Have you ever thought about setting boundaries in relationships? Its a great way to both practice self care and protect your integrity. Not only that, but learning and deciding on boundaries improves your mindfulness AND your self esteem. (And who doesn’t want that?)
Learning how to set boundaries in a relationship is a topic that evaded me for most of my life. I always thought that setting boundaries had to do with teaching people how to treat me and telling other people to stop doing something.
Sometimes that is a small piece of it.
What I have discovered is that setting boundaries is not about trying to change other people. It is about defining what is acceptable to me and upholding that integrity in all my relationships.
What are boundaries in relationships?
Boundaries are not for me to teach other people. They are for me to establish for myself to follow. Boundaries help me to determine what I want in my life and what I don’t. Then I act accordingly.
Personal boundaries in relationships are guides or limits I create to allow safe ways for people to behave around me and what and who I choose to allow in my life.
In light of this view on how to set boundaries in a relationship, let’s discuss some ways we can determine and implement those in our lives.
1. Decide on your deal breakers.
I believe in forgiveness and second chances, don’t get me wrong. But this should not be an excuse for other people to step on my toes over and over. Forgiveness is not an avenue for me to allow myself to be mistreated. I can’t tell you what your deal breakers are- they are different for everyone. Maybe in a romantic relationship cheating is a deal breaker for you. Perhaps in a friendship lying is a deal breaker for you.
You need to determine your deal breakers before starting new relationships. If not you are likely to break those boundaries over and over. If they are not clearly defined those boundaries will be crossed. Deal breakers will lay a groundwork for how to set boundaries in a relationship.
2. Tune into your feelings.
Ideally deal breakers are determined before a relationship, but the truth is that we are always constantly learning. We learn through experience. Unfortunately sometimes negative experience is the teacher of what we don’t want. This is why it is important to tune into your feelings when determining how to set boundaries in a relationship. Listen to your intuition.
I believe that my emotions are like radar for my life. If I am feeling something strong, whatever it is, I need to stop and look at it. Why is my radar going off? Is it because of something that happened in the past? Is my intuition trying to tell me something new?
One way to tune into your feelings more effectively involves learning and practicing better self care. Download the toolkit below to learn the basics of self care, and some of my favorite tools.
3. Be prepared to be direct.
The hardest part about determining boundaries is enforcing them. I have made the mistake of angrily enforcing boundaries, and this is not effective communication.
Be kind and be honest. Do not be afraid to be direct. But do not be angry. Act with love.
I always tried to remind myself that sometimes I have to make a choice between what I want now and I want in my life ultimately. What I want in the moment is usually comfort and to avoid confrontation. What I want ultimately in my life is quality relationships.
4. Remind yourself…
Remind yourself: you are not responsible for other people’s feelings.
If I spend my whole life trying to please others, I will not be happy. Learning how to set boundaries in relationships involves identifying personal faults. People pleasing is one of them. I had to learn in my own life that other people were not responsible for my anger or my happiness.
This is true the other way around as well… I am not responsible for other peoples’ anger or happiness either, even if fingers are being pointed at me.
5. Practice mindfulness.
For more info on practicing mindfulness as a means to help establish personal priorities, you might check out our blog on slow living HERE.
Being self aware and practicing mindfulness helps to build emotional intelligence. This is also a bit related to being in tune with your emotions when learning how to set boundaries in relationships. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment.
When I focus on the current moment I am much less concerned with my fears about what others think, or about the past or future. It helps me more easily focus on myself and my needs.
6. Self awareness inventory.
Try writing a self awareness inventory for accountability.
This can be in the form of a feelings journal, free writing, or something more guided and organized. I started the practice of taking an inventory when I felt strong emotions I was not sure how to effectively process. When angry, for example, I could put that on paper. It helped me see how I could be responsible for my own emotions. This translates to others not being responsible for my feelings.
Being accountable for my own emotions is empowering. It takes away victimhood and is critical is learning how to set boundaries in a relationship.
7. Consider your past and present.
Identifying patterns in my past helps me to determine what I want in the present. As mentioned earlier negative experiences can teach me what I don’t want. Patterns teach me how I can adjust my own behavior as well. This also relates to self accountability.
Consider your present. What are your priorities? What do you spend most of your time doing? Who do you spend most of your time with? Is this the way you want your life to look right now?
8. Consider their past and present.
Determining how to set boundaries in a relationship is partly about realizing that I cannot change other people. I can only be responsible for my side of the street.
This is why it is important to consider the patterns not only in my own life, but in other people’s lives as well.
It is easy to sink into the “I can change them” mentality. While it is loving to forgive and give people second chances… It is not okay to give people excuses to mistreat you repeatedly.
Sometimes a person’s past can be revealing. Pay attention to how a relationship behaves around other people. If they behave differently around you than others it can be a red flag.
Do not use someone’s past as a weapon against them. You are not trying to rationalize or be co dependent. The goal is to empathize, communicate better and set boundaries for yourself.
9. Prioritize self care.
You are the most important person in your life. You are responsible for your own happiness. It is time to stop blaming others for any negativity in your life. Focus on what is important to you instead of fitting self care into a busy schedule. If you are too busy for self care… you are too busy!
10. Start small.
Learning how to set boundaries in relationships is a process.
It is something that will develop over time.
It will probably be different today than it will be in 10 years.
Take small steps towards figuring out what you want your relationships to look like. I think starting with mindfulness, slow living and self care is a great way to start.