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Relationship Boundaries Explained: How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Anchor Light Therapy Collective

Jun 27, 2021

Boundaries can support you by promoting your sense of self. They allow you to separate your identity, feelings and needs from your partner, friends, colleagues, parents, and other family members. Boundaries help create healthy relationships by outlining needs and respecting limits. When setting boundaries in a relationship, it is also essential to review the consequences of a boundary violation and deal breakers, to prevent abuse due to low respect, lack of responsibility, or desire for control.

What are healthy relationship boundaries?

Boundaries are personal limits you impose in intimate relationships to maintain your sense of self. Setting healthy boundaries keeps each member of the relationship accountable. Setting healthy boundaries can also lead to mutual understanding and appreciation for differences while preventing resentment and feelings of neglect or invalidation due to unexpressed and unmet needs. Although asserting your needs and compromising might feel intimidating, taking this risk can help build a happy relationship where you feel satisfied as individuals.

10 tips to help you set healthy boundaries

Healthy boundaries can be constructed through reflection, communication, consistency, and consequences. To establish boundaries and promote a balance between personal life and engaging with others, follow these 10 steps to create personal boundaries.

  1. Begin by understanding that healthy boundary setting is one of your basic human rights.
  2. Let go of any guilt you feel about placing boundaries with others.
  3. Clearly identify your needs through self-reflection.
  4. Determine the boundaries you need to set to meet each need.
  5. Explore how rigid the boundary is and identify areas where you can allow some flexibility.
  6. Practice setting healthy boundaries using clear and direct communication.
  7. Take responsibility for maintaining your boundaries consistently.
  8. Draw the line when a violation occurs and follow through with appropriate consequences.
  9. Communicate about how to move forward after a violation and its impact.
  10. Be willing to end relationships with people who prove they do not respect your boundaries.
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Examples of how to set healthy boundaries in all areas of your life

Boundaries can be categorized into different dimensions based on the type of relationship boundary you need. The list below demonstrates the various areas to consider when assessing if you are satisfied with the current relationship dynamics and how boundaries operate within them. Setting boundaries may look like a simple ask or require various conversations to maintain or reinforce. Discussing the consequences if these boundaries are violated can also help reinforce and communicate the importance of maintaining the boundary. The examples provided below illustrate ways to initiate discussions about healthy boundaries in each of the following areas

  1. Emotional
  2. Sexual
  3. Physical
  4. Material
  5. Intellectual
  6. Time

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries correspond to emotional availability and responsibility for one’s feelings too. These boundaries may be based on the safety you experience in the relationship and your partner’s availability to support you when in distress.

Examples

  1. I need some time to process my thoughts and emotions before discussing. Can you give me 30 minutes, and then we can talk about it?
  2. I like being playful and teasing each other, but please don’t joke about my weight.
  3. It’s hard to be vulnerable with you because people have been dismissive of me in the past. I recognize it’s my responsibility to work through these difficult experiences, and you can encourage me if you’d like.
  4. I can see you’re going through a hard time right now, I’d like to be there for you, but this isn’t a good time. Can we set a time to talk so I can listen to you better?
  5. I can’t share how I really feel with you if you continue to minimize my experiences. Please be respectful of my feelings.

Sexual Boundaries

Boundaries around sex and intimacy may prevent unwanted touch and stem from previous experiences and values about sex in relationships. Although sexual boundaries may be most common in romantic relationships, you may also want to set boundaries regarding consent, privacy, and mutual respect in other relationships.

Examples

  1. I’m not comfortable with (specific action) during sex. Can we try something else?
  2. I’m comfortable with having an open relationship if you agree to only date women, not men.
  3. Let’s discuss how to initiate sex better. I feel uncomfortable when you grab me without me expecting it.
  4. I’m feeling triggered due to my past trauma. I need a break.
  5. I enjoyed our date together. I’d like to see you again to get more familiar with you before we get intimate.

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries protect you from neglect, abuse, and poor health from ignoring needs such as rest, food, and drink in relationships. Consider need for personal space and touch when developing these boundaries with others.

Examples

  1. I need a break from touch at this time.
  2. I want to share the space in our home better with you.
  3. I need a private area after work to de-stress.
  4. I need to take a break and eat something.
  5. I cannot allow you to slap or hit me.

Material Boundaries

Boundaries surrounding material possessions may outline how you prefer the item to be used and set limits on the frequency of use. If your partner, family, or friend tends to have poor boundaries or control your access to your belongings to manipulate you, this may be a form of abuse.

Examples

  1. I need you to give me a heads-up if you want to borrow the car.
  2. Please leave my keys and glasses where I left them. I get stressed when I cannot find them.
  3. I feel we’ve been spending more than usual, and it’s making me worry. Can we cut back this week?
  4. Can you not search through my closet without asking? It reminds me of my mom invading my privacy.
  5. I really value my appliances. Can you make sure you use them carefully?

Intellectual Boundaries

Healthy intellectual boundaries promote respect for each other’s thoughts, opinions, and values. This can encourage space for productive discussions. Not all conversations need to be tolerated, and it is okay to make a boundary around topics harmful to other people’s feelings, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.

Examples

  1. I want to avoid conversations about politics right now. I’m already under a lot of stress.
  2. I respect your position. Can you respect mine without attempting to change it, even if you disagree?
  3. I would prefer not to watch or listen to violent topics at home.
  4. I know you disagree with me, but I can’t allow you to criticize me like that.
  5. I feel uncomfortable when racist jokes are made. I can’t be around you if this continues. I can direct you to resources to better understand why this is not okay with me.

Time Boundaries

A time boundary can help you balance priorities and commitments. They can prevent burnout within your personal and professional relationships and help you to focus on yourself and share responsibilities with your partner.

Examples

  1. I feel I haven’t spent much time with my family and friends. I want to work with you to figure out how to spend more time with them on weekends.
  2. I need some help with the children. I haven’t been able to take a break, and it’s taking a toll on me.
  3. I would love to hang out but I can only stay for an hour.
  4. I can definitely help you. Here are my rates…
  5. I’ve got a lot going on this semester. Let’s think about other ways I can help without over-committing.

Maintaining healthy boundaries once they’ve been set

Setting boundaries is essential to self-care, but it’s also important to remember to maintain them. Once healthy boundaries are established, it’s necessary to be consistent and protect them. Here’s how:

  • Always prioritize your well-being: Maintaining your boundaries can be uncomfortable, especially when experiencing resistance against them. Never feel guilty for maintaining your boundaries. Your well-being must be your top priority.
  • Maintain clear expectations: Continually make sure the people in your life understand the boundaries you have put in place and that there are consequences for breaking them.
  • Remain consistent: It is crucial to remain consistent with any boundary to ensure it stays in place. It also means respecting those exact boundaries for others. Practicing the same boundaries with the same people whenever possible would be best.
  • Refrain from breaking your rules: Do not break the rules you have set for yourself, even if a person asks for an exception and makes valid points for that exception.
  • Check-in with yourself: It’s vital to re-evaluate your boundaries periodically, especially if things have changed in your life or relationship. With any existing boundaries, be sure to check in with and ensure you’ve been keeping them in place and that they serve the purpose they are meant for – to protect your physical, emotional, and mental health.

7 indicators that someone needs to create healthy boundaries in relationships

Distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy boundaries can be difficult, especially for people in toxic relationships. Unhealthy boundaries may present as one person being in control due to them ignoring their partner’s values, needs, wants, and limits. People lacking relationship boundaries may be unaware of how this contributes to dissatisfaction.

In these cases, it may be helpful to take inventory of how much freedom you experience in the relationship. Consider the frequency and ease with which you can interact with your interests, care for your needs, and express your thoughts, emotions, and values. Below is a list of phrases illustrating how unhealthy boundaries can manifest in a relationship and lead to invalidation, abuse, disrespect, or fused responsibility for each other’s emotions.

  1. My partner experienced so much trauma, so it’s okay when they get upset and yell at me. I know I can fix them.
  2. I don’t get why they see things that way. They’re so ignorant. I keep telling them they shouldn’t be upset over something so small.
  3. She keeps saying no and doesn’t want to do it, but I know what’s good for her.
  4. They’re so frigid. I can’t believe they’d be that upset at me wanting to touch them. Don’t they know I have needs?
  5. I know you said you wanted to take Friday off, but I need you to work on this new project, and I expect a summary of progress by the end of the day on Friday.
  6. I can’t believe you’d rather spend time with them than me, don’t you see all I’ve been going through lately? You’re supposed to help me feel better.
  7. Oh, you feel upset? Don’t you see how you’re making me feel? Don’t you see all I do for you? You’re so ungrateful.

Personal boundaries and boundary setting are a vital aspect of healthy relationships

Personal boundaries aid with taking responsibility for your own emotions and behaviors within the relationship. One can increase empowerment and reduce burnout or distress from neglecting your own needs and values by building boundaries in relationships. Reflect on your values and factors that shape your own identity first. How does it feel to consider the factors the relationship makes space for? What about the factors that don’t have as much space in the relationship? How does that make you view the other person or the quality of the relationship?

If you’re struggling to set boundaries in relationships, consider seeking the assistance of a certified mental health professional. At Anchor Light Therapy, our therapists love helping clients set boundaries and create healthy relationships through couples therapy. Contact us today to get started!

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