Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries in Relationships
What is it you want to change?
Setting healthy personal boundaries is just as important as saying those three little words when it comes to relationships with your nearest and dearest. Clear communication improves relationships and brings each of you closer to what you want to achieve rather than what you don't want.
Making changes and setting boundaries with begins with you. It might mean you have to step out of your comfort zone, feel uncomfortable for a while and face your fears but without making the change to make new choices, nothing will change.
Reflect on these questions first before reading The 10 Steps to Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries
· What do you want your mother/partner/friend/lover etc. to stop doing?
· What would you like mother/partner/friend/lover etc. to start doing?
· What do you want mother/partner/friend/lover etc. to do differently?
· What are you willing to stop doing?
· What are you able to start doing?
· What can you do differently to improve your relationship?
In relationships, until we can speak up and communicate our needs clearly, assertively and respectfully, the problems, challenges and the behaviours of those we are in the relationship with, remain the same. When we change the way we communicate consistently, there is every possibility those around us will be influenced by the change and mirror back to us the positive communication.
10 Steps to Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries
1. Speak from the ‘I’. (‘‘I would like you to listen to what I’m about to say. I intend to make some positive changes in our relationship. I feel we would benefit from putting the past behind us. It would mean so much to me if you are able to hear what I’ve communicated and consider my requests, thank you for considering this’’) Saying thank you at the end of a statement like this voices the assumption that the other person will listen and acknowledge your proposal.
2. Keep communications in the positive and future tense (‘‘What I would like is for us to spend some quality time together on our own at least, once a month. I’d like to get to know you better as a person as well as my mother/partner/friend/lover etc, I believe we would both benefit from this change’’)
3. Clearly identify your boundary. Spend time figuring out what you want before you voice your limits (Do you need your mother, friend etc. for example to stop turning up unannounced or calling you when you’re in the middle of preparing an evening meal. Would you prefer them to call at a specific time when you are both free?)
4. Understand why you need a boundary. What’s your motivation and reason for setting this boundary? (If it’s not convenient for your mother, friend etc. to turn up or call without notice, let her know you will have undivided time for her if you can call her at 8pm for 30 minutes once the children are in bed)
5. Make your communications clear. Be direct and assertive in your conversation (If you fear conflict or confrontation you may not say exactly what you mean, which leaves room for confusion or doubt). It might spare your mother/partner/friend/lover etc. feelings if you aren’t direct and to the point but how will you feel? What is the cost if you do nothing to make this change, who suffers?)
6. Don’t give long explanations or apologise (Setting boundaries isn’t something you need to say sorry for and it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. Short, sharp and clear communications works best. e.g. (‘‘I would like one weekend a month to myself, I need more time to study, thank you for understanding this. I look forward to meeting you on Wednesday afternoons as usual to catch up’’)
7. Remain calm and polite (Boundaries are best set outside of an argument, getting into dialogue about making change in the heat of the moment when both of you are angry, neither person can really hear the other. Keep your anger in check and leave all sarcasm and condescending tone out of your communications)
8. Start with firm boundaries (It’s easier to loosen a tight boundary after it’s been set rather than trying to tighten a weak boundary, I will follow on here using a scenario of a mother turning up unannounced to a family home and letting herself in and taking over her daughters home, e.g., ‘‘I’d prefer it if you don’t come into my home when I’m not there. I want the way I’ve left my home to stay the same, I like it how it is.’’ It’s easier at a later date to invite your mother to take a mini-break in your home while you are away, on the condition she leaves things as they are, or to pop round an hour before you get home if she wants to watch something not available on her own TV package). Don’t overextend yourself or try and ‘people please’ or agree to commitments you will later have to cancel or do begrudgingly. Get clear from the start.
9. Address any breaking of boundaries early on. As soon as a boundary is broken, reset it. Remind your mother of your boundary. (‘‘You may have forgotten mum, I need one weekend a month to study, I can see you on Wednesday afternoons instead’’)
10. Don’t make it personal. Rather than tell your mother or the person in questioneverything you think about her being inconsiderate of your time, your appointments and plans it is far easier to be direct. (‘‘I’m happy to pick you up and take you to Maggie’s, but you will need to be ready at 10 a.m’’) It’s possible your mother won’t welcome these changes though in order for your relationship to improve, it’s important to end the struggles you each have within your relationship and find new solutions to old problems.
The theme of this blog is taken from Mothers and Daughters The guide to understanding and transforming the relationship with your mother though can be adapted replacing mother with husband/wife/son/partner/friend etc
What’s your experience of your mother? Has she been overbearing, bossy, controlling and narcissistic? Or, has she been emotionally distant and physically withdrawn? Getting clear about what you want and communicating this (instead of what you don’t want) will serve you well every time.
Daughters and mothers are both guilty of not being able to meet each other’s needs at different times throughout their lives as is the case in many close relationships. It's about being as realistic as possible about how much you can do for each other. Having clear guidelines of what you want from your relationship with your mother or significant other and also considering what they may want from you, is the basis for a discussion. You can discuss what is possible and what is not in order to reach a healthy compromise.
Honest and open communication clears up misunderstandings and creates hope for your relationship to improve and flourish. When each of you is able to express your needs and you begin to explore and negotiate with mutual respect things will become much easier. When you set new boundaries and your mother agrees, then it is about trusting her enough to make the changes you have asked for. Dredging up the past isn’t helpful, along with berating, complaining or yelling. To put the past behind you and start afresh with your mother is one of the most healing opportunities you will ever have. You can even agree to disagree on various views and opinions whilst both working towards the common goal of improving your relationship.
Your mother’s circumstances as she ages could change unexpectedly but it’s never too late to set new boundaries over and above agreements already made or indeed, to discuss your relationship anew.
If you'd like to work with me to improve assertiveness, communications and the confidence to set boundaries in your relationships I have a range of support programmes available. Please contact to discuss your needs and the outcomes you wish to achieve
All I can tell you really is if you get to the point where someone is telling you you’re not great enough or not good enough, just follow your heart and don’t let anyone crush your dream - Patti LaBelle