How To Implement Healthy Boundaries In A Relationship

article Jun 18, 2021

One of the most difficult concepts to understand surrounding relationships and relationship building is… boundaries!

Many can see a person with boundaries as rigid or overbearing or even rude and uncaring. But, the truth is boundaries are vital for a mutually beneficial and healthy relationship.

It’s healthy for all involved. 

However, clarity and communication is of the utmost importance with concern to boundaries.

What are boundaries? 

Boundaries are often identified as the limits we set with the people we interact with, that allow us to be clear on what is deemed as acceptable and unacceptable regarding their behavior towards us. In other words, the rules of that relationship. The rules or boundaries will be different with each individual person, for example, there are people in our lives that would expect a hug and kiss on greeting them. Then there are others where it might be considered inappropriate and a hand shake with sarvice. These are some boundaries that are usually very obvious and there are some that are occasionally confusing, convoluted and in some cases non-existent. 

Why are boundaries important?

Boundaries are important to feel safe, secure and often comfortable when interacting with other people. Deep within ourselves, we generally know what behaviour we would prefer and what behaviour we would not prefer. The issue can be implementing and enforcing the boundaries. This is commonly linked to our own self worth and self-esteem and confidence. That feeling of “Who do I think I am, saying no to them” or maybe you might meet someone who has overbearing boundaries, where you feel forced to behave outside of your own values and beliefs and you are perhaps not confident enough to stand your ground. Without boundaries your self worth will erode even further and ultimately may have a negative impact on your mental health or worse leave you in an unsafe relationship.

Here are some areas that I have found helpful to understand when considering boundaries…

Gain clarity on boundaries

In order to correctly implement and enforce healthy boundaries, first I found it helpful to gain absolute clarity on what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable to me as an individual. For this, I simply looked at what my own values and beliefs are and asked myself if it was fair to ask others to align with them. 

There will always be certain situations that call for flexibility and understanding but knowing what your personal boundaries are and being aware when you are making allowances was helpful in maintaining my dignity and self respect. Important considerations are, the nature of the relationship, clearly separate family, friends, work and sexual relationships and if needed break those down further. Such as, best friend, good friend, old friend, new friend etc. 

Then you could help each of those areas gain clarity by exploring the dynamics of the boundaries by including emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual etc. This is an exercise that is private and personal to you and it’s important that your thinking is not polluted with external influences, no matter how well meaning. If you do not have clarity on what your boundaries are, how can you implement them within your relationships?

What are the consequences?

Now that you’ve become clear on what your boundaries are and have gained clarity around what you’ll accept… It's time to consider the consequences if these boundaries are crossed. Give this some serious thought as the important part about this step, is that you’re able to follow through with them. 

They do not have to be harsh or unkind, they just need to be clear. Following through with the consequences teaches the other person and confirms to them that you will not stand for your boundaries being broken. It only takes one example for someone to learn how they can treat you. If you do not follow through with the consequences, you have just shown them that your boundaries are moveable and do not mean anything. You teach people how to treat you.

Communicate that clarity

So, you have clarity on those boundaries, you know what the consequences of crossing those boundaries will be, now it’s time to communicate. In order for the other person to understand and respect your boundaries, they must first know what they are and what will happen if they are crossed. Once again, this can be done politely but assertively.

For example, if you are concerned that someone doesn’t value your time and may be late for meeting you, you could say “I’m really looking forward to our lunch on Tuesday. However, my time is crazy at the moment so any issue please let me know as soon as you know, please do not be late or cancel last minute, otherwise we can not get together for quite some time.” Then if that person lets you down, you will follow through by not rescheduling the lunch for quite some time to show them that you will not accept them disrespecting your time. 

Being assertive will feel like you're being rude if you’re not used to it, but continue to practice being assertive with people at every opportunity. It may also feel like you're playing childish games… You are not… adults respect each other's boundaries and if you are placed in a position where you have to follow through, you are not the one acting childishly. Here are some opportunities for you to practice assertiveness;

  • Challenge bad services in restaurants
  • Challenge cashiers if you have been given the wrong change.
  • If you are receiving unwanted messages from an interested party, ask them to stop.
  • If someone is asking you about something you would rather not speak about… tell them.
  • If you are being asked to do something and you do not have the time, say no.
  • If someone close to you hurts your feelings, let them know and give them the chance to make it right.

Cultivate or Cull

Sometimes there will be people who even after you have communicated your boundaries with absolute clarity, you have followed through with the consequences, they just continue to disrespect your boundaries. You may wonder how you can change that person. You may want to continue to tolerate their behaviour for some reason or another. This is obviously your choice. But, know but doing so that you are accepting their time, their happiness and their agenda is more important to them than yours. 

To be honest, there may be people that you’re willing to accept this of, but when you do, stop expecting them to change, stop complaining about them and remember that you allow this to happen. I have been asked many times how you get people to listen, how you get people to change or how you get people to do what you want them to do. The truth is once you have communicated with clarity and you are sure that they understand… there is nothing you can do to influence another person's behaviour. You either choose to accept it or you allow that relationship to come to a natural end or that it might be time to cull that relationship. 

This is a very difficult decision and is obviously the last case scenario, but remember, this was not your choice, this was their choice, you were clear from the outset. Most likely, the other person will welcome the clarity of the boundaries and will expect the same towards them. I have found that people generally value respect and kindness and that makes for a relationship worth cultivating. 

Boundaries are important for healthy relationships and what's helpful to understand is that by the other person choosing to not respect your boundary, they are also choosing the consequences. This is their choice and they are responsible for the outcome. In closing, here is an easy to remember way of remembering how to set healthy boundaries;