Setting Healthy Boundaries

When I was in my early 20’s, I went through a people purge. I had been surrounded by so much negativity. People who were intent on dragging me down and never had a nice word to say. People who didn’t really know me but we ran in similar social circles. Eventually I had enough and I made a very conscious choice to confront these people, set firm boundaries, and build a social circle of people who brought positivity. Naturally as time went on, new relationships formed and old ones changed that caused me to re-evaluate the influence they had on my life and well-being. Those that I could, I let go. But what was I going to do about the ones who were here to stay? It took some trial and error but I’ve found a way to set healthy boundaries that have really helped my relationship with others. 

In order to set healthy boundaries, you have to be able to recognize common relationship challenges and what you can do about them.

  1. Always saying yes. When we are always agreeable, we lose the opportunity to communicate our own needs, wants and desires. How can we expect our partner, friend, to fill in the blank, to do their part in the relationship if we don’t let them? Relationships are meant to be reciprocal and honest. Saying yes to everything can lead to burn out, depression, and resentment. Be realistic with what you can handle. 
  1. Biting your tongue to keep the peace. I’ve done this so many times. I didn’t want to be viewed as the problem for setting someone off when I could just as easily let it roll off my back. When I was younger, I was much more vocal about my opinions and it didn’t go over well sometimes. I found myself avoiding these confrontations and silencing myself for the sake of the relationships. Then I learned about Narcissistic behaviors and realized I had been placating people who truly didn’t care about me at my own expense. I made a conscious decision to still pick my battles but to no longer stay silent for their sake. If I disagree, I say so. For my own benefit I make sure to disagree in a non confrontive way. How they choose to take it is their responsibility not mine. As long as I speak with respect and kindness I can leave the conversations with peace of mind. 
  1. Sugar coating our own emotions. When I say this, I don’t mean throwing an adult temper tantrum because your feelings get hurt. Instead, learning how to communicate the hurt, fear, anger, sadness, in a productive way that can strengthen your relationships. A recent loss sent me into the grief process. In the past, I would suffer through my grief in silence. This time, I vocalized where I was at and asked for grace in the moments it got the better of me. With my spouse I would communicate, “Hey, I am feeling depressed today, I’m really missing the girls. I just can’t fully parent today.” To my kids, “Mommy is feeling sad today and needs some time to herself to work through these feelings. You can watch a show for bit”. We don’t need to protect our loved ones from genuine emotions. What we have to be careful about is taking our emotions out on them. 
  1. Doing all the sacrificing. Relationships are a two way street. Parenting is the only exception to this for the first several years. In our other relationships however, we shouldn’t be doing all the heavy lifting. That friend who expects you to always connect with them but refuses to reciprocate. The partner who expects you to cater to their schedule but won’t make concessions in their time for you. Those are people who are taking advantage of your goodness and they do not value you the way you deserve to be. A healthy relationship is a partnership. There is some give and take but core values should never be sacrificed. Respect should be the foundation your relationship is built on. 
  1. Taking on a subservient role. Growing up my family was very traditional. My mom was a homemaker and my dad was the breadwinner. Life wasn’t as expensive then and the division of labor worked for them. In our home, my husband and I both work. I have a wonderfully flexible schedule that allows me to be home with our children as well. Admittedly, I take on a lot more responsibility around the home than my husband does. However, we run our home as a team. Chores are divided by necessity not gender, kids’ needs are met by both of us. There should not be a hierarchy in the home, or in other relationships. If you are not viewed as equally valued in your relationships, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate their purpose in your life.

Changing unhealthy patterns and behaviors in a relationship can seem overwhelming. By creating healthy boundaries, you are telling yourself you are worth it and showing your partner how you deserve to be treated. Some relationships get to this point because of complacency, which is a relatively easy fix once the decision has been made. Other relationships got this way because of a lack of respect from the other person. Those are much more challenging and face much more resistance when setting boundaries. Doesn’t mean its not worth doing, it just means you have to be ready and willing to accept the backlash that may come from it. 

When evaluating your relationships, ask yourself, do I like who I am in this relationship? Am I doing all the heavy lifting or are we a team? What are my non-negotiables?

The biggest factor in being able to set boundaries is understanding your own worth. If you have a hard time deciding what you deserve, let me give you some universal truths. 

  1. You deserve to be spoken to with respect, always. 
  2. You deserve to feel safe and valued, emotionally and physically. 
  3. No matter your efforts, you cannot change another person. They have to want it for themselves.

Use these to empower your foundation as you begin setting boundaries in your relationships. As you do, you will come to find other relationship expectations that are necessary. 

I recently went through an experience with someone who would bully the people around me. I played the game to avoid becoming the target of the fury and out of respect for the people around me didn’t speak up on their behalf. If you know me, you know I hate injustice and holding my tongue in the face of it is a true sacrifice for me. However, they had asked me not to and I chose to respect that. Eventually the bully turned on me. Naturally there was some anger, frustration, shock, but also the most overwhelming sense of freedom. I no longer had to stay silent. I respected the wishes of others to be compliant and quiet when they were the victim, but now it was my decision. I set my boundaries and I refused to budge. It was hard at times because other people wanted me to just make nice and placate, but I knew my worth and I wasn’t willing to continue to compromise and bend to them anymore. By doing this, others found their strength to create boundaries of their own. It was messy and painful but my life has been so much better since. This is an instance where the person will not be welcome back into my life in any real capacity. I had to make peace with that and any ramifications it caused.

Not every experience setting boundaries is messy or painful. Sometimes my tone becomes short or snippy. My husband points it out and I am reminded to speak more respectfully. When we get complacent it’s easy to let our boundaries slip or violate someone’s boundaries. A gentle reminder to your friend, partner, parent, etc. is necessary sometimes. If we can give these reminders from a place of kindness, there should be no reason for anything to escalate. 

I send you my best as you practice setting boundaries in your life.



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*I am not a relationship expert, I’ve just spent years learning in therapy and these are my personal takeaways. I am a big proponent of counseling and believe everyone who is willing to can benefit from it.