What does it mean to have healthy boundaries in a relationship?

As a child, I felt I had to provide value by doing what my loved ones wanted in order to feel safe, be seen, or receive love. Not surprisingly, this unhealthy habit spilled into my relationships as an adult. I’d trust new partners and friends easily without it being earned, overshare information, and drop everything—including work—to listen to a friend vent. I needed to set healthy boundaries ASAP.

However, my anxiety levels would shoot up whenever I’d try to declare my needs and desires because I was afraid that I was going to push away my loved ones. So I would stay quiet and be unhappy with the new love interest who didn’t text me consistently. And I would give emotional support to a friend instead of telling her I needed to meet a deadline at work all the while feeling stressed because I couldn’t be present with her. Ugh!

But here’s the thing: The problem wasn’t my loved ones. It was me. I didn’t have strong boundaries.

“Boundaries in a relationship are important because they help people know how to be successful with us,” Elizabeth Earnshaw, a Philadelphia-based licensed marriage and family therapist, tells HelloGiggles. “When we don’t have boundaries, people are left to guess what will or will not make us happy. We set boundaries when we are clear about what we are okay with and not okay within our relationships.”