As you begin to set boundaries in your life, it’s normal for people—even loved ones—to give you some pushback. “Boundaries can be difficult [for loved ones] to hear because they’re difficult to set. When people struggle to accept boundaries, it’s often because they themselves don’t feel comfortable setting them,” says Earnshaw. “They feel boundaries are personal or rejecting, and this can be very painful [for them to hear]. Therefore, they push the boundaries in an attempt to feel accepted.”
Which is why the better you become at setting boundaries, the better you become at accepting them. “The most common challenge I’ve witnessed to people respecting boundaries is that the relationship is functioning off of assumptions instead of clear communication,” adds Evans. “People enter into relationships sometimes with very different expectations in relation to touch, sexuality, money, all the things, and assume that their partner is on the same page.” While you and your partner might be on the same page about a lot of things, it’s best to communicate your needs within the relationship as soon as possible to avoid any potential rift or to weed out those relationships that don’t align with your values.
Your template for communicating your boundaries:
Need help with getting started on expressing your boundaries? Earnshaw provides a simple-to-use template below:
1. State the request.
2. State your response.
3. State your flexibility (if you have any).
Example: “I know you asked me to come by and help on Saturday. I am unable to do it that day but how about next week?”
If you do not have flexibility, it might sound like this: “I hear you when you say you need another loan. I can’t give you any money.”
However, if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, then you set a limit with them. The limit should be a clear explanation of what will happen to the relationship if the boundaries are not respected.
The template for this is:
1. Restate your boundary.
2. State your limit.
3. State why this is important to you (if it is a relationship that is important to you).
“I told you, I cannot loan you any more money. I will have to stop responding to you if you continue to ask. I love you very much and want a continued relationship with you, so I hope you can respect this.”
While setting boundaries might seem like a lot of work at first, especially to those of us who grew up in households where boundaries were non-existent, they’re an important foundation on which functional relationships are able to grow and flourish.
“Boundaries simply bring people closer,” says Evans. “When boundaries are clearly defined and executed, people engage in a mutual understanding of one another. This includes knowing the line and asking permission if there’s a possibility that crossing it will happen. Having them demonstrates a person’s ability to take their partner(s) into consideration, respect differences in opinion, and be respectful of other perspectives and feelings.”
Bottom line: Boundaries create a more connected and authentic relationship in which people are being open and honest with each other, according to Earnshaw. While it might feel uncomfortable to communicate your boundaries in the beginning, the more you practice, the more your life and relationships will flourish.