Couples Counselling

Setting Personal Boundaries In Relationships: How To Do It

Setting boundaries within relationships is important to ensure we maintain our personal space and sense of self. Good personal boundaries help us to feel comfortable and safe within our relationships, while a lack of boundaries in relationships can lead to problems in communication, feelings of resentment, and a lack of trust.

What Are Personal and Emotional Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are rules or limits that a person can create within their relationships. They are guidelines that help to identify a safe, reasonable and permissible way for another person to behave towards you. Boundaries allow you to develop healthy relationships, outlining likes and dislikes and setting up limits for how a person can interact with you and how you will respond when those limits are passed.

Boundaries are important for building healthy communication and maintaining your self care. When we don’t have a good sense of boundaries, we can feel like people are taking advantage of us, leading to resentment and anger within a relationship. When we have strong personal boundaries, we feel able to say no to things and to clearly express what we do and don’t want.

Personal and emotional boundaries are important in all sorts of relationships, including romantic, familial, friendships and even work colleagues. All healthy relationships will have boundaries, whether these are clearly expressed or loosely understood.

It is important to note that good personal boundaries will differ for different people. Some people might like to have more stringent rules around their time and emotional energy and will easily feel like they are being depleted by others. Other people will be more relaxed about boundaries and have less of a need for personal space.

Good Personal Boundaries

Good personal boundaries will differ, but there are some key things that typically feature in healthy relationships. Within a communicative relationship, both people will:

  • Consider the other person’s feelings
  • Be honest about their own feelings
  • Give space, both physical and emotional
  • Show respect for differences in opinion
  • Ask permission before doing something that affects the other person
  • Listen to the other person when they express their thoughts and emotions
  • Show gratitude to the other person
  • Take responsibility for their actions.

When you have good personal boundaries, you will feel better about yourself and have a stronger sense of self-respect and power. People who have established healthy boundaries are able to:

  • Establish mutually trusting and sharing relationships
  • Be assertive about their wants and needs
  • Share power and responsibility with other people
  • Feel empowered to make healthy choices for yourself
  • Take responsibility for your own actions
  • Recognise that other people will have different boundaries to you.

Unhealthy Personal Boundaries

There is a difference between healthy personal boundaries and limitations that restrict or attempt to control people within a relationship. Boundaries like these will have a negative effect on both people within the relationship and lead to the same sorts of problems that a lack of boundaries can cause, like anger and resentment.

For example, a romantic partner should never attempt to make rules about where you can go, what you can wear, or who you can socialise with. If someone says that their personal boundaries require you to behave in a way that you don’t want to, this is not healthy.

How To Set Boundaries In A Relationship

When it comes to setting personal boundaries, it’s important to listen to your own feelings and responses. If certain actions make you feel uncomfortable, then these are the sorts of things you should consider as out of your personal boundary.

Make a commitment to honouring your own thoughts and feelings, rather than prioritising those of another person. Remember that you should never have to change your personality within a relationship, and you are always entitled to time and space if you want some.

Even when a conversation feels difficult to have, persevere and make sure it is a two- way discussion. Communication is the most important aspect to setting and maintaining boundaries – if a boundary has not been communicated, it will be difficult for the other person to respect it. Check in regularly with the other person about where their boundaries are and encourage them to do the same with you.

Some things you can do to help establish boundaries include:

  • Saying no to things you don’t want to do
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Avoiding overcommitting to more than you can do
  • Asking for personal space and time when you need it
  • Speaking up if you feel uncomfortable
  • Prioritising yourself and your own needs
  • Only sharing personal information when you feel ready to and when it is given in return.

It can be hard to set personal boundaries, especially in the early days of a relationship when you are eager to please and impress. During this time, you may offer more of your time and energy than you normally would. It is okay to set and change boundaries as a relationship develops, as long as you clearly communicate these new guidelines to the other person.

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