Setting healthy boundaries can keep your relationship strong.
Not only that, but it reduces stress, tension, and anxiety that you have along with increasing your self confidence.
The way I set boundaries is different than most experts. I do it in a way that feels loving and can increase connection.
Related: Fixing A Broken Relationship (podcast)
How To Set Boundaries In A Relationship
Most people make the mistake of setting boundaries to try to control the other person.
For example, it sounds like: “Sister, if you’re rude to our mom again, I’m not going to speak to you.”
In this example, the person is trying to control her sister’s behavior. This is not a boundary issue.
A boundary is like a guardrail. It’s something you put up (like a fence) to protect yourself. You can’t set boundaries for other people. If in the example above, the mom doesn’t like how the sister is speaking to her, then she can set a boundary.
Here’s how I teach boundaries:
Decide what the boundary is when someone comes into your spaceDecide what the consequence is (what you’ll do if they violate the boundary)Communicate the boundary with loveFollow through
For example, if your sister starts swearing at you, you can decide that she’s speaking to you with language that you don’t want to hear or be around. So you can kindly let her know that you don’t like to be spoken to that way and in the future, you’re going to leave the room or hang up the phone if she swears at you. Notice this is her coming into your space. That’s how there’s a boundary issue.
Boundaries only come up when someone enters into your space. That’s it.
Coming over unannounced.Going through your phone.Hitting you.Coming into your office every 30 minutes when you’re working. Going through your closet or drawers.
Boundaries are something you do for you from a place of love when someone comes into your space. It can be with any relationship you have such as romantic relationships, family relationships, or friend relationships. It’s “I love you, and no.” It’s not a way to try to control or manipulate the other person’s actions because you don’t like them. This is the biggest mistake I see people making. Instead, do it for you because you love yourself and want to continue the relationship in a loving way.
Here are my best tips for setting boundaries.
Tip 1: Only set a boundary when someone comes into your personal space.
The first tip is to identify where there’s a potential need for a boundary, which is only when someone comes into your space.
This distinction is important so that you don’t use boundaries as a way to try to control other people.
A boundary just says, “Hey, I don’t like when you come into my space and do this in my space, so if you do that again, here’s what I’ll do.” It doesn’t say, “You shouldn’t do XYZ.”
Notice the subtle but important difference—there’s no controlling in a boundary. It’s your space. Your actions. Your consequences.
Examples of someone coming into your space include your physical space and emotional space.
For example, you’ll set emotional boundaries if someone comes into your verbal space and is verbally speaking to you in a way you don’t like. Similarly, you’ll set physical boundaries if someone comes into your physical space (whether that’s your property or your person) and is doing so in a way you don’t want.
We have many boundaries already that are unspoken. We don’t have to go into a room and say, “if you hit me, I’m going to leave and call the police.”
You only need to set a clear boundary with someone when they’re violating it.
Tip 2: Decide what the boundary and consequence are ahead of time.
The next tip is to know what the boundary is ahead of time and decide what your consequence will be.
You may not even realize you need to establish boundaries until someone violates them.
For example, you may have a personal boundary that you don’t want anyone else going through your phone, but you may not realize that until your spouse attempts to do it. At that point, you need to establish the boundary and decide what your consequence will be for you. You may decide the consequence is you’ll change your password and take your phone with you and keep it away from him. The consequence is what you’ll do.
Of course, you’ll ask your spouse not to do that again. But adults can do whatever they want. (The good news is that so can you.) Meaning, you can leave, change your password, and remove yourself from any situation you don’t like. The only thing you can’t do is control how other people think, feel, and act.
I suggest establishing the boundary and the consequence when you’re not in the moment. Think about what you want the boundary to be and what you want to do if it happens again (the consequence).
An example of a boundary: coming over to my home unannounced.Example of the consequence: I won’t answer the door.
You get to decide what you’re comfortable with in all your relationships, which is exactly what will make them healthy relationships for you.
Tip 3: Communicate the boundary from a place of love (not control).
The third tip is to communicate your boundaries in the relationship to the other person.
While it’s tempting to do this from fear or control, I recommend always setting a boundary from love.
It sounds like this: “I love you so much and I want you to know I enjoy spending time with you in our home, but for me and my family it works best if we can plan for that. So in the future, if you come over unannounced, we’re not going to answer the door. Know that I love you and this has everything to do with me and nothing to do with anything you do wrong. It’s just best for us right now.”
There’s no defenses up when you communicate a boundary from love. It’s what you do for you. This method of boundary setting is so powerful.
You’ll notice at first that your friends and families probably will have a wide variety of reactions, but that’s okay. You don’t have to change your decision or feel guilty. You can let them be them and you be you, and you can love all of it (boundaries included!).
Discussing boundaries with your partner or spouse can feel the hardest, yet it can actually increase intimacy if you allow for the vulnerability and connection through the words you say and the actions you take. You can’t control your hubs, but you can control yourself.
Tip 4: Follow through no matter what.
The last tip that’s maybe the most important part is to follow through with the consequence. I.e.: do what you say you’re going to do.
Otherwise, this erodes trust with yourself and your partner.
If you’re not ready to follow through with the consequence, then don’t set the boundary. Wait until you’re ready.
Remember: only create a consequence that you’ll actually do. A boundary and consequence that you don’t do is pointless and erodes your relationship with yourself.
This means that when there’s a boundary violation, you say, “honey, I love you and I’m going to leave the room because this violates a boundary I have for myself that I don’t stay in rooms where people talk to me that way.”
This follow through makes it about you, not the other person.
A Final Note!
Setting healthy boundaries is an important part of optimizing your mental health and emotional health.
Whether it’s your mother in law calling too much or your spouse wanting to have sexual relations you’re uncomfortable with, a lot of times, you can set many different types of boundaries (sexual boundaries included!) that will serve you and your relationships for years to come.
Spend time being thoughtful about what boundaries you want to have in your relationships and like your reason for setting them.
Boundaries can be a beautiful part of relationships, if you do them right.