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How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

By: Aesha Adams Roberts

I first learned about boundaries in relationships when I was dating. I struggled to end an unhealthy relationship. After all the lies and drama, I knew in my heart I no longer wanted to be with him, and had even told him that. I was assertive, direct, and even angry. But he was able to convince me to meet with him to "talk about it." He admitted to sneaking around with other women, said he was sorry and even cried!  I took him back.

It wasn't until a friend of mine shared an analogy with me that I began to see that I needed to set healthy boundaries in relationships.

 "Would you let a bum open the front door, sit down in your bed, trash your house, and live there?" she asked. 

"No." I said without hesitating.

"Why not?" 

"It's not his house!  He doesn't have the right. . . I didn't give him permission to live there."

"Then why are you letting this guy trash your life?  You've left the doors open. You need to set some boundaries now."

My friend was right. I didn't have clear boundaries that communicated what I required before I allowed access to my life. My boyfriend was treating me like trash because I told him it was ok!

What are boundaries? Boundaries are limits you create that define your values and show people how to treat you. They reveal what you will and will not do, and what you will and will not accept from others. Boundaries communicate value for what's inside the boundaries. For example, if you have a bunch of wrecked cars in a field, it's called a dump. If you put a fence around the cars, then you have a junk yard. If you put a concrete building around them, you have a repair shop!  The boundaries actually give value to what otherwise would be junk!  

Boundaries are important in all relationships–dating, marriage, parenting, friendship, and more.  Most of us haven't been taught what boundaries are, much less how to put them up, so it's challenging at first to set them.  However, if you put other people's needs first, struggle with resentment, exhaustion or guilt, try to live up to other people's expectations, and experience anger or manipulation when you try to express your needs, it's a sign you need to establish boundaries.  

Here are 3 tips to set healthy boundaries in relationships:

1) Give yourself permission

You first have to acknowledge that you are valuable. You have physical, emotional and spiritual needs and it's ok to have those needs met.  Give yourself permission to define how you want to be treated. 

2)  You can't control others

Trying to control other people is like trying to get the bum to change his ways instead of establishing boundaries that keep him out!  The only person you can control is you. That's where your real power is. So instead of trying to change others, focus on deciding what you will and won't do and communicating it will love and respect.  

3) Start small and get support

If you've been living without boundaries your whole life, it can be challenging to try to set them up now, especially when that will change the dynamics of your relationships. Boyfriends might threaten to break up; your spouse might get mad; the kids may have temper tantrums.  These responses are normal, but if you don't have support, you'll be tempted to just go back to the way things were.  Start with an area you know you can draw boundaries quickly. For example, if your family doesn't help around the house, start with dinner time. You can tell them that unless they help set the table (or whatever you decide as a boundary), they won't eat! Stick to it! They'll follow through if you say what you mean and mean what you say. 

You are valuable and it's time that you see yourself that way.  Learn how to set healthy boundaries, stay consistent, and you'll have happier, healthier relationships.

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 Have you ever struggled to set healthy boundaries in your relationships?  Tell me your story below!