The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to change how we work, live, and socialize. The work-life balance is a struggle for most of us, as we handle back-to-back Zoom meetings and emails, with barely any time for breaks and healthy meals. Enjoying privacy at home is challenging as all family members are home, and children are homeschooling. We have all been tested at how skilled we are at setting boundaries with people in our lives- our bosses, co-workers, family, and friends. It’s something everyone is experiencing one way or another.
What’s more, socializing with friends and family is harder because everyone has different comfort levels, and expectations vary when hanging out in a pandemic. If you feel like you’re drowning in work, exhausted at home, or experiencing more anger and anxiety in your relationships than ever before, you may need to take care of your emotional well-being by practicing boundary setting.
Unfortunately, setting boundaries in relationships may not be as straightforward because we often associate relationships with an idealistic open space, where we are both allowed to be open and honest with each other. I agree that being free and open with your spouse, friends, and families is crucial.
But what happens when your boss repeatedly schedules online meetings during your daily lunch breaks? What happens when your parents insult your spouse? What do you do when your friend shares a secret you told them in confidence?
All your relationships, whether platonic, romantic, or family, need personal boundaries. Without healthy boundaries, your relationships often become problematic, and in many instances, you become frustrated.
Do You Have Boundary Issues?
While boundaries often create healthy relationships, it’s essential to know that you need to be emotionally healthy to develop them. How can you tell if you have boundaries in your relationships? Ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you feel like you spend most of your energy saving people from their personal problems?
- Do you often overcommit only to feel overwhelmed soon after?
- Do you feel like the people around you take advantage of your kindness and openness?
- In your relationships, are you the person who apologizes for being wrong, even when a partner makes a mistake?
- Do you have to defend your values all the time?
- Do you often find that your friends, family, or partners drag you into pointless arguments?
If you answered yes to the questions above, then you have boundary issues. The good news is, you have the power to change your life by setting personal boundaries.
What Are Personal Boundaries?
As earlier mentioned, organizations create a code of conduct or rules that govern how we interact to stay functional and ethical. Personal boundaries are rules that you make for yourself to determine how you and the people around you navigate a relationship. Boundaries are behavioral rules for people in a relationship.
It’s not about betraying the other person or not caring enough. Personal boundaries recognize that you care enough to know when to be there for someone and when to stay away and care for yourself. In fact, personal boundaries are a form of love.
Cases where friends and parents attempt to separate couples without sound reasons or where a person avoids meeting friends to appease a jealous partner, are all situations with unhealthy boundaries. Others may include giving up a job to stay close to emotionally needy parents or failing a class to appease a friend who refuses to study.
I could give endless examples, but the bottom line is that the absence of boundaries in relationships often encourages disrespect, abuse, and a lack of progress from both parties. Instead, both parties remain in a sticky pool of negative feelings but are unwilling to change because they want to retain control or are afraid of disappointing the other party.
What’s worse is that your boundaries affect your self-esteem and identity. If a person is continually taking advantage of you and abusing you, they lower your self-confidence to stay in control, which causes you to think negatively of yourself. The result is often a vicious cycle of codependency where both the victim and the savior derive an emotional high from each other.
Usually, people with poor emotional boundaries in relationships fall into two broad categories:
The saviors: Those who take on too much responsibility because they believe that “fixing” their partners gives them the love and affection they want, and
The victims: Those who want other people to be responsible for their emotions and actions and believe that someone will eventually come and save them.
Note, none of the participants in the cycle have healthy emotional boundaries, hence the need for change.
How To Set Personal Boundaries
We’ve established that setting emotional boundaries in relationships fosters healthy interactions, builds your self-esteem, reduces negative emotions, and generally keeps you happy. But how do you set personal boundaries?
Ask Yourself What You Want
Are you in an unhealthy relationship with a parent, friend, partner, or colleague? Sit down and literally write down what your current relationship is like, and write down what you want. Be as thorough as possible because it helps you analyze everything over time.
Say It Literally
The confidence to say what you want increases as you start saying what you expect. If a colleague calls you at 10 p.m., decline their call and respond the following morning. If your parent insults your partner, tell your parent directly that if they insult your partner again you will ask them to leave, and again after that, then you will no longer be able to invite them over. If a coworker is still scheduling work meetings during your lunch break, tell them that if they schedule during that time you will have to cancel the meeting, in which they can reschedule at an appropriate time of the day. Likewise, express gratitude to a person who does something thoughtful for you, and ask them for help when you need it, instead of taking advantage of their kindness.
In most cases, the other party will be ready to give an explanation for their behavior and expect you to “understand.” Put your foot down and shake off the shame and humiliation, and see how amazing it feels to be in control. It doesn’t matter if they are family, friends, or partners- remind them that they have crossed a line.
Exchange Information Gradually
Setting boundaries for a long-lasting relationship takes time and effort from both parties. Over time, exchange information with the other party to discuss how to navigate your relationship in the future. Remember to be kind, honest, and appreciative of one another.
Resources That Can Help You
Learning to set healthy boundaries is life-changing and the Guide to Setting Boundaries is the best place to start. It has more in-depth information to give you a full understanding of boundaries, as well as a guided writing meditation for your daily practice. Try it out and see your relationships begin to thrive.