Relationships are at the core of a happy life for many of us, so knowing how to have healthy relationships is very important. One key factor for healthy relationships is knowing boundaries and limits. Without boundaries, relationships can become uncomfortable and we can unintentionally allow others to hurt us, or we can unintentionally hurt others.
Think of boundaries as fences that surround you, with the outermost fence being where you keep most people in your life that you don't really know and are not comfortable with. This outermost fence keeps these people away from the core of who you are – you don't share personal information with them and they don't get close enough to you to really do any serious damage.
Each person can choose their own personal boundaries, but an example of a healthy set of boundaries might have strangers at the outermost fences while allowing acquaintances a bit closer. Then possibly friends and colleagues might make it to the next boundary, followed by family, with a spouse or significant other being at the closest to your core.
As people get closer to you, and your relationships with them grow stronger, it is normal to allow them to cross over certain fences, or boundaries, and allow them to get to know you better. With getting to know you better and getting over fences does come the risk of being hurt. The closer someone is to you, the more potential there is for harm, either intentional or unintentional.
Imagine a stranger criticizing you and calling you names, versus a significant other doing the same. While the words and the actions are the same, the damage is much greater coming from the significant other. Much of this is due to the intimacy of your relationship, their importance to you, and the level of closeness you allowed them to get to your core person. Using boundaries, we attempt to keep dangerous people at bay, and let healthy people close enough to you to improve your quality of life.
Here are some tips to ensuring healthy boundaries:
1. Listen to your feelings – If you are feeling bad, or taken advantage of, listen to this feeling and use it as a guide to set a new boundary.
2. Communicate your boundaries clearly – people in your life don't know what your boundaries are unless you say them, and this means saying them BEFORE there are any issues. Make sure to speak up and tell people what is and what is not okay.
3. Use self care – Know when you need to step back and take a rest. You are not good to anyone else if you are not taken care of. Keeping your battery fully charged is one of the best ways to help other people. Saying no to people doesn't mean we don't care.
4. Enforce your boundaries 100% of the time – setting a boundary means you need to reinforce it should someone cross the line. This doesn't need to be a screaming match, simply let them know they crossed the line and ask them to not do it again. If they continue to not listen and respect your boundary, let them know the next step is removing them from your life. The idea here is that they are in control of respecting your boundaries or not. This makes cutting them out of your life much easier if that day ever comes – you gave them every chance and you made the consequences clear.
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.