Setting boundaries is a highly important aspect of all types of relationships. It is more important than almost all other aspects because without clear and agreeable boundaries relationships cannot function well. Though we know boundaries are important, we have all had experiences with poorly designed boundaries that are either too strict or too loosely defined. Some may even have experience with boundaries that are abusive or self-serving. The good news is we can set healthy and appropriate boundaries with just a few guidelines which are shared below.
Know Yourself and Your Needs
The first step in boundary setting is to sit down with yourself in a quiet environment that is comfortable. Take a notebook or journal to start brainstorming ideas and create a mind map to help you know how to respond to boundary conflict. When you have that down, you will be more relaxed and able to handle conflict with others. You must come to terms with the following:
- Important Values – You must first know your values before setting boundaries around them
- Priorities – When you know your priorities, it is easier to say yes or no
- Non-Negotiables – There are non-negotiable areas for everyone, usually around health and safety, and these boundaries are strict
- Areas of Flexibility – Some areas, like scheduling are usually flexible for people so these boundaries are not likely as strict, some areas have extreme flexibility like if a family emergency arises, all other things stop fall on the priority list
- Trade-Offs – There is nothing wrong with making occasional sacrifices, but these have to be limited in some way so you do not become resentful
When setting boundaries and being willing to make some compromises, consider all your values, time limits, and willing sacrifices. It is important to understand these things about yourself to keep you from making a commitment in a moment when your schedule does not really allow for such an occurrence. This leaves you neglecting a priority.
Plan for Problems
We all face difficult boundary situations. Some may involve a passive person, someone who is bossy, or someone who holds totally different values, but you can help yourself out by planning ahead of time. When planning for these, make sure to consider the following:
- Identify the situations that are most difficult for you
- For each difficult situation, imagine the conflict being resolved poorly and satisfactorily
- Try to identify when conflict causes you issues, when you feel manipulated, and when you are uncomfortable taking action to practice how to handle each
- Identify when you need to treat yourself as equally important as others
Develop Your Strategy
In general, most other people will want good boundaries as much as you do because few really want unnecessary issues in their lives. This means that you not only need to create healthy boundaries, but share them and respect them, as well as the boundaries of others. Since not everyone understands boundaries, you may have to take the lead on finding a solution in many situations. Though it is up to you do determine how to best do this, consider the following formula and approaches.
- Establish a positive intent
- State your concern
- Ask questions when needed
- Ask for what you need respectfully
- Get a verbal agreement
When you face an especially tough issue, give yourself permission to address the problem. Feeling bad over having an issue will only make it worse. In addition, if things do not work out, it is okay to not be able to find a solution. Everyone fails at times and we learn from these failures. If the person you are working with is not cooperative and you need to walk away for a while, then do so. When working with the most difficult people, try to change the dynamic to help keep things moving in a positive direction.
Implementing Your Strategy
Your boundary implementation strategies will depend on your comfort and experience levels. Start with minor situations and build your confidence as you set and maintain boundaries. The key lies in a constructive frame of mind, but a sense of humor and creativity is also greatly helpful. Good relationships are a challenge because no two people are exactly alike, but boundaries help keep them healthy and on a positive track. Boundaries are a gift to every relationship.