How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationships

Most therapists or couples’ counselors will tell you that healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships. Maybe that’s not the most romantic sentiment, and probably not what most people want to hear. But why is it such a popular refrain?

The reason is this: tons of mental health experts, with years of experience dealing with relationship issues and family systems, attest to healthy boundaries’ veracity. Boundaries are limits we set based on our wants and needs, which we determine by examining our core values.

If you greatly value honesty, you probably won’t be okay with your partner lying to you, even about trivial matters. They may not see lying about something small as a big deal, but it is to you, and this is where conflict arises.

How to Notice Unhealthy Boundaries

We all know, or may even be, that person who is constantly being taken advantage of or walked all over. They seem to be incapable of standing up for themselves or being their own advocate. Unfortunately, “users” can usually spot these folks from a mile away and know exactly how to exploit them.

These situations are sad, but looking in from the outside, they are fairly easy to analyze. The “user” is bad and should be tossed immediately. But what happens when the other person is someone you love, who is not there to take advantage of you?

Here, we’re getting into murkier waters. If the person has good intentions and you care for them, it makes sense that you would want to appease them.

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In an interview, actress Anna Kendrick discussed an example of a former partner crossing one of her boundaries. She went on to say, “I was dating a guy. He tickled me playfully, and I said, ‘I know that’s cute and that people do it, but I really don’t like being tickled. It really makes me feel trapped and panicked. I know it’s silly and funny for most people, but I really hate it, so could you please not?’”

Apparently to her partner, tickling was not a big deal, so he decided to do it again. He was then no longer her partner. Ms. Kendrick decided that the man’s willingness to disregard her wishes, and violate her boundaries was a deal breaker.

She continued, “And I knew that in the retelling of that story, I would be some crazy girl. You never want to be labeled ‘the crazy girl.’ … That he would tell his friends, ‘Oh, she broke up with me because I tickled her. What a psycho.’ I just had to go, ‘No, I broke up with you because I told you something was important to me, and you didn’t respect that.’”

This is a great example of setting a boundary based on a core value and sticking to it when someone else violates it. You may feel like your agency is taken away when someone crosses your boundary. Giving that person consequences for their actions can empower you.

How to Determine What Boundaries Are Healthy for You

It is also important to decide which of your boundaries are negotiable and which are not. This calculation is usually best based on how important the underlying value is to you.

If the boundary that is crossed is not near the top of your list, you may wish to give the violator a second or even third chance. If, however, the value is of the utmost importance to you, a second chance may be out of the question.

It makes sense to label which of your boundaries are negotiable and which aren’t ahead of time. You do not want to make a decision in the moment, which is more likely to be swayed by emotion.

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Relationship Boundaries During COVID-19

With the current pandemic ongoing, setting and keeping boundaries are very serious issues that can have severe consequences. If you are like me, you really enjoy making other people happy.

Some may call it being a “people pleaser,” but I usually think of it as just being a nice person. Why not help someone out or make them feel good if you can? Part of this is also driven by my anxiety, which can treat me to a nice guilt trip if I happen to tell someone “no.”

So, in some cases, I may just go along because I don’t want to feel like a jerk later (even though saying “no” definitely does not make me a jerk). However, with the explosion of COVID-19, I have had to reassess my values and examine the consequences of my actions. I have had numerous friends, friends that I love, ask me to take part in certain activities or behaviors which violate the guidelines set forth by the medical scientific community, and even the government.

I really don’t like turning down a friend, but I would like getting sick or getting someone else sick, even less. Now is the time to be crystal clear about our values and have a plan for dealing with those who ask us to compromise them.

Relationship Boundaries Are Here to Help Us

There are decisions that are going to make us very uncomfortable. It really distressed me to not go to dinner with one of my oldest best friends. But, I set my boundaries and attending that dinner would have crossed one. It sucked to disappoint my buddy, but disappointment is a part of life, and decided I can live with upsetting him in that situation.

I could not live with transmitting the virus to someone else. These are tricky times, and it will take plenty of determination and forethought to let reason and not emotion guide our decisions.

If someone is repeatedly pushing or violating your boundaries, listen to your gut. If you notice yourself struggling to clarify your boundaries or aren’t sure where to start, support from a mental health professional can be useful and New York Behavioral Health is here for you. Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like more information. You can also schedule an appointment right here on our website.

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