• Mary

Why You Should Set Boundaries in Your Relationships

In romantic relationships, as with relationships with friends, family members and colleagues, it may be easy to take one another for granted. But as psychologists tell us “we teach people how to treat us,” how we are treated in relationships largely depends on us - on boundaries we set.


In romantic relationships, for instance, the health and stability of a union spring from the respective emotional and psychological health of the persons involved. This determines the dynamics of a relationship, as the more emotionally healthy and intelligent a person is, the clearer their values are and their expectations in a relationship.


For instance, John keeps coming home late in the night and for the slightest reason screams at Annette, his wife, who, in turn, retreats to her room crying and sobbing at her husband’s ill-treatment. Another example is having your teenager stay out late every day and coming back home drunk. The dynamics of these relationships are skewed to enable John’s abusive behaviour and your teenager’s wild behaviour respectively and leave you on the receiving end.



These unhealthy relationship patterns are fuelled by passivity on the other’s part – an inability to assert one’s boundaries.


Boundaries are what protect us from stress caused by others’ toxic behaviour, and a lack of it is at the root of many challenging relationships. Setting boundaries in relationships not only ward off toxic people and avoidable stress, it makes us more respectable and attracts people who are also emotionally healthy to us.


How to Set Boundaries in Relationships


Want to get the respect and love you deserve in your relationship again and stop coping with toxic behaviour? We suggest the following simple – but definitely not easy steps.


Love Yourself

You may never understand the need for boundaries or even what boundaries to set in your relationship if you do not love yourself.


People who set clear boundaries for how they want others to treat them are people who likely treat themselves well too. If you love yourself well enough, you will most likely not tolerate an abusive partner or someone who always cancels on you at the last minute. If you do not respect yourself, it will be difficult to identify what behaviours count as disrespectful.


“Take yourself out”; spend more time with yourself; enjoy your thoughts and your space. Write down clear goals for your personal development, career, and family life. If you have strong self-worth - as well known social psychologist Morris Rosenberg describes it - you are likely to set healthy values and goals. Once you are clear about who you are and what you want, it will not be difficult to decide what you do not like and what behaviors you will not accept from someone else.


Set Clear Boundaries


Do not give your partner an opportunity to second guess your boundaries, let it be clear from the onset. Your boundaries regarding your emotional, physical, or spiritual health must be clearly stated so your partner knows when he or she has overstepped.


This is important because what may be offensive to you may be acceptable to someone else, as people have different childhood experiences and family backgrounds, which form their thoughts and values. But, as psychologist Dr. Fran Walfish notes, learn to say No when you aren’t comfortable with someone’s behaviour.


If your partner scrolls through your phone messages without your permission and it irks you, let them know right there and then. If your teenager types away on his phone while you talk to him, let him or her know if you find this disrespectful. If you do not address the matter regarding what your boundaries are, you will expose yourself to more internal stress and anxiety.


How much time do you want your partner spending on their phones when you are around? Are you OK with your teenager staying out late into the night? Or do you consider a certain touch by your colleague inappropriate? Instead of coping with someone’s behaviour, establish your boundaries assertively to stop the flow-on effects on your mental health.


Speak up when your boundaries are violated


Why set a boundary you are not ready to commit to? Why set a boundary even you will not respect? Once your boundaries are violated and you do not speak up, it only shows that you do not respect your own rules - so why should anyone else?


It may feel difficult, but whenever your personal boundaries are crossed, speaking up reinforces them and places a demand on the other person to respect those boundaries. Furthermore, if overstepping your boundaries has consequences, ensure to mete out those consequences without feeling guilty.


A part of you might want to let go and dismiss a breach as a one-time act, but it soon becomes repeated until you can no longer get the person to respect that boundary. This will only leave you on the receiving end of a bad situation.


Psychologists affirm that the key to having a thriving personal life journey is healthy self-esteem, by which you determine what you will and will not accept in your interactions with others. Although it may seem difficult at first, learning to assert yourself not only unleashes the joy of loving and respecting you, but it also lowers your stress levels and attracts you to healthy people and relationships.


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This is not an emergency service. Same day consults are not available. If you are in distress please contact your nearest emergency department, your local area mental health service triage or dial "000".  

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