All healthy relationships need boundaries. Boundaries don’t mean you’re closing yourself off to your partner, friend, or parent. Instead, they suggest that you’re setting down firm rules of what you need and expect from that relationship.
Boundaries can help you to get close to others and improve your relationship. It isn’t about keeping people at arm’s length at all times – it means that you’re putting measures in place to protect your sense of identity and your mental health.
Types of Boundaries
Anne Katherine, the author of Where to Draw the Line, defines boundaries as “a limit. By the limits you set, you protect the integrity of your day, your energy and spirit, the health of your relationships, the pursuits of your heart.”
Boundaries can look different depending on each person’s needs. You can also set professional boundaries regarding your work life. It’s essential to clearly communicate the boundaries you might need to ensure that there is minimal miscommunication. Here, it is beneficial to define exactly what you need, want, or expect.
Examples of some healthy boundaries that you might want to set include:
- Asking permission, for example, to share your thoughts and feelings after a long day
- Showing respect
- Giving one another space when asked for
- Setting a firm cut off point for finishing work
When setting boundaries, something to be aware of is that they can often turn into an attempt to control someone. For instance, a healthy boundary may require both partners to respect when the other says “no”. However, an unhealthy boundary can grow when one partner does not accept this and tries to pressure or coerce the other partner into accepting or doing something that they do not want to.
These unhealthy boundaries can take many forms, including:
- Oversharing personal information, for instance, with people who you are not close to
- Banning your partner from going out with their friends
- Withholding communication or affection after conflict
How to Set Healthy Boundaries
Knowing how to set healthy boundaries in relationships can be intimidating, but there are a few ways that you can make it easier:
- Communicate – Communication is key for all aspects of life. When setting boundaries, sit down with your loved one free from any distractions and discuss what you want to see in your relationship and how you can both achieve this. Although it might feel awkward, the rewards you’ll see in your relationship will be well worth it.
- Start early – Setting healthy boundaries in romantic relationships works best when set early as this gives both parties the chance to settle in around the boundaries and get used to them. This isn’t to say that boundaries can’t be set later on during a relationship. They may just be harder to adapt to as both partners will be used to certain habits that could be difficult to break.
- Be careful with your wording – When discussing boundaries, finding the right words to use can be tricky. If you use phrases such as “when you” or “you always do”, it can come across as though you’re blaming the other person. In turn, they may become defensive which often causes communication to break down. Try using “I” statements, such as “I feel” or “I don’t like”. In doing so, you and your partner will have the ability to focus on what you want and need within that moment.
When discussing boundaries, it’s important to remember that they are not always set in stone. You can choose to come back and review them with your loved one after a set amount of time and adjust them as needed. However, it is also important not to be too flexible with your boundaries – don’t give in to pressure if someone wants to violate a boundary you have set.
Stating that “boundaries are sometimes permeable, and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re physical and sometimes they’re geo-political, so this idea is more fluid” Meredith Gore, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, advises people to ‘think like a geographer’ when it comes to setting boundaries.
The Benefits of Setting Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries can come with a host of benefits that enhance many relationships. Healthy boundaries can:
- Reduce conflict – Having clear boundaries that both people respect and adhere to can reduce the amount of conflict within any relationship. From a lack of respect for privacy to a lack of effective communication, continuous conflict may arise within a relationship from anywhere. However, healthy boundaries that target these issues can reduce the conflict that can arise from them.
- Decrease resentment – Resentment can stem from many places, such as if you feel your partner is taking advantage of your generosity or time or taking you for granted. By setting boundaries that ask your partner to respect your time and feelings, resentment can be reduced, and your relationship improved.
- Improve happiness – Studies have shown that blurred boundaries between work and life can negatively affect lifestyle and wellbeing. The prevalence of communication technology also means that those who work from home can struggle to separate their work and life balance. Unfortunately, this can increase conflict within families. Setting a firm boundary and prioritising your downtime can improve your happiness and prevent emotional exhaustion.
Boundaries are an essential need in all relationships. They help us remain independent in our relationships and ensure that we can still enjoy close companionship and preserve our mental health and identity. Although people may feel guilty for setting boundaries at first, especially if they are not used to prioritising themselves, they can vastly improve wellbeing.
As well as setting your own firm boundaries, always be respectful of the ones that others set. Respect is a two-way street, and if you respect the boundaries of others, they are likely to respect yours in return.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling to with their mental health, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
 Katherine, Anne. Where To Draw The Line. Simon & Schuster, 2000, p. 14.
 Phipps, Emma. “Meredith Gore – Boundaries In A World Striving For Work-Life Balance #Womeninscience”. Science & Research News | Frontiers, 2021, https://blog.frontiersin.org/2021/08/26/meredith-gore-boundaries-in-a-world-striving-for-work-life-balance-womeninscience/.
 Pluut, Helen, and Jaap Wonders. “Not Able to Lead a Healthy Life When You Need It the Most: Dual Role of Lifestyle Behaviors in the Association of Blurred Work-Life Boundaries With Well-Being.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 11 607294. 23 Dec. 2020, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.607294
 Yang, Jing et al. “Work-Family Segmentation Preferences And Work-Family Conflict: Mediating Effect Of Work-Related ICT Use At Home And The Multilevel Moderating Effect Of Group Segmentation Norms”. Frontiers In Psychology, vol 10, 2019. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00834. Accessed 8 Nov 2021.