Boundaries in Relationships
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
What are Boundaries?
You’ve probably heard about boundaries, and we live them out in our daily lives, but that doesn’t necessarily make the concept less vague or the task of setting them less daunting. Boundaries, simply put, are rules for what will be tolerated to maintain a relationship… and they are in every single relationship you have. Yep, that’s right. Every one of them. Some boundaries are explicitly stated, which can prevent misunderstandings, but implicit boundaries may exist in your relationships too. For example, a couple has not said aloud to each other that they consider being intimate with another person a betrayal but understand that it would effectively end their relationship.
Boundaries, simply put, are rules for what will be tolerated to maintain a relationship.
There are various kinds of boundaries that can be set in our relationships that protect our body, mind, heart, time, money, and so forth. Additionally, boundaries that we set with others can be healthy, too open, or too rigid. If our boundaries are healthy then our values are not compromised, needs are communicated, and each party responds respectfully (e.g., accepting “no”, listens non-defensively). Boundaries that are too open can involve oversharing, difficulty saying “no”, being overly involved with another’s problem, or a compromise of our values or safety. Rigid boundaries may look like avoiding closeness, under-sharing, or refusing to ask for or accept help. Your boundaries will likely look different for the different kinds of relationships you have. For example, most people share less about their personal lives with a boss than they would a friend because it may be inappropriate or unprofessional.
Given that boundaries exist in every one of our relationships, and that we wear many roles in our day-to-day life (e.g., spouse, parent, sibling, employee, student), it makes being able to recognize and set your boundaries integral to wellbeing and healthy relationships. Healthy boundaries provide parameters for security.
Consider what your values are and take stock of how your life reflects your values. Do you value family time but find yourself bringing work home? Do you value kindness but maintain toxic friendships? It takes introspection, but knowing yourself, how you want to spend your time and money, and how you would like to be treated by others is important. You’re also in a relationship with yourself so don’t forget to set boundaries with yourself too.
Once you know your values, determine what that means for your relationships and communicate your needs in a respectful manner. While every relationship has give-and-take, your values should never have to be compromised for the sake of the relationship. Talking to another person, maybe for the first time, about our boundaries can be scary but it can also lead to a more fulfilling relationship.
Still Feeling Lost?
Identifying and setting boundaries may sound simple but it can often be confusing starting out. If you’re still feeling in the dark about what boundaries may look like for you, consider seeing a counselor. Identity work is a common focus in counseling where individuals can come to better know themselves and their values as well as how to communicate and live them out in their daily lives.