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Setting Boundaries in Relationships

Find yourself struggling to navigate relationships sometimes? Relationships are wonderful, rich, meaningful, powerful (the list goes on and on) - but also incredibly complex and challenging. We all struggle in relationships at times, and some degree of conflict is inevitable. However, keeping clear boundaries is one way to reduce unnecessary relational conflict, and maximize positive relationship experiences.

What are these “boundary” things then? Boundaries are the barriers that we create between ourselves and others. They help us maintain a healthy amount of space in relationships, and help us protect our own needs, wants, values, and identity. Reciprocally, respecting other people’s boundaries communicates your respect of their needs, wants, values, and identity.

Examples of settings boundaries include saying “no” to something someone else would like you to do, refusing to engage in an unhealthy dialogue, or limiting the amount of resources (time, energy, money) you spend with or on someone. When we think of “setting a boundary,” we often think of setting a boundary emotionally or verbally, as just described; but boundaries can also be simply physical. Intentionally sitting further away from someone on a couch, or staying inside are examples of physical boundaries. Boundaries can also involve general limits in regard to others in general, rather than to a specific person or people. For example, blocking off “alone time” to be by yourself is an example of a boundary.

Although boundaries are a healthy and important part of every relationship, setting them can feel hard. Setting boundaries first involves identifying your own needs and limits in a relationship or situation. Intentionally tuning in to how you feel or think about a given situation can help you get more in touch with your own needs or limits. Once you can identify what you need or want, setting the boundary involves communicating this directly, through your words and/or actions. For example, setting a boundary with someone who wants to call or text you late at night might involve both words of telling them you cannot talk after a certain time and action of not responding to texts or calls after that certain time. Setting boundaries often involves learning to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that naturally may arise when you have to say “no” to others. Psychotherapy is a great place to learn about one’s own personal boundaries and practice how you might communicate or set boundaries in your relationships.

By Annie Garrett, PsyD

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