It’s so important for healthy relationships, but setting and maintaining boundaries can also be scary, so people avoid doing it. This leads to unsuccessful relating, victim feelings, and loss of intimacy. We don’t want that! We want happy, respectful, adaptable, and loving relationships. That’s why it’s worth the effort to get comfortable setting boundaries and maintaining them. Here are 3 actionable steps you can take to do just that!
- Clarify a Few Important Boundaries
So many people can feel unable to assert a boundary, because they are unclear about what a healthy, appropriate boundary is. The boundaries modeled to us by our family of origin, our parents, may not be a good fit for our generation as we move into more equality and freedom. Our roles in life, and therefore boundaries, are less and less defined for us. I think that’s awesome, but that also means we need to think about what healthy boundaries are in a more individual way, instead of one size fits all. So take some time to get to know yourself and the kind of dynamics you enjoy in relating. Start simple. Write down a list of 3-5 boundaries. Example Boundaries:
Please call before you come over to my house
Please feel free to swing by anytime
Please Text me if you’ll be out later than expected
Please hand me a tissue and let me cry without trying to fix it right away
Please don’t touch me like _______, because it’s uncomfortable
- Practice Setting Boundaries with Someone Safe
This is where the rubber meets the road and some courage may be necessary. Even though we may think of our closest relationships as our safest, I recommend practicing with someone more removed from your inner circle. Maybe a doctor, therapist, coach, or acquaintance would give more space for making mistakes while practicing boundaries, without any devastating consequences. I also don’t recommend practicing with your children, because their role is to test boundaries, so stick with adults! Once we’ve gotten some practice, we’re ready to communicate our boundaries in our most valuable relationships. Remember that asking doesn’t mean that the answer will be yes, so know which of your boundaries are musts to feel safe and expressed and which boundaries have wiggle room for compromise. It’s important to give yourself time to think in a calm space about whatever reaction you get before making any decisions about the future of that relationship, to avoid reactive ultimatums that are later regretted.
- Learn to Use Non-Violent Communication to Maintain Boundaries
Oh no! The thing we dread most has happened- we set a boundary, someone has broken their agreement to honor it, and now we have to confront this person if we are to maintain this boundary. Many of us have lots of experience witnessing confrontations ending in arguments, and unfortunately sometimes violence and scary behavior. So even the thought of having those hard talks can make us feel tense in our bodies. To keep this process as simple and non threatening as possible for both parties, I recommend using the following Non-Violent Communication statement:
I am feeling _______ because my need for _(boundary)_ is not being met. I would feel so ________ if you would be willing to _(restate boundary)_.
Notice that you are using “I” statements, sharing your experience and keeping the focus on the solution. Avoiding shaming them or criticizing them. If you are in a highly emotional state when you try to speak up for yourself, just stick with the script, repeat if necessary, and then take space to calm down and get more grounded before further discussion. This ensures you will not say anything regrettable while maintaining your boundaries. When we own our boundaries, do not blame or shame anyone, and keep the focus on ourselves, we are far less likely to insult the people we love and are more likely to get our boundaries honored.
Being able to effectively and gently set and maintain boundaries has a tremendously positive impact on the quality of all our relationships. It allows us to be honest, to grow together, and respect each other. So many of my relationships have been saved by my ability to communicate my boundaries, and some relationships that needed to end for me to live my best life ended. To say, “Yes!” to boundaries is to say, “Yes!” to a life of uplifting and deeply satisfying relationships. Want a coach to help you practice? I would love to support you on that journey!