How To Set Healthy Boundaries In Relationships: Practical Strategies

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Think about what it means to set boundaries. Not just for others when it pertains to you, but for yourself as well. It may seem like a restrictive act and mindset at first. You may wonder why anyone would want rules for themselves and boundaries they must adhere to when most people cherish personal freedom so much.

Healthy boundaries are vital if you want to have good mental health and good emotional energy. Well-defined personal boundaries enhance your relationships and keep you safe, and they help to safeguard all aspects of your life.

This article will dive deep into setting and maintaining boundaries of all types but focuses on boundaries in relationships. Interpersonal relationships exist on boundaries, and we explore boundaries in the following paragraphs.

Setting Boundaries

What are boundaries? Boundaries are the limits and guidelines we set for ourselves in various aspects of our lives to keep us safe, respected, and maintain a healthy well-being. There are many types of boundaries, and to be at your healthiest, you should create healthy boundaries in all of these areas.

Personal Boundaries

Personal boundaries are guidelines that you set for yourself in your own personal life to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Defining boundaries in your own life is something you must be honest with yourself to do. You may notice that you need to set a boundary that others don’t need to live a healthy and happy life.

The following are some examples of healthy personal boundaries you can implement in your life.

Setting Healthy Boundaries Includes Putting the Phone Down

Are you addicted to your phone? Do you find that late at night, when your household chores are finished, and you have time to yourself, you are constantly scrolling social media or reading articles online? Are you the person who is addicted to a game on your phone or likes to take online quizzes? Do you spend a lot of time on your phone shopping and browsing sales?

We all know that being on your phone late at night keeps you up when you should be sleeping or resting. The blue light emitted by your phone or computer keeps you awake because it keeps your body from producing melatonin, which helps you relax and fall asleep. So if you play on your phone late at night, you are keeping yourself from resting rather than getting the rest your mind and body need to face tomorrow properly.

If you know that you spend too much time on your phone and need to connect more with the real world right in front of you, you can create healthy personal boundaries when it comes to your devices. This might be that you decide you will no longer bring your phone to the dinner table and instead focus on the meal and the company you have at dinner. Or you will turn your phone off or on “do not disturb” mode after 8 pm.

When you set a boundary like this for yourself, you take responsibility for yourself, and doing so holds many benefits. You aren’t depriving yourself because you know that you will get to pick that phone right back up tomorrow morning.

This is a form of self-care that may feel uncomfortable until you figure out what to replace this activity with, but it will pay off in the end. Maybe you’ll fill the quiet time at night with things like reading, exercising, meditating, or a long bath. These are things that can actually relax you.

How To Set Healthy Boundaries In Relationships

Set Good Boundaries by Stopping Work

A lot of us don’t “clock out” even when we leave our workplace. We go home, and we check work emails, we think about or continue work projects, we try to plan our next day, we obsess over an evaluation or audit coming up.

When we set poor boundaries regarding bringing our work home with us, we are stressed and consumed by it. When it comes to work, healthy boundaries include deciding that you will stop checking emails and messages after dinner or that we will only do work at home that is absolutely necessary.

Another healthy personal boundary that we can set regarding work is that we leave work at the office after work. We don’t drag it home or out with us, we don’t talk about it, and we try our best not to think about it.

Have you ever tried to enjoy a meal with someone and all they talk about is their work? Have you ever tried to connect with someone, but they stop in the middle of the conversation to answer a phone call or message from their coworker or boss?

This is a person not only with poor boundaries in relationships but with unhealthy personal boundaries. It will lead to a workaholic lifestyle full of stress and drive friends and family away because their job takes priority over everything in their life. Healthy relationships are hard to maintain for these people.

Related: How To Unwind After Work: Effective And Proven Strategies To Relax

Set Healthy Boundaries with Food

When we eat because we are bored, upset, or angry, we are not maintaining healthy boundaries. We use food as a coping mechanism, which is detrimental to our emotional and mental health. It is also not beneficial for our physical health.

A healthy boundary for food is that you should eat what you’re hungry for and when you are actually hungry. When you are full, stop. Don’t keep eating just because the food is there. Try to be conscious of the foods you are putting into your body, as well. Junk food and fast food make us feel weighed down, and they don’t satiate our hunger because they don’t contain the nutrients our bodies need.

When we don’t practice boundary setting with our food and eating habits, we can end up with low self-esteem and feel guilty after. Having a good relationship with food is about respecting yourself, knowing your limits, and self-care.

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Sleep

It’s happened to a lot of us. We get home from work, eat dinner, and end up on the couch with the television on, ready to watch a few episodes of our favorite series or show. Before we know it, it’s three in the morning, and there are only three more thirty-minute episodes. You might as well finish, right?

We go to bed way too late, don’t get decent sleep, and then we’re groggy and tired the next day. We may have set boundaries in the form of staying off our phones, but they were unhealthy boundaries because we traded one vice for another.

Better boundaries include getting rid of a bad habit and replacing it with a good habit. Maybe instead of filling the time you aren’t on your phone with sitting in front of a television, you can tell yourself that you need to spend one hour outside each day, one hour watching your program or show, and the rest of the time doing something constructive or relaxing with no screens involved.

Getting enough sleep is crucial to our health, and when we get enough sleep, we are less likely to develop a mood disorder or health issues.

Setting Relationship Boundaries

Healthy Relationships Have Boundaries

If you have done your best to set boundaries in your personal life and have stuck to them to the point where you feel you are ready to engage in a healthy relationship, know that relationship boundaries are also necessary.

Setting boundaries in relationships is important because you are still an individual even though you may enter into a romantic relationship. You need to have standards, bottom lines, and boundaries to maintain personal health and support your personal growth.

If you don’t set relationship boundaries, you may find that the control you had over your life and your personal space is now in the hands of your partner. While you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, you also need to preserve your own. You cannot be in a truly happy relationship if you haven’t set healthy boundaries.

It is essential to voice your boundaries to your partner at the beginning of the relationship so that the other person doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior if they do something that violates a boundary that they didn’t know about. Make sure that you feel heard when telling your partner your boundaries, and ask for respect when voicing them.

It is also important to make sure your partner has a chance to state the boundaries that they have. Good relationships are built when good communication exists, care for one another’s feelings and when you show respect to each other.

The following are some relationship boundaries you may want to consider implementing. All relationships are different, and as long as you feel respected and safe, your boundaries may look different from what is listed in this article.

One Partner Only/Non-Exclusive

Voice to a potential partner what type of relationship you’re looking for. Do you want a committed monogamous relationship, or are you looking for someone who wants to have fun? If you respect each other and can agree on the type of relationship you both want, then there is no wrong way to have a relationship. Non-exclusive relationships may get a bad rap, but if it’s what both people in the relationship want, then there’s nothing at all wrong with it.

You can set your boundaries according to your own feelings and needs. Taking responsibility for your wants and needs is crucial because you should never rely totally on another person to provide happiness. You will end up upset with your partner, you will feel hurt often, and you may end up with boundary issues if you make your feelings the sole responsibility of your partner.

Voice what you want before you even get involved. Worst case scenario, the person disagrees with the boundary you are setting, and the other person ends the relationship before it even really begins. If this happens, you can move on to the next relationship, and maybe another’s feelings will mirror your own more appropriately.

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries are critical, not just in a romantic relationship but in all relationships. When we develop emotional boundaries for our family relationships, we have healthier and stronger bonds with those close to us.

Examples of emotional boundaries are:

  • I don’t want to talk about your past relationships because it makes me uncomfortable
  • I will not tolerate being pressured into feeling a certain way
  • I will not tolerate being belittled or bullied
  • I will not tolerate being talked down to
  • Certain topics make me feel uncomfortable or trigger me, and I will not discuss them
  • If you can’t support and encourage me, then please be quiet. There is no need to badger or tease me.

These are just a few examples of emotional boundaries. When we set healthy emotional boundaries, we are telling the other person what our own limits are. We also need to be open to any important boundaries the other person may have. When we have mutual respect for these boundaries, we may move forward in the relationship.

Any time a person is unwilling to respect your boundaries, they need to be avoided or cut out. It doesn’t matter if it is one person or your entire extended family. Anyone who does not contribute to your happiness should not be allowed to speak into your life. Your feelings matter, and you shouldn’t involve yourself with anyone who doesn’t not care about your feelings. In saying this, there is a right way to set boundaries and a wrong way.

Related: Setting Boundaries With Parents: The Importance & Doing It Effectively


How To Set Healthy Boundaries In Relationships

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries are some of the early boundaries you should lay out for a potential partner. These cover everything from how you dress to how you show affection and expect affection, your own space, sex, and physical intimacy.

Consider the following example:

Courtney has strong boundaries when it comes to physical touch. She doesn’t like public displays of affection and can’t handle it when someone attempts to touch her, kiss her, or even hold her hand in public. It makes her uncomfortable. She discusses it with a man she is interested in, and he seems to be the one person who understands this and respects her feelings about it. So she carries on dating him.

Consider another example:

John needs to set better boundaries, and he knows it. He has trouble telling the people he has an interest in that he craves physical affection over other types of praise (verbal, emotional, etc). He doesn’t feel loved or fulfilled, and his feelings often end up hurt if he doesn’t get almost constant physical affection. However, he thinks that telling people this will make him seem weird. So instead of having strong boundaries about physical affection, he finds that most of his relationships fail because he ends up hurt from lack of touch.

It can be challenging to set physical boundaries because physical touch is hard for some people to talk about, especially when it comes to sex and intimacy.

But it is so important to be open about these things because, ultimately, your body belongs to you. You should never feel threatened, unsafe, violated, or unloved because you failed to set boundaries or speak your truth when it comes to setting boundaries. This is an area where it is crucial to be upfront, regardless of how uncomfortable the subject matter is for you.

Related: Improving Your Self-Respect: 10 Effective Strategies And Tips

Boundaries with an Ex When in a New Relationship

Here are some practical ways to set boundaries with an ex, especially when you are in a new relationship:

  1. Make your current partner a priority.
  2. Ask your current partner about their opinion on the boundaries you have created between yourself and your ex.
  3. Do not let your ex interfere with your quality time with your new partner.
  4. Establish communication boundaries with your ex and make your new partner aware of them. Ongoing communication usually needs to occur with an ex in situations such as when you have kids with them.
  5. Do not stalk or check up on your ex’s social media accounts.
  6. Do not entertain your ex’s flirty messages. Also, avoid sending messages that might easily be misinterpreted.
  7. Avoid looking for emotional comfort from your ex or catering to their emotional needs.
  8. Do not accompany your ex to their personal or family events or gatherings, as this is something a couple would do.
  9. Do not visit their home or the home you used to live in together. If conversations are required, find other places where you can talk casually or talk over the phone.
  10. Settle any financial and/or legal arrangements if previously married.
  11. Be consistent with the boundaries that you set.
  12. Cherish what you and your ex had together, but move forward with the new love of your life and create plans with them.

Discussing Boundaries

Setting all boundaries, just coming out and announcing them to your family, significant other, or anyone else is not likely to go over well. It also needs to be more subtle and targeted in conversation with an individual, rather than an entire group of people. 

One of the boundary examples in this article may be the essence of what you want to convey, but the delivery of that boundary needs to be carefully crafted and thought through. You need to ensure that although you have a clear boundary in mind, when and how it’s communicated is just as important as the boundary itself.

Otherwise, your boundary may sound like a set of rules or come across as aggressive to the other person, which could damage the relationship.   

Respect My Boundaries Quotes

Below are some quotes highlighting the importance of having boundaries and asserting them when they are challenged or disrespected by other people:

“I encourage people to remember that “No” is a complete sentence.”

― Gavin de Becker

“I allow myself to set healthy boundaries. To say no to what does not align with my values, to say yes to what does. Boundaries assist me to remain healthy, honest and living a life that is true to me.”

― Lee Horbachewski

“Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.”

― Christine Morgan

“Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.”

― Doreen Virtue

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”

― Brene Brown

“Honoring your own boundaries is the clearest message to others to honor them, too.”

― Gina Greenlee

“If you’re offended by my boundaries, then you’re probably one of the reasons I need them.”

― Steve Maraboli

“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off.

Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack. As your boundaries get stronger, the wait time gets shorter. You never have justify your intuition.”

― Shahida Arabi

Boundaries in Relationships are Crucial

Having healthy boundaries in a relationship of any type, including a relationship with yourself, are vital to feeling safe, fulfilled, and happy. You matter, and what you need and want from a relationship is important and should be respected. If someone refuses to honor your boundaries, then you need to move on. Someone will come along who does.

There is another side to the coin when it comes to boundaries, though.

You also need to commit to listening to someone who is trying to explain their boundaries to you. You need to either honor and respect their boundaries or tell them you can’t and allow them to move on. We cannot demand that anyone respects us when we don’t offer that same in return.

Not every person you encounter will form a good relationship, and you need to have boundaries as your guideline for what you want and expect. It’s foolish to waste your time or someone else’s by not being honest and upfront about your boundaries.

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