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  • Dr. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D., CGP, FAGPA

Healthy Boundaries in Relationships


What is a boundary and what does it mean to set your boundaries?

Many people allow themselves to be imposed upon and even mistreated because of a poor self-image, fear of conflict, and uncertainty about their right to exercise control over their lives. You need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that you have a right to protect and defend yourself. Setting boundaries raises your sense of self-worth, your self-esteem, because you are sending yourself the message that you are worthy of care and respect.

A boundary is really a limit, or a behavioral line which is established for protection and should not be violated or crossed. People must respect our boundaries and we, in turn, must respect theirs. Boundary violations of any sort tend to cause relationship problems. When one partner's actions cause another to feel belittled, unimportant or abused, then that other partner is faced with the task of learning how to defend themselves. The way you enforce these boundaries is the primary way you protect yourself emotionally.


Why set boundaries?

Establishing boundaries within relationships is critical for equal and healthy dealings with others. The ability to set relationship boundaries is a basic life skill or coping skill in interpersonal relationships. The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. You must have some boundaries in order to be respected and valued by others as well as by yourself. Boundaries make you feel safe in your environment and actually prevent you from being hurt. The way in which you allow others to interact with you is governed by the personal boundaries you have established or defined in your life.


By setting boundaries in relationships you are saying you will take responsibility for how you let others treat you in relationships. It means taking emotional responsibility for yourself and not taking on that of others. You can start getting some direction in your life and relationships rather than letting those on the outside control you. If you learn to set boundaries in any of your relationships early on and then stick to those boundaries, you will feel better about yourself overall and others will respect you and treat you better in the future.


Relationships work more harmoniously when the participants know what to expect and what is expected of them. Thus, establishing boundaries can be beneficial to all of your relationships: with your loved ones, your family members, your friends and coworkers. Being kind, but firm when stating what you need from a relationship allows the other person to reciprocate. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly.


Understanding Healthy Boundaries

Learning to have healthy boundaries is an exciting adventure, an exercise in personal liberation. It means coming to know ourselves and increasing our awareness of what we stand for. It also means self-acceptance and knowing that we are OK as we are and worthy of the good things in life. When two people with healthy boundaries enter into a relationship, they encourage wholeness, independence and a zest for life in their partner. They know that trust is possible and that the normal expected difficulties found in all relationships can be worked on constructively. They can find true intimacy as whole, complete and equal people. The journey to a sense of healthy identity is not always easy - but it need not be all that difficult. It often means letting go of some of our old misconceptions about the nature of the world. It means treating ourselves with respect and appreciating ourselves for what we really are. When we can do this for ourselves, we can take the same approach toward our partner - and then the true happiness and love that our relationship deserves can become a reality.


HEALTHY

UNHEALTHY​

​Feeling like your own person

Feeling incomplete without your partner

​Feeling responsible for your own happiness

Relying on your partner for your happiness

Togetherness and separateness are Balanced

Too much or too little togetherness

Friendships exist outside of the relationship

Inability to establish and maintain friendships with others

Focuses on the best qualities of both people

Focuses on the worst qualities of the partners

Achieving intimacy without chemicals

Using alcohol/drugs to reduce inhibitions and achieve a false sense of intimacy

Open, honest and assertive communication

Game-playing, unwillingness to listen, manipulation

Commitment to the partner

Jealousy, relationship addiction or lack of commitment

Respecting the differences in the partner

Blaming the partner for their own unique qualities

Accepting changes in the relationship

Feeling that the relationship should always be the same

Asking honestly for what is wanted

Feeling unable to express what is wanted

Accepting endings

Unable to let go

How to Set Boundaries:

  1. Admit that it's not working. The hardest part about making a change is usually acknowledging that it needs to happen. Don't sugarcoat the situation. If you are unhappy, then only you can turn that around.

  2. Take stock. Analyze your relationships to see what works and what doesn't. Note whether you think the other person will be receptive to the necessary changes. Prepare yourself accordingly.

  3. Get clear about your needs. In order to set boundaries in your relationships, you must know what your deal breakers are. Knowing the changes you want to make is great, but you should also have an idea of how you want things to change as well. Be willing to compromise when necessary.

  4. Say no. Do not do things because you feel guilty or obligated. Do not over commit. Exercise your right to choice and take care of yourself.

  5. Communicate effectively. Once you are sure about your stance, you need to articulate it. Let the other person(s) know how you feel. Present your case firmly and compassionately.

  6. Deal with the consequences. When you set boundaries in relationships, you must be prepared for some backlash. Many people don't like change, but that doesn't mean you should back down. Allow a reasonable period of time for adjustment.

Example of setting a boundary with a friend: If you want a friendship that is based on honesty then tell your friend this. Define to them what is important to you in a friendship and that honesty is key. Then if you catch your friend in a lie, then call that friend on it, tell them that you cannot continue the friendship if there are lies between the two of you. Your boundary was crossed and there is a consequence.

Other Points To Remember:

  • The more clearly defined your boundaries are the better they will be received and respected. Say what you mean and mean what you say - once a boundary is set if someone crosses that boundary then there should be some consequences of some kind. Let the consequence fit the crime so to speak.

  • Understand that it is okay to forgive a person once if a boundary was crossed if they were not clear on what the boundaries were in the first place. But if that boundary is ever crossed again then take action and end the relationship.

  • Boundaries bring order to our lives. As we learn to strengthen our boundaries, we gain a clearer sense of ourselves and our relationship to others. Boundaries empower us to determine how we'll be treated by others.

  • Setting boundaries in your relationships gives you the power to live a rich and fulfilling life. You can be the best person you can be and others around you will prosper. Good relationship boundaries make for good relationships.

  • With good boundaries, we can have the wonderful assurance that comes from knowing we can and will protect ourselves from the ignorance, meanness, or thoughtlessness of others.

If you find yourself struggling to set boundaries in your relationships or difficulty creating healthy relationships due to boundary issues, it might be time to consider additional support. The Aguirre Center for Inclusive Psychotherapy provides individual therapy, group therapy, and relationship therapy which can empower you set healthy boundaries and cultivate healthier relationships in your life. If you are ready to start your healing your journey you can get started through any of the steps below:

  1. Visit our Getting Started Page to request an appointment with one of our talented therapists.

  2. Learn more about our team of therapists and contact one of our therapists directly if you resonate with what they share on their profiles.

  3. Review our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about what you can expect about the services we offer.