We all hear that setting boundaries is a vital part of forming a healthy relationship. We use the word 'boundaries' a lot and we know they need to exist in order to have any sort of good relationship. Whether it's a professional relationship or a personal one, boundaries are key. But why? How often do we stop and revisit what boundaries actually mean and what purpose they serve?
A boundary is an imaginary line that separates ourselves from others. They separate our physical space, our feelings, needs, and responsibilities from others. Our boundaries also tell other people how they can treat us so what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Without boundaries, people often end up taking advantage of us because we have not set limits nor outlined how we expect to be treated.
I always like to see them as guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone doens't respect these guidelines. They are developed as we groe up and are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, from our past experiences and social learning. Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining likes and dislikes, wants and needs, and setting the distances one allows others to approach. Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life and setting and sustaining boundaries is a true skill we all need to master.
But why do we need them? Why are they so vital to have and maintain a healthy relationship? There a lot of misconceptions about what boundaries are and what they do for relationships. A lot of us may feel that boundaries are unnecessary because our partner is supposed to already know and act on our needs and wants. In reality, all healthy relationships have boundaries! A relationship can’t be healthy until both partners communicate their boundaries clearly, and the other person respects them. Healthy boundaries in a relationship don’t come naturally, nor do they come easily. Sometimes, they can be a form of tension in a relationship as one partner could show resistantce to it not understanding why they're needed. Below I will outline some important reasons why they are so vital for a healthy relationship.
Boundaries allow you to be your true self
Boundaries allow you to separate yourself and allow you to have your own feelings, make your own decisions, judgements, and know and ask for what you want without needing to make others happy. They allow you to not only be true to yourself but also to protect yourself and your identity.
Boundaries are a form of self-care
Healthy emotional boundaries mean you value your own feelings and needs and you’re not responsible for how others feel or behave. Boundaries allow you to let go of worrying about how others feel and think and places accountability with the individual.
Boundaries also keep you from over stretching yourself in order to make everyone happy. You can't take on every project, work on too many different things, or attend every single event you are invited to. Boundaries mean saying "no" to things that don't align with your priorities. Practising this is also a healthy way to practise self love and self worth. Without boundaries, we feel depleted, taken advantage of, and taken for granted. Whether it’s in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries may lead to resentment, hurt, and often, anger.
Boundaries create realistic expectations
Whether it’s with a friend, partner, family member, or a boss, relationships function best when we know what’s expected. When you clearly communicate your boundaries, people know how they’re expected to behave. When expectations are not communicated and met, resentment and anger grows. This then often leads to challenges and feelings of frustration and being lost.
Boundaries create safety
Boundaries provide physical and emotional safety by keeping out what feels uncomfortable or does not serve us. They allow us to create our own safety bubble where there are no other external factors that we feel can harm us. In a healthy relationship, you would feel free to simply tell the person how you feel and plan to do so at a time that is best for the two of you to pause and share your thoughts and feelings.
Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and to develop positive self-esteem. In order to establish boundaries, you need to be clear with your partner about who you are, what your expectations, your beliefs and values, and your limits are. A lot of times, we tend to focus on adjusting to others in order to please them, taking time away from focusing on ourselves and our own individual happiness. Setting boundaries for yourself that reflect who you are and who you want to be will only enhance the quality of your relationship.
No matter how big or small, all boundaries are important and deserve to be respected. Although it can be daunting at first to say now and to spell out our limits and needs, we are our own person and we need to take responsibility for our needs. If someone is pushing us to our limits or upsetting us all too often, it’s time to take a stand and put firm boundaries in place. It's time no say 'no' and articulate our emotions and thoughts so that lines are not crossed in our relationships.
It’s important to communicate our boundaries in a clear and concise manner. Think about what’s important to us, our personal needs and the behaviours that upset us. Even when a relationship is going well, boundaries shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked at the slightest. Taking responsibility for own own needs in any relationship is important. With this in mind, we should never make someone second guess how we’re feeling, violate boundaries ourlseves, or behave in a way that you know will upset someone.
Boundaries can make or break any relationship. So, to enable ourselves to have healthy relationships in every area of our lives, we need to try to understand other peoples' values, communicate clearly and always take accountability for our own actions.