7 steps to better boundaries for your relationships

  • ​Your colleague has a habit of belittling you in front of your peers.
  • Your friend calls again at 2 a.m. in distress.
  • A family member insists on dropping in at inopportune times.
  • Your partner has a habit of yelling at you.

If you're feeling resentful, used and/or disrespected you know you have a problem. The solution? Boundaries. 

You've taught people how to treat you, that you will tolerate their behavior up until now. You can also teach them something different - that you are no longer willing to accept their behavior that is unsettling to you.

Setting a boundary is an important communication tool for healthy relationships. No one can read your mind, nor should they. When you set a boundary you're showing respect for yourself, the other person and you're also protecting your wellbeing. So please don't wait until you've become unhinged before taking action.

Setting a boundary is like an invisible line someone may not cross with you. It's your moat around your castle. And you are the one in charge of your drawbridge. But that doesn't mean you can't be kind and gentle in this process. Follow these steps for a meaningful conversation.

Setting up the Boundary

1. Make sure the time is right.
"I have something I need to talk to you about. Is now a good time, or would you prefer to set a time for later?"

2. Frame the conversation as a concept to enhance the relationship.
'There's this friction that is getting between us. If we talk about it I think we will both be better off than if I just sweep it under the carpet and let it bug me."

3. Condition the request in a charge neutral manner. (Charge neutral means you're neither riled up nor weepy.)
• Provide specific background.
• State the specifics of why this is a problem for you.
• State how it makes you feel.
• State how you would rather feel.

4. Make a request for behavior change.
"I need you to…"

5. Request cooperation.
"Would you be willing to…"

6. Express gratitude.
"I really appreciate your listening to me. It makes me feel…."

7. Acknowledge the new behavior.
"You've been really great about…"

But . . .you might not be out of the woods yet. Remember what I said about teaching people how to treat you? They've become quite used to acting as they do because they get away with it

Chances are you will have to enforce the boundary if you don't get what you asked for. If you don't enforce it you risk losing any progress and your credibility. Enforcing is not nagging or sulking, by the way.

Enforcing the Boundary

1. Inform the person of his or her actions.
"This is what I was talking about. Do you remember our conversation about boundaries? Do you realize you're yelling at me?"

2. Restate your commitment to the boundary and request he/she stops.
"I'm serious about this boundary. Please stop yelling."

3. Tell him/her what you are going to do.
"If you don't stop yelling I'm walking out the door until you are prepared to talk to me in a respectful tone."

4. Do it.
Enforcing a boundary usually requires saying or doing something, or walking away. Remove yourself from the situation. Stay away until you are calm and in control.

This isn't always easy, but following these steps will help a lot. Practice the conversation in your head until you feel confident if you need to. Start with smaller issues and work up to the bigger ones. Oddly it's the people closest to us that make this most difficult.

You get the courage to set boundaries by making yourself as important as everyone and everything else, and by having clarity about what you will or will not accept. If you're complaining or feeling put out you're not accepting. If you're wishy-washy you will get wishy-washy results.

Always acknowledge someone who has been respecting your boundaries and honour others boundaries, even if they don't yet honour yours.

Don't miss our webinar ​"Setting Boundaries: A radical act of self-care for better life balance" on April 21 at 12 pm PST. Register here.

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