What Are Boundaries in Relationships and Why You Need Them

By Michelle Farris, Psychotherapist & Anger Management Specialist.

Every relationship needs boundaries in order to stay healthy. Without boundaries, you risk becoming a doormat. Once that happens, hurt and resentment aren’t far behind.

Setting boundaries is the difference between feeling empowered or frustrated in your relationships. They are that important!

In this article, you will learn what boundaries are and what they aren’t. You will also see what boundaries look like in relationships so you can start to take better care of yourself.

What Are Boundaries?

A lot of people, especially when you struggle with codependency, don’t know how to begin setting boundaries. Understanding what boundaries are and what they are not begins the recovery process.

Boundaries consist of limits you set for yourself. Healthy boundaries focus on you and what you decide to do rather than getting someone else to change their behavior. Boundaries are the choices you make that keep you physically and emotionally safe in relationships.

To set boundaries, you need to decide what is important to you. Knowing your values is an integral part of setting boundaries. You get to choose what kind of relationships you want, and knowing your boundaries will help you live within those values.

Before setting boundaries consider your personal values. These vary from person to person which is why no one has the exact same type of boundaries. While some are universal – like wanting to be treated with respect, others may differ – like the amount of personal space you need from others.

Here are some examples of boundaries in relationships:

  • Remove yourself when you are being mistreated.
  • Say no when it’s best for you.
  • Speak up when something upsets you.
  • State what you will do rather than focusing on what others do.
  • Respect privacy with emails, social media, texts, and passwords.

Setting boundaries starts with understanding what they are which explains why they are so challenging. Boundaries determine what you do, not what the other person does. A boundary indicates what you will tolerate in a relationship and what is unacceptable behavior for you.

Here are some examples of what boundaries are not:

  • Giving ultimatums.
  • Trying to change other people’s behavior.
  • Making others feel guilty about their behavior.
  • Controlling people, places, or outcomes.
  • Expecting others to change first.

Why Are Boundaries In Relationships Important?

Setting boundaries is the first step in taking better care of yourself. Boundaries give you the power to stand up for yourself. In relationship, boundaries let you decide what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not.

Boundaries are important because they keep you safe. So, when someone is yelling at you, instead of hoping it will stop, you leave the room and do what you need to do to protect yourself.

Susan and Kim have been friends for years, but Kim’s sarcastic comments deeply hurt Susan. She has been quietly hoping this behavior would stop without having to say anything but after starting Al-Anon, she got the courage to share her concerns honestly. As a result the friendship deepened.

By setting boundaries, Susan keeps the friendship healthy and avoids resentment. She can preserve what’s good in the friendship without sacrificing her values.

What Makes Boundaries So Challenging?

Nancy is her family’s go-to person for help. She always drops what she’s doing to help her extended family, which often overwhelms her. Not wanting to hurt their feelings, she stays quiet even though she is starting to experience frequent headaches.

The fear of upsetting others makes boundaries difficult. You might assume a negative outcome because you doubt yourself. Growing up in a dysfunctional family often damages self-trust. You learn to dismiss your own perceptions for the sake of keeping the peace.

Worrying about what others think of you makes it difficult to set boundaries.

When you are afraid to set boundaries, you…

  • Find yourself saying yes but wishing you could say no.
  • End up doing favors for people you don’t want to.
  • Do all the housework because it is easier than asking for help.
  • Say yes to a family vacation when we would rather stay home.

When you don’t set boundaries, it feels like your needs don’t count. That’s why boundaries are so important in relationship. They create an opportunity to get your needs met and respect yourself.

What If Your Boundaries Are Disrespected?

Boundaries measure the health of your relationships. As you learn to set boundaries, family and friends may not like it. Change can feel threatening and create fear. In time, people who care about you will adapt to these changes. If they don’t, give it time.

You may have to lower your expectations, or spend less time with them. Investing in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries is exhausting and painful. If nothing changes, you may have to re-evaluate the relationship.

When people don’t respect your boundaries, it’s a major red flag. Some resistance is normal, but when boundaries are consistently ignored or disrespected, it’s time to consider doing something different.

Once you accept that boundaries control only your behavior, the concept of boundaries becomes easier to practice. You can control yourself and your choices, but not the outcome.

Final Thoughts On Boundaries:

Setting boundaries is the ultimate form of self-care. When you can make choices without feeling obligated or afraid, you will feel empowered. Instead of feeling frustrated in relationships, you will feel confident. Self-esteem increases because you can advocate for yourself.

You shouldn’t have to FIGHT to be treated with respect. Boundaries help you respect yourself so that others can respect you too. Be the example, not the teacher.

Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist. Get Michelle’s free journal prompts for end of the year reflections https://counselingrecovery.lpages.co/journal-prompts-healing/

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