I know how daunting setting boundaries can be – we read about it all the time online, but how can you actually go about putting these limits into action in your life?
Having finally learned how to do it myself (after years of trial and error) I’m going to share 8 strategies for setting healthy boundaries in relationships.
By the end of the article, you’ll know exactly how to choose your boundaries, enforce, and maintain them!
Let’s jump in:
1) Know your limits
Before you do anything, it’s important that you take the time to think about what your boundaries are.
And when it comes to relationships, it can be tricky! You don’t want to hurt your SO, but you’ve got to look out for yourself too.
So, start by thinking about the different areas of your relationship…this includes:
- Sex and intimacy – are there certain things you feel uncomfortable doing?
- Emotional needs – are your needs being met or do you feel unsupported by your partner?
- Personal time and space – does your partner respect your alone time or is this an area that needs working on?
- Financial matters – are shared accounts or different attitudes toward spending putting a strain on the relationship?
- Social life and friendships – are the lines between your relationship and social life becoming too blurred?
These are just a few examples of the areas you might want to examine. I suggest writing down which parts you feel worried about, and then next to each point, write down a solution to improve the situation.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to move on to the next step:
2) Communicate clearly
Now that you know what your boundaries are, it’s time for the scary part:
Communicating them to your partner!
My advice is to do this in a calm, comfortable setting (and preferably not in the middle of an argument). Explain to your partner how their behavior makes you feel, and make sure to use “I” statements so they don’t get defensive.
Here’s an example: I used to feel overwhelmed because my partner would text constantly whenever I was out with friends.
So, I gently told him one day:
“I feel overwhelmed when you text me numerous times when I’m out. I know you’re just looking out for me, but I’d appreciate it if I could spend time with friends without having to check my phone.”
Because I did it in a non-confrontational manner, and I spoke clearly and calmly, he got the message without it turning into an argument!
3) Practice assertiveness
Following on from the previous step – the tone in which you set boundaries matters.
If you go into the conversation feeling nervous or reluctant, your SO may not take it seriously.
But if you go in with assertiveness, they’ll be forced to pay attention.
So, how can you practice being assertive?
- Use “I” statements as I mentioned before
- Maintain a calm, clear voice and avoid getting worked up or angry
- Be very specific with the words you’re using
- Ask a friend if you can role-play with them
- Practice communicating your boundaries in the mirror until you’re ready to convey them to your partner
- Make sure to breathe! This will stop you from getting overwhelmed or flustered during important conversations
Ultimately though, as I’ve learned, being assertive comes with practice.
You may want to try enforcing smaller boundaries at home or at work to practice, before tackling the tricker ones with your partner.
4) Start small
As I mentioned earlier, setting boundaries can feel difficult and daunting. You’re not alone if you feel that way.
But that’s why starting small is best. Even if there are major issues in your relationship, it’s not a good idea to tackle them all in one go.
You might want to start with something that can easily be changed. Let’s say your partner constantly invades your personal space.
A small boundary could be setting up a time when you’re going to relax in the living room or the garden, uninterrupted for an hour.
You could approach this boundary by saying something like:
“I love spending time with you, but at the end of the day after work, I really need some time to decompress and unwind alone. I’d appreciate it if I could relax alone for an hour before we have dinner together.”
This way, you aren’t shocking your partner with a huge change, but you are improving a small aspect of your relationship and practicing being assertive in the meantime!
5) Be consistent
Now comes the test of time – being consistent!
There’s no point doing all the hard work above to then give up whenever the tough gets going (and it will, but I’ll explain more on that later).
The truth is, to set healthy boundaries in relationships, you have to be firm about them.
Yes, you can make adjustments to your boundaries, but you shouldn’t give up on them completely, no matter how much resistance you face.
I’ve found that rewarding myself for sticking to my boundaries keeps me motivated. You might find that keeping a reminder on your phone helps.
Whatever method you choose, just know that when your boundaries become consistent, they become stronger.
6) Seek support
When setting boundaries in a relationship, you might feel unsure of yourself or question whether you’re doing the right thing.
That’s why, as well as taking the time to reflect and get your limits straight, it’s also worth talking to a close friend or family member about this.
Not only will they validate your feelings, but they can offer support and encouragement!
Since I live abroad, I found setting boundaries quite tough (isolation doesn’t help). But through many conversations with my friends and my mom, I found the strength to keep going and eventually, it got easier!
So, the moral of the story?
Never be afraid to seek support! Those who care about you will want you to be treated with respect – they’ll be there for you as you start this journey.
7) Be prepared for resistance
Now, I mentioned not giving up when met with resistance earlier, and the truth is, not every boundary will go down smoothly.
Your partner might have built up habits that are hard for them to change. Or, they may simply disagree with your boundaries.
But this is why it’s crucial to be clear within yourself about which boundaries are the priority, and which you can adjust.
Be honest and open with your partner. If it’s not an unreasonable boundary, they will eventually come around, especially if they see how important it is to you.
And if they don’t?
It’s a major red flag, and something you should consider when thinking about the future of your relationship!
8) Reevaluate and adjust
And finally, your boundaries are not static.
You can set certain boundaries, monitor how they go, and then adjust accordingly.
For example, that one hour of downtime may prove inconvenient in the day-to-day runnings of your relationship.
So, you might work out a schedule with your partner that allows plenty of quality time together, but also a few hours in the week for you to be alone.
The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and respected.
And that your partner feels the same way too (they should also have their own boundaries in place).
Once you’re able to work effectively together, setting boundaries shouldn’t be as hard as it seems. With practice, it will get easier.
Just remember whenever you feel like giving up – we set boundaries because we respect ourselves. If we want other people to respect us, we need to stay consistent with them!