What are Boundaries in a Relationship?
Boundaries are those lines that you set that say what you will and will not accept in your relationships. For example, if you are in a romantic relationship, you might not accept it if your significant other were to pursue other romantic partners while in the relationship with you. This situation would cross a line for many people, but boundaries are also specific to each person, relationship, and type of interaction. There are all types of boundaries that are unique and need to be communicated.
In another example, you might be willing to give time, energy, and empathy to your partner, friends, and family, but if a stranger asked for your help, you might also encounter another boundary. We are not always willing to sacrifice our time, energy, or resources to assist people we don’t know because of the boundaries we set on all relationships for our survival and self-care.
Most therapists, mental healthcare providers, and relationship experts believe that setting boundaries is an important part of self-care and self-preservation. At the same time, many people struggle to set, maintain, and follow their boundaries in relationships, leading to guilt, shame, regret, and resentment—especially when boundaries aren’t properly communicated.
Four Signs to Set Better Relationship Boundaries
Since setting (and communicating) boundaries challenges many, you’ll find four signs that you need to set better boundaries in a relationship below. These signs can help you see when you need to use clear communication and boundaries more effectively to create more healthy relationships with friends, family, partners, coworkers, and anyone else. They can also signal problems with respect, self-esteem, and resentment. Read on to learn what to look for when evaluating your relationships, boundaries, and needs.
Saying “No” Makes You Feel Guilty
Most people aim to be helpful when it comes to their friends, family, and partners by wanting to say “yes” to their requests. For example, if a friend of yours needs a favor to help them move, you might feel guilty saying “no” to the request. At the same time, some people would feel less guilty saying “no” if a friend asked them to finance a yacht, a home, or a new car since it might cross personal boundaries to give a friend large sums of money when they ask.
When a request seems reasonable, it’s normal to feel a little guilty when you decline to help someone you have a relationship with. But, many people get the feeling of guilt whenever they say “no” to someone. If saying “no” makes you feel anxiety or shame, something may not be right in the relationship, or it can be a sign that your needs aren’t as valued as the other person’s.
Imagine a friend wants you to go out to a late dinner party at a bar with them, but you say “no” because you have work early the next day or you want to stop drinking as much. Would you feel guilty or ashamed because you couldn’t satisfy their request and you want to say “no”?
If saying “no” makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy, it might be time to practice being firm and strong in declining requests. Many therapists will tell you to maintain firm boundaries around your needs in a relationship and that you don’t have to apologize, hedge, or negotiate your “no’s” with excuses or explanations. You always have a right to say “no” for yourself as a healthy adult.
You Put “People-Pleasing” First
Putting other people before yourself as the main priority can be incredibly difficult, draining, and detrimental to your health. The truth is you can’t make everybody happy with your actions and identity, and, even if you try to satisfy everyone, it’s at the risk of your own happiness and well-being. If you find yourself always seeking to please others by saying “yes” to every request or changing your life to match other’s expectations, you may need to practice saying “no” more often.
Mental health providers like Indiana Center for Recovery know that when we always try to make other people happy first, we ourselves lose energy, motivation, and satisfaction. People pleasing can be a clear sign that you need to set better boundaries in a relationship because it often comes with negative emotions, especially if you feel your unhappiness depends on someone else.
People pleasing can also be a sign that the relationship forces you to suppress your needs, emotions, and desires. You might not say “yes” to everyone, but there might be some people who have taken advantage of your desire to be a good friend, partner, or family member by always getting what they want from you, regardless of how you feel.
Setting Boundaries Feels Uncomfortable
Sometimes setting boundaries and communicating your needs with a partner, friend, or family member can feel so uncomfortable that we avoid the process altogether. You might have the high expectation that your relationships simply intuit your needs, requests, and boundaries. Or, you could have the low expectation that your needs and boundaries aren’t important enough to risk uncomfortable conversations in the relationship in the first place.
Still, setting boundaries and communicating your needs in a relationship is an important element of self-care, self-preservation, and your pursuit of happy, healthy, and satisfying relationships. Letting people know what you like and don’t like in a relationship is not as impossible or risky in healthy relationships with people who care about you. If you feel your boundaries are unclear, uncommunicated, or not respected, there may be deeper issues in the relationship that need to be expressed through an honest conversation.
You Sense Resentment in Your Relationships
If you avoid saying “no,” try pleasing people, or feel uncomfortable discussing your needs, then you might experience some resentment in your life. For example, if you always say “yes” to your friend’s requests but secretly complain that they need too much from you, your sense of resentment can be unhealthy for you and the relationship, especially if you really wanted to say “no” this time for your own needs.
Imagine you also help your friend with their request, but you really don’t want to for yourself, your time, or your interests. Instead of communicating a clear “no,” you make the choice to please them and build resentment towards them through complaints to other friends or internally. Resentment from unhealthy boundaries can cause you to feel a range of emotions, including anger, and you can create unhealthy relationships between yourself and your friends when resenting your inability to say “no.”
Build Boundaries at Indiana Center for Recovery
Each person is responsible for setting clear and healthy boundaries in their relationships; they also have a right to set boundaries and limits on these relationships. When you see these signs of needing better boundaries, it’s time to act, communicate, and restore a sense of satisfaction in your relationships with others. By setting better boundaries, you will get rid of toxic feelings and unhealthy relationships by being clear about what you will or will not tolerate in your interactions and connections.
Unfortunately, many people grow up in dysfunctional families or groups that make it difficult to sense, establish, and communicate their boundaries. You always have a right to set clear boundaries and not feel guilty for doing so because your boundaries are essential to your self-care. They allow you to navigate the world and relationships without compromising your needs or who you are.
If you want better relationships and boundaries, seek the help of professional therapists at Indiana Center for Recovery. A caring, compassionate therapist can help you analyze and understand your relationships as well as where your emotional boundaries could be better communicated or maintained. Call Indiana Center for Recovery for outpatient services at (844) 650-0064 to get started.