Setting Healthy Boundaries In Relationships – A How To Guide
Boundaries. You’ve heard the term before no doubt. It’s highly likely you’re not totally clear on exactly what they mean, what they are, what they look like.
In essence they are the invisible lines between you and the people in your life. When they are up and running as they should be they keep you emotionally safe and secure. They are the inviolable limits that you personally set for your comfort levels in life. They can take the form of sexual boundaries (what will and won’t do in bed/what you are and aren’t comfortable with). There are also physical, social, financial, intellectual and spiritual boundaries.
They primary purpose is to help you determine your feelings, needs, wants, responsibilities and identity from others.
Relationship boundaries help you to be clear about your individuality, your own thoughts, feelings, wants and needs are unique to you and separate from the people in you life.
Why bother having them? They are an integral part of your sense of confidence and self-esteem. Low confidence and low esteem almost always comes hand-in-hand with crappy boundaries. You’ll allow anyone and everyone to treat you like a doormat because on some level you do not believe that asking for and having your needs met is something you have a right to.
Because we teach people how to treat us, knowing what our boundaries is crucial. If you’re wondering why it feels like everyone takes advantage of you, why it seems like you bend over backwards for others but are shocked when they simply do not behave the same way in return, I encourage you to think about what your limits are and how you communicate them.
If the people in your life don’t know what your limits are, they’ll assume it’s OK to keep going until you say stop.
Let’s look at different types of boundaries and how you set them:
Physical Boundaries - you set these by being clear about:
- Who can touch you
- How and when you are touched
- Being clear about your sense of personal space
Emotional Boundaries – you set these by being clear about:
- Setting limits on how you expect to be treated, ie: It is NOT OK for you to drunk dial me at 3am on a Tuesday.
- Not tolerating remarks that, to you, are sexist, racist etc
- Speaking up for the things you believe in with integrity
Relationship Boundaries – you set these by being clear about:
- Not tolerating it when people are mean or cruel towards you
- Clearly communicating your expectations about your relationship (whoever it’s with!)
- Being clear about what is and isn’t OK
Here are some examples of boundary violations – when you allow someone to do something that oversteps your line.
- You spend lots of time coming up with a great plan for dinner. You head out of your way to get lovely organic steak, you delicately create a tricky sauce, you get the house looking gorgeous. Your man turns up an hour and a half late and a bit drunk. The food is cold, the sauce ruined, the candles burned out. You’re angry. BUT you say nothing, do nothing and act like everything is fine.
- You’re at the bar, this guy is flirting with you, you’re kind of into him. Cut to the end of the evening and you find yourself going home with him and sleeping with him because, ultimately, you want him to like you.
Allowing your relationship boundaries to be crossed this way on a regular basis chips away at your self-esteem over time. Without them, it becomes tougher and tougher to create healthy relationships that nourish you, that allow you to get your needs met. Setting limits means you stop resentful, angry feelings from building up.
The first step to setting healthy boundaries is to become aware of them, so spend some time just thinking about what your limits are. Conversely, think about times when you’ve felt resentful about something that happened and think about what boundary might have been crossed for you.