5 Principles for Healthy Relationship Boundaries

We know we need them, but we aren’t always sure exactly what they are. I’m talking about relationship boundaries of course.

So if you kinda, sorta know what boundaries are, but you’d really like to hear more about them, read on as I explain five key principles for healthy relationship boundaries.

But first let’s define boundaries…

Contrary to popular belief, boundaries are not walls. In relationships, boundaries are actually agreements. 

Boundaries are agreements you make with yourself as to what you will and won’t do, and will and won’t accept. AND they are agreements you make with the other person you are in a relationship with about how the relationship between you is best going to thrive. 

In order to make these agreements it’s first crucial to know that your limits have value. And in order to understand and appreciate your limits, it’s crucial to know that YOU have value. So the first component of a healthy boundary is…

  1. Know You Have Value

Seeing and understanding your value means knowing you are worthy of love, respect, and rest. And because you are worthy of love, respect, and rest, your needs in a relationship are important.

You do not need to earn love. 

And because you do not need to earn love, self-neglect will not bring you more love. Overworking will not bring you more love. Trying not to ‘bother’ or inconvenience people will not bring you more love. 

Setting healthy limits with yourself and others actually brings freedom FOR things such as self-compassion, self-expression, and taking action on your own behalf.

You also have the right to approach an old relationship in new ways. 

Because YOU matter, your boundaries matter too. When we act like we matter, we can bring in the next component of healthy boundaries which is…

2. Honour Agreements

The most important agreements we make in relationships are those we make with ourselves. 

Once we decide on our boundaries, follow through is key because follow through show we honour our agreements and take personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions.

Only when we take responsibility for ourselves can we authentically give a whole-hearted YES and a guilt-free NO to things, relationships, and situations. 

In order to honour your agreements, it helps to know your ‘why.’ If you don’t know why you are doing something, it can be difficult to follow through on it…particularly if we are trying to satisfy other people’s ‘why’ but not our own. 

Once we better understand why we have set a limit, we need to communicate with others our decision, which leads us to the third point…

3. Clarify Expectations

Everyone has inner expectations for themselves and outer expectations of others. When we have difficulty setting boundaries, failed expectations are often a result.

Clarify your expectations by asking yourself the 4 W’s and How:

  • How do you expect this person to treat you?
  • Where do you need them to lend a hand?
  • What kinds of things do expect them to stop doing? Start doing?
  • When would you like them to back off? Instigate?
  • Why do you need/want them to behave in this way?

Answering these questions can help clarify our expectations for the relationship. In order to successfully ask and have your questions answered, it helps to explore the next component…

4.  Negotiate Successfully

Whether we think of it this way or not, every day you negotiate in your relationships. You may negotiate with your spouse about where to go for dinner. Or your kids about when to turn the lights out at bedtime. 

Negotiation is a means of getting what you want through a back-and-forth exchange of information. It’s a give and take.

Boundaries in relationships require a significant amount of negotiation because we need ‘buy-in’ from the other person if our boundary is going to be honoured.  

But people generally don’t like being told what to do. So making and enforcing boundaries involves communication based on respect and reciprocity. There are 3 steps in any successful negotiation:

  1. Make a request based on what you want them to do. The intent of your request is to get them to engage in a specific behaviour, not to demean their character. “My request is that you…” (…stop being a jerk is too vague and not respectful 😉
  2. Make a commitment stating what you will do. This helps establish a sense of reciprocity and foster agreement. Ex: “My commitment to you is that I will…”
  3. Then let the other person make a request and a commitment. If they make a request that doesn’t work for you, return back to step one and begin the negotiation again. 

This process is not always easy, and definitely not fun, so this leads us to the final component of healthy boundaries…

 5. Expect Resistance

Please know that you will experience resistance when you do boundary work. Maybe you’ve tried all the previous steps I talked about: you know you are worthy, you’ve honoured your agreements, you’ve discussed expectations, and even negotiated successfully, BUT you still find maintaining boundaries a challenge.

Resistance happens all long the process of boundary work because the process itself is an acknowledgement that things are now different.

With this understanding comes loss. And even when it’s a positive loss (ie. less disrespect), we experience a change in what once way. 

And with change and loss comes resistance. 

We humans are hardwired for what is familiar, comfortable, and safe…even when it doesn’t help our growth. 

Often the biggest resistance we face in boundary work is our own inner resistance. Fear, guilt, obligation are all emotions that we experience when we begin to set and enforce boundaries. 

Here’s good news:

  • You own your boundaries, they do not own you.
  • Saying ‘no’ is not withholding love. You get to say no AND still love the person.
  • Boundaries are not walls, they are agreements. You get to change your mind about your boundaries and renegotiate them when you want.
  • Boundaries are not an offensive weapon, they help you prioritize and manage your responsibilities.

My encouragement to you is that healthy boundaries are possible in your relationship! Keep working with these five principles and you will start to see results!