How To Set Clear Boundaries In Any Relationship

In theory, boundaries sound great. Why wouldn't you want people to respect your non-negotiables? You no longer have to do things or feel things that drain your energy. However, boundaries don't just magically appear. It takes work to set and maintain them. For many of us, this work is not a walk in the park. There are a variety of obstacles that can stop us from saying a firm "no." Many of us have been socially conditioned to be appeasing; some of us want to be the perfect friend, partner, etc; and others can't stand the idea of missing out on something. 

With Forbes, life coach Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh defines boundaries as "the rules for how others learn to behave around you, how you want to be treated, what you will accept and what you will not — they are based on your own needs and wants." These all seem like neutral, reasonable requests, but they can feel awkward and even rude to bring into a conversation. Nonetheless, setting boundaries is an essential life tool to learn.

Why we need boundaries

No one knows what we think or feel unless we speak up about it. Whatever the relationship, we must communicate these things if we want them to be respected. If we don't, we can find ourselves in unwanted situations or harbor resentment toward people for behavior they are unaware of. By setting our boundaries, we can prevent this and feel more seen in our relationships.

While barriers in a relationship are seen as a negative thing, in behavioral psychology, "boundaries" refer to positive barriers. They help define your unique identity and independence from your partner, friend, family member, or co-worker. Being seen wholly as an individual can lead to more authentic closeness and connection. This is also why setting boundaries is an important element of self-worth. If you care for your energy and time, you ensure it is treated in a way that feels nourishing and supportive.

How to set effective boundaries

Before you express your boundaries to the people in your life, you have to know what those boundaries are. There are a variety of different areas you can address –- physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, topic boundaries, schedule boundaries, etc. Take time for yourself to sit with a paper and pen and reflect on what you value in life. Then, you can decide what you need to say no to in order to keep those values a priority.

For instance, if you value family time and your boss asks you to take on an extra hour of work, saying no is necessary to maintain that value. Or, if you value career success, you might have to decline your friend's Thursday night clubbing invite. Whatever the circumstance, discourage yourself from feeling bad. By saying no, you are not imposing judgment on someone else, you are simply stating where you are at and what you need to support your values. While the initial "no" may feel offensive or confrontational, it'll only allow you to show up better in your relationship. Being in complete agreement with another person is a myth about relationship conflict we should all stop believing.