A few weeks ago, we talked a little bit about boundaries and how they can help transform your relationships. Sounds pretty great, right? It’s one thing to know that boundaries are important, but how do you actually go about talking about your boundaries once you’ve decided what they are? It’s one thing to sort through your own personal values and decide on what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s another entirely to communicate your boundaries to the people who need to know. Luckily, there are some strategies you can use to talk about boundaries kindly but firmly.
In case you need a refresher, a boundary is just a limit that you set in a relationship. It’s also important to note that you can have a boundary in any kind of relationship, not just romantic. Boundaries allow you to protect your sense of self, practice assertiveness, learn to communicate, and maintain your relationships.
We all have different limits, which is why boundaries are so personal. It can feel really uncomfortable to decide on a boundary and to communicate it to the people who need to know. Your boundary exists to protect you and your relationships. Since we all have different boundaries, we need to figure out how to talk about boundaries to other people. Here are some of our favorite tips:
Try the sandwich method.
This is a kind of goofy name for some actually practical advice. When you’re talking to someone about something hard, try to sandwich the hard thing in between two easier things. For example, let’s say your boundary is that you need to make time for self-care, which means prioritizing events around your energy level. If you need to turn someone’s invitation down, you can say something like, “I’m so flattered that you want me to come! (something easier) I’ve had to really get serious about making time for myself every week to recharge mentally, so I can’t make it.
Explain the boundary
Sometimes boundaries need a little more explanation. If it’s not something you can easily sandwich between two lighter statements, you might need to go a little deeper. Try to be as specific as possible so it’s clear both what the boundary and what the consequence will be for violating that boundary. Use examples if you have to to make your message clear.
Use “I” statements as much as possible when you talk about boundaries
One big fear people have when they talk about boundaries is that people will get defensive and take it personally. One way to defuse this response is to talk about the situation using “I” statements. Talk about why this is important to you, instead of making it about them. Instead of saying “You always come home late without calling,” say “I worry when I don’t hear from you after 9 pm. I would feel less anxious if we could check in with each other more regularly.” See how that shifts the focus from their action to how it makes you feel?
Clearly outline the consequence for violating a boundary.
What happens when the boundary is violated? Part of setting boundaries is letting someone know the consequence of crossing it. Let’s say your boundary relates to body and weight-related talk with your family. You can say something like “Mom, I feel uncomfortable when my body is the topic of conversation. Please refrain from commenting on my physical appearance or weight. If that’s not something you can agree to, I’ll have to cut this visit short.”
Follow through when your boundary is violated
This part can be the hard part. Once you’ve communicated your boundary, it’s important to stick to it. This shows people that you’re serious about your boundaries. It might feel weird or hard or overly harsh to follow through, but it sends a clear message that your boundaries are non-negotiable. Some people naturally like to test boundaries, so it’s important to stick to what you say.
With practice, the entire process will get easier. It can be a terrifying experience to establish a boundary with someone in your life, especially if you haven’t had to put up boundaries with that person before.
Remember, though, that boundaries are actually a good thing.
We all experience frustration and anger with people in our lives. Boundaries help work through those feelings while maintaining your relationship. Without boundaries, many people feel overwhelmed, taken advantage of, and uncomfortable. Establishing a clear boundary can help lessen those feelings and leave you feeling better about the relationship. If you need help talking about boundaries, don’t worry about it – it’s okay to ask for help! Our therapists can help you find a way that works for you.