3 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

So many people contact me with their problems related to boundaries in relationships. No one teaches us how to have good boundaries and most of us did not see good examples from others while growing up. As a result, we have no idea how to set healthy boundaries in our relationships – and we suffer as a result.

I read an awesome book on Boundaries many years ago and it really opened my eyes. Let me share the basic concepts with you. If you will apply these to your life, you will be amazed how much less drama you will have to endure in your relationships and life!

A man and woman making a clear boundary with a wooden fence between them

Boundaries are like a property line – they are the invisible line that separates what is yours from what is your neighbor’s property. Many people put up a fence on their property line. This makes it very clear to everyone where the boundary is.

Boundaries help you to determine what is your responsibility and what is NOT your responsibility. Just like with a piece of property – you get to decide what happens inside your fence, but not what happens inside your neighbor’s fence. You can choose whether to plant flowers or let weeds grow, but you cannot control what your neighbor does with his yard. If his yard is a mess, it’s not your job to fix it – the fence reminds you of that. You are only responsible for keeping your own yard looking nice.

When it comes to relationships, boundaries are REALLY important. I’m amazed at how often people don’t have boundaries and don’t realize how much pain it is causing them. They think that setting a healthy boundary would be “mean” or “rude” – even when the other person is treating them badly!

It’s time to take back your power and set some healthy boundaries. You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. If you believe that, then you will set healthy boundaries to maintain that environment in your relationships.

What does a boundary look like?

1. Words – Communicate clearly with others

My husband has been a great example to me of how to use words as boundaries. Whenever we are approached by a salesman, he simply says to them, “No, thank you.” and turns away. If they are persistent, he looks them straight in the eye and says a little more forcefully, “I said, NO, thank you!” He walks away. They get the message and give up. I never knew how to handle pushy salesmen in public – his example inspired me that I could be respectful and yet firm and get results!

2. Consequences – Taking action based on your freedom

This can be hard one to do, but it is very powerful. If you have used words in the past and the person ignores you or does not respond in a kind way, then take action. Actions speak much louder than words, especially if they are unexpected! For instance, if you have someone who calls you too many times a day and that interferes with your work or other responsibilities, then simply don’t answer the phone. Many people tell me they are afraid to do this – what if it is important? Then set some boundaries verbally ahead of time such as, “While I am at work, please only call if it’s urgent. If not, send a text and I’ll call you later.” When you stop answering the phone every time they call, they will learn that you mean what you say. You demonstrate respect by showing respect for yourself. This teaches people to treat you with respect.

3. Honesty – Being honest about what is happening within you

This is the most powerful boundary of all. Being truthful about how you feel and about how you experience the relationship is the foundation to a healthy connection. Not being honest lays a false foundation that leads to instability for both people. The more honest you can be in a relationship, the healthier it is. For instance, “Rachel, I’m afraid to make plans with you. The last four times we agreed to meet for coffee, you canceled on short notice. I’d really like to spend time with you, but I’m getting frustrated. What can we do about this?” Or another example might be, “Honey, I know we need to talk about our budget and that this is important to you. I just got home and I’m tired. Could we agree to talk about it on Sunday afternoon instead? I’d really appreciate a break tonight.” Both of these examples honors the other person, but is also honest in expressing how you feel.

The main point with Boundaries is that YOU MATTER. The other person is important, but you are also important. We often think that by always putting the other person first, we are showing love and respect to them. But it can easily become an unhealthy pattern when it is one sided – when do YOUR needs become important to them? Are they putting you first? Usually not. It’s often one-sided – we call that co-dependent. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” that means you’ve got to love yourself too.

If this article stirs your heart and you see your relationships affected by the lack of boundaries, then I encourage you to check out the Boundaries books by authors Henry Cloud & John Townsend. They have many of them – Boundaries, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Teens, Boundaries with Kids, etc. Here’s a link to the first one – Boundaries. 🙂

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