaser, I have spent many years of my life fighting to protect my own personal boundaries and my emotional boundaries. Because if it’s one thing I have learned, it’s that even your most intimate relationships, including family relationships, need clear boundaries. 

Throughout most of my life so far, I went about my business not having personal boundaries, or even knowing that they are something I should or could set for myself. I thought it was just normal to constantly feel the need to please other people, even in toxic relationships. 

But, a few years ago the lack of boundaries I had in my life really caught up to me and started negatively impacting my personal life and my own mental health.

Fortunately, since that time, I have learned how to set boundaries and maintain them. I’ve learned how to hold people accountable so that I can protect my own emotional needs and my personal limits.

I can’t wait to share this guide to healthy boundary setting in relationships with you! This is a guide that has been formed by my own past experiences, for better or for worse, and I hope that it helps you start to live in the best way possible: on your own terms.

What are Healthy Boundaries?

In every type of relationship, regardless of whether it is your boss, your partner, or your mother, setting boundaries is healthy. The word boundary might make you feel as though you are setting up a physical barrier or a brick wall around you. And in some ways, this is a good metaphor for boundary setting.

brick wall

A healthy boundary is what you determine you are comfortable with in your life. Good boundaries can range from time boundaries that you set to protect your alone time or your time with your family, to financial boundaries that you set to prioritize staying out of debt or saving for your future, to physical boundaries that keep you feeling safe and secure in your relationships.

Regardless of the type of boundaries you choose to set, healthy boundaries are ones that protect your physical needs, your emotional well-being, and the needs of others in your circle (for instance, your children or your partner). 

Establishing healthy boundaries is an important form of self-care. The boundaries that you set for yourself will help you protect yourself from toxic relationships and other drains on your energy so that you can focus on intentionally living life to the fullest. 

Different Types of Healthy Boundaries

Different types of boundaries exist in different kinds of relationships, and not every boundary needs to be drawn in every relationship. It is important to think about the specific needs that you have in each of your relationships so that you can use clear communication to explain each boundary line. It is important to remember that clear communication is an important part of all positive relationships, and communication is a two-way street.

Emotional Boundaries

When it comes to healthy boundary setting in relationships, protecting your emotional well-being and looking out for the emotional well-being of others is one of the most important things for a healthy relationship.

One of the most important emotional boundaries that you can set for yourself is not allowing other people to control how you live your life. This is a broad statement, but it is so important. Having my emotional boundaries tested is something I have had to battle throughout my entire life with some of my closest family members and friends. The impact is just so exhausting and damaging.

There was a period in my life where I spent so much time trying to make sure that everyone else was happy. Looking back, I can see that I had low self-esteem and was very insecure about myself. I feared rejection and believed that I had to make everything perfect for other people in order to avoid losing their affection.

girl sitting on a barrier

Through the help of a trusted family therapist, I managed to do a lot of hard work to set up emotional boundaries that would protect me from my need to please others. I worked really hard to get to the bottom of why I had such a hard time setting boundaries in my life. 

After all this work, I now set and maintain effective boundaries that help me prioritize my own feelings and the feelings of those closest to me.

If you haven’t already, consider setting an emotional goal to prioritize your own well-being using emotional boundaries. Of all the examples of boundaries, these are the most important ones that I believe you can set for yourself.

Professional Boundaries

Professional boundaries are what you consider to be acceptable behavior at work. Depending on the work that you do, there are many different situations that you might find yourself in at work that push your comfort levels. 

A particular boundary that I always felt pushed in my job as a teacher was that my time was not being respected. I was constantly finding myself responding to emails or taking a phone call outside of work hours. And because I worked as a teacher in a boarding school, I was often away from home late into the night. This was consuming a massive amount of time and energy that I should have been spending focusing on my family. 

In the end, having unhealthy boundaries at work lead to burnout and a lack of work-life balance. This is why I quit teaching to pursue work that respected my professional boundaries. If you are interested, you can read more about me to learn how that turned out!

Physical Boundaries

Establishing healthy physical boundaries is something that is important in every kind of relationship. We all have the right to feel safe and respected regardless of the type of relationship we are in. 

Healthy physical boundaries could involve discussing sexual boundaries in romantic relationships, or the level of comfort you have with being touched in a new relationship. Your partner’s boundaries are likely different than your partners’ boundaries in past relationships, so it is important to use strong communication skills at the beginning of a relationship as well as throughout.

A physical boundary could also involve respecting personal space and mutual respect for personal belongings. For example, I always make sure I ask before throwing things out in my house. The random sock puppet might seem like junk to me, but to my daughter it is the most important thing in the world!

Time Boundaries

Setting healthy time boundaries is one of the most important types of boundaries you can set. Different kinds of relationships require different time investments, and we all have our own needs when it comes to the way in which we spend our free time.

For example, you may be someone who needs a lot more alone time than your partner. Without clear communication, this can be a source of tension in a new relationship.

As an introvert, I recharge my batteries with silence and solitude. My wife understands this about me and respects my time boundaries. However, I also have learned to work hard to respect her time needs, which are the exact opposite of mine! Remember that boundaries are a two-way street and each person needs to feel respected if the relationship is to remain healthy and strong.

Man and Woman Reading Books together

Material Boundaries

Having respect for material belongings is also important for healthy boundary setting in relationships. This means setting clear expectations for how people use the things that you own, whether it be your books, your vehicle, or your house. Material boundaries could be as simple as asking your guest to remove their shoes when they enter your home, or being specific about when you would like a book returned. 

A specific material boundary that I practice is being very selective of who I lend things to. I have had many past experiences where I lend things out to people who either don’t return them or return them completely destroyed. Because of this, I set clear expectations whenever I lend anything to anyone. And if someone is kind enough to lend something to me, I always make sure that I use clear communication to let them know when I will bring it back!

Can Boundaries Change?

In most cases, the best time to set boundaries is early on in a new relationship. This way, both people are able to use clear communication to explain their own boundaries and build a firm foundation for the relationship to evolve.

Healthy relationships evolve over time, and with this comes changing boundaries. Sometimes we form rigid boundaries to protect ourselves early on in a relationship, or we set flexible boundaries that prove to not be rigid enough. Over time, you may find the need to adjust your boundaries to suit the needs of your relationships.

In order to adjust a boundary, the first step is to think about what needs to change. Are you feeling burnt out from all the extra work hours you have been putting in outside of regular work hours? If so, consider adjusting your boundaries so that your work no longer negatively impacts your work-life balance.

As with any boundary setting in relationships, communication is important. Be sure to communicate any changes that you are making with your significant others, your boss, or any other person you are setting boundaries with.

How to Set and Maintain Boundaries

As a certified life coach, a popular area of focus for me is helping people with setting and maintaining boundaries in their relationships. One of the tools I use is the “three C’s of boundary setting in relationships”. Setting boundaries in relationships takes courage, communication, and consistency.

Courage

It takes courage to be honest with yourself and declare that there is a relationship in your life with poor boundaries. It can be scary to think that someone in your life that is close to you is making you unhappy. What will happen if you bring this up to them? Will you lose a friend or loved one?

Setting your boundaries might anger, frustrate, or sadden the people in your relationships. This is what makes it so hard to do! After all, who wants to hurt the people closest to them?

Have the courage to reflect on your own needs. What emotional boundaries are important to you? What kind of relationship do you want with your partner or your parents? It is a good idea to use your personal values, past experiences, and your own sense of intuition to help drive your thoughts here. It’s okay to start small and grow from there, but if you never start then you won’t get anywhere.

Communication

Clear communication is essential for any healthy relationship. In order to ensure that boundary setting in relationships is effective, you need to honestly and openly share your boundary issues with the other person using effective communication skills. 

Clear communication is also important to ensure that each person’s boundaries are being understood. Remember that boundaries need to be respected by both people in healthy relationships. 

Communication takes courage to step outside of your comfort zone. You may be rejected, and you may be judged, but these reactions just tell you that efforts to salvage the relationship aren’t being put in by both people. In the end, it is better to be courageous, vulnerable, and live true to yourself then it is to put in work on a relationship that isn’t building you up.

Boundary setting in relationships should not lead to anger and frustration. People who get angry when you set boundaries do not respect your boundaries. It should be met with understanding and support. These are reactions that come from people who respect us. 

Those who truly love and care about you will understand rather than making you feel guilty or selfish. If someone persists with boundary violations, it may be time to consider whether or not it is worth continuing to have boundary debates with them.

Remember that it is not your responsibility to take on or manage how someone reacts to a boundary.

Consistency

One of the hardest things I learned to do was to say “no” without the need to justify or explain myself. There is a helpful quote that says “the word no is a complete sentence.” 

This means that you should never have to give an excuse for why you are saying no to something.

There are some people that will always push the boundaries you set. And if you aren’t consistent with your expectations, you end up sending mixed messages which will make it harder to maintain your boundaries.

I like to think of boundaries like speed limits. Speed limits are boundaries that are posted to keep people safe on our roads. But there are always people who think they can go 5 miles per hour over the speed limit. This is only slightly pushing the boundaries..right? What about 10 miles per hour? 15 miles per hour anyone? 

There will always be people in your life who test your metaphorical speed limits. They want to see what you will do if they push the boundaries a little or a lot. These types of people want to know if it is possible for them to push so hard that they break your boundaries all together. 

If you don’t take ownership of your life and consistently maintain your boundaries you may find yourself giving up on maintaining your boundaries altogether. And letting this happen will put you right back where you started!

Now wouldn’t it be great if we could ticket people for not following our rules? Some people would be deep in debt for boundary pushing!

Some Real Life Advice

I cannot overstate the importance of boundaries in healthy relationships. Without clear boundaries, we run the risk of letting our personal lives be controlled by other people. This can be emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting. However, setting an effective boundary can completely transform a relationship to be a healthy and nourishing thing. 

It is important to remember that it is not your job to make other people happy with your life choices. In my own life experience, I have let important people in my life micromanage my life choices. I ended up feeling bullied, stressed, and anxious all the time. 

But I learned to draw a boundary line and hold people to it. It was hard at first, but I learned that people’s negative reactions to boundary setting are not for me to own.

When we set boundaries in our relationships, we protect our own needs and set our own comfort levels. As a result, we get the reward of feeling safe and secure in our relationships and in our own life.

Boundaries keep us in our safe, comfortable, and happy good place. That’s why we need them, and that’s why we create them in the first place. So be courageous. Set your boundaries. Communicate and be consistent. Speak up and let other people know that you plan to hold your ground. And always be ready to hand out a speeding ticket if you have to!

Don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family on social media! If you know someone in need of some boundary setting help, this could be the courage and motivation they need to make a change!


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