Building Healthy Relationships Through Boundary Setting
By: Tracy Brown, AMFT
What are boundaries and what do they have to do with building healthy relationships? A boundary shows where something ends and something else begins. It is where we draw the line to mark limitations and guard our personal space. Boundaries, whether physical, mental or emotional, are essential tools for building healthy relationships because they establish the rules and limits of interpersonal relationship. Our boundaries indicate to others what is allowed and what isn’t allowed in order to promote safety and respect in relationships. According to Loveisrespect.org, “Boundaries help define what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated by others.”
Some boundaries are clearly marked, like drawing a line in the middle of a road, closing a door, or posting a sign that reads, “Please knock before entering.” However, boundaries in relationships are not always as easy to identify. In order to build healthy relationships, we must clearly communicate our boundaries, as doing so establishes guidelines for the relationships and reduces the risk of misunderstandings. When we communicate our boundaries, we essentially inform people how we would like to be treated and what we will not allow. According to Nedra Glover Tawwab, author of Set Boundaries Find Peace, “Boundaries are expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in relationships. Learning when to say Yes and when to say No is an essential part of feeling comfortable when interacting with others.” Once boundaries are established, they must be maintained and honored. Disregarding someone’s boundaries in a relationship is a violation and can lead to problems, including hurt feelings and ruptured relationships. Although some ruptured relationships can be restored, setting boundaries reduces the chances of this occurring, while increasing the likeliness of enjoyment and satisfaction in our relationships.
Setting boundaries is a very effective technique that can be developed in therapy and applied to our personal and professional relationships. The benefits include establishing a sense of balance, freedom, understanding, and shared responsibility which lead to healthier, satisfying relationships. It may take time and energy to put them into practice, but the rewards are worth the effort.