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Creating healthy relationship boundaries

Creating healthy boundaries with others is a way of setting limits that preserves our own sense of integrity and self-respect, while also respecting others. It's a way of paying attention to our needs in a relationship and taking steps to make changes to our behavior. Setting boundaries is NOT about trying to control someone else. Rather, it's a way of recognizing and communicating what we need in relation to others. Sometimes, part of this communication involves identifying consequences if our limits are not respected.

How to communicate your boundaries:

  1. State the facts. What just happened? What are you noticing? Examples: "I notice that your voice is getting louder." "The way you spoke to the waiter sounded like a put down." "I notice that you often text me while I am at work."
  2. State how you feel about the facts. Example: "I feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, distracted."
  3. State what you need. Examples: "If you lower your voice, I'd be willing to talk." "If you speak to the wait staff without put downs, I would feel more comfortable." "I'd prefer if you text with me after work hours."
  4. State what the consequence will be if the behavior continues. Examples: "If you cannot lower your voice, I will leave the room." "If you continue to put down the wait staff, I may choose not to dine out with you anymore." "If you continue to text me at work, I will not respond."

What might this sound like?

  • Problem: "I'll talk to you if you stop yelling at me." 
  • Better: "I would like to have a conversation with you, but I notice that your voice is getting loud and I feel uncomfortable. If you lower your voice, I'd be willing to continue the conversation. Otherwise, I will have to leave the room and we can try this again later."

  • Problem: "You are always rude to the wait staff. You're such a jerk!"
  • Better: "The way you just spoke to the waiter left me feeling embarrassed. I have felt this way before when we have gone out together. If you continue to put down the wait staff, I will have to re-consider dining out together in the future."

  • Problem: "Stop texting me when I'm at work."
  • Better: "When you text me while I am at work, I feel anxious and distracted. I'm better able to communicate with you during off-work hours. If you continue to text me during work hours, I will not respond until after my shift ends."

Healthy relationship boundaries are based on choice. It is other people's choice to behave in certain ways, and it is our choice to communicate when their ways of behaving are upsetting, as well as to let them know that if their behavior continues, we will have to make choices accordingly. 

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