Strategies for Setting Healthy Boundaries
Strategies for Setting Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries set limits on time, behavior and space that are mutually respectful. Without appropriate boundaries, you’ll feel burned out, angry and used.

We need boundaries in all our relationships: partners, children, friends, relatives and at work. You know your boundaries are weak when you have a knot in your stomach or feel dread/sad/angry.


The first step in setting boundaries is self-reflection. What boundaries seem to be working for everyone? Which ones seem weak or inefficient? What patterns of boundary-breaking do you see in your life? Are you imposing on another’s boundaries anywhere?

Recognize problem areas and determine to change the dynamics.

Setting New Boundaries

Clearly communicate your expectations and limits. For a new romantic partner, that may be, “I love hearing from you during the day, but I cannot take calls at work. But a text at lunchtime is nice!” For work, “I can’t stay after on Thursdays; that’s my daughter’s soccer practice.” For friends, “I really need a call before anyone drops by. I would love to make plans ahead of time to make sure we can connect, though.” For children, “I’m sorry, but you can’t just walk into my room without knocking first. Privacy is important.” For relatives, “I know it’s our cousin’s birthday, but this is the fifth party this month, and I simply can’t be gone every weekend.”

When People Continue to Disregard Your Boundaries

Some people will just assume you will fall back into your usual ways and trample your limits. Others may openly balk; they don’t know how to cope with this “new you.” That’s OK; all change is hard. But just because it’s hard or others don’t like your boundaries doesn’t mean you should bend. Setting boundaries protects your space and your wellbeing. Sometimes the only right answer is “No.”

Remember not to argue and keep a firm but gentle tone; don’t defend yourself, overexplain your limits or accept undeserved criticisms. When someone continually flaunts your limits, let them know you’re walking away until they respect your boundaries.

When Boundaries are Hard

Pleasing others and avoiding conflict can lead to unhealthy relationships. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. Treat yourself with the respect and time you give others because you deserve it as much as anyone else.