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Woman with her hand in the air demonstrating how to set boundaries with family members

How to Set Boundaries with Family, Partners, and Friends

By: Kristina Murr

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For many, when they hear the word “boundary,” they think that it means “no” or that it’s a “barrier” or that it is “mean”. This can lead to not wanting to set any type of boundaries in a relationship. It’s important to understand that boundaries do not mean barriers. It is also important to understand the importance of discussing expectations, needs and wants early on in a relationship. If you realize you need to set a boundary, you have the right to discuss it, establish it, and have it be respected. Not setting appropriate boundaries can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Types of Boundaries

Before digging into how to set boundaries assertively, we will discuss different types of boundaries in relationships that are important to discuss and recognize.

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional or mental boundaries protect your right to have your own thoughts on feelings. They protect your right to not have your thoughts criticized by someone who thinks differently than you do. Emotional boundaries help you differentiate your feelings from someone else’s thoughts or feelings and these boundaries allow you to not be responsible for how others feel. Emotional boundaries also help us respect others’ feelings and keep us from oversharing when it is not appropriate to do so.

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries tend to come up more in a dating or marriage relationship. This might be stating that you don’t like certain parts of your body touched (for example your legs or hips), or you don’t like being hugged from behind. Other examples include communicating:

  • That you don’t want to be left alone in a specific place or in a place you’re not used to.
  • That you don’t want to participate in public displays of affection.
  • That you need personal space at home, which means respecting closed doors and privacy.

Financial Boundaries

While emotional and physical boundaries are perhaps most commonly talked about, it’s also important to set boundaries around finances. This includes what you’re comfortable contributing in various scenarios. By establishing limits on spending, saving, and investing, you can ensure you have enough resources to meet your needs and achieve your goals without overextending yourself. An example of setting a financial boundary might be telling a family member that you can no longer give them money or contribute to their financial situation.

How to Set Boundaries

1. Identify Your Boundaries

Take some time to reflect on your values, needs, and limits. This can sometimes be challenging, especially if you’ve experienced trauma or have had a history of your boundaries being violated. For some of us, we may have grown up without learning how to set boundaries. Consider areas where you feel uncomfortable, stressed, or resentful in the relationship, and then determine what behavior is and is not acceptable regarding these areas. These can be indicators of where boundaries may need to be set.

It’s important to note what boundaries you have versus the pet peeves you have. Unlike minor annoyances, boundaries are the limits and expectations you establish to maintain your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Remember, appropriate boundaries do not purposely control, attack, or hurt anyone. Different from control, boundaries do not limit the other person’s options.

2. Communicate Assertively

Express your boundaries assertively and directly, using clear and respectful language. Avoid being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive in your communication. Try to use “I” statements to assert your needs and feelings without blaming or criticizing others. For example, “When you interrupt me while I’m speaking, I feel disrespected and unheard. I would appreciate it if you could wait until I’ve finished speaking before sharing your thoughts.” Using this formula increases the chances that the other party will listen to you without getting defensive.

3. Set Consequences

Communicate the consequences of crossing your boundaries. Let the other person know what will happen if they violate your boundaries, whether it’s a withdrawal of trust, a change in the relationship dynamic, or other consequences that are appropriate to the situation. For example, “If you continue to arrive late without giving me advance notice, I will need to reconsider our plans together. Punctuality is important to me, and I expect mutual respect for our time commitments.” Also, it is important to remember that setting consequences is different from making threats.

Harriett Lerner Ph.D. points out that it is common for the people around us to react with anger and disapproval when we set boundaries. Despite their resistance, we need to establish boundaries and stick to them.

4. Navigate the Resistance

As already stated, it is common for the people around us to react with disapproval and push back when we set boundaries. It is important to be aware of this and to expect it. Knowing that other people will probably not applaud you for becoming more assertive will help you when it comes to sticking to the boundaries you decide to set. Also, it helps to start small. Trying to establish too many boundaries with too many people at once can set you up to experience too much anxiety – especially if you are getting a lot of pushback.

5. Practice Self-care

Setting boundaries can be challenging, especially if you’re used to prioritizing others’ needs over your own. Practice self-care and self-compassion to nurture your well-being and reinforce your commitment to setting and maintaining boundaries. Congratulate yourself on any progress that you make. Remind yourself that you will begin to see that mature boundary-setting pays off over time.


While setting boundaries may not be the most enjoyable conversation, it’s important to learn how to set boundaries to set your relationship up for success. If you’re struggling with how to set boundaries, consider seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist. Talking to others can provide validation, perspective, and guidance as you navigate the process of boundary-setting.

As always, it is sometimes hard to recognize where we might have boundary problems in our own lives. An experienced therapist can help provide you with an additional perspective and gently point out any lack of boundaries that could be contributing to feelings of stress or anxiety. Reach out today to learn more.

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