By: Becca Houk
Imagine you are married with 3 kids, 2 dogs, and 1 cat. One night your spouse asks you, “Hey honey, can Spot sleep in our room tonight, he gets too cold sleeping outside?” You think to yourself, I don’t really want an 80-pound dog sleeping in our bed, but you don’t want to upset your partner, so you agree. The following night, little Lucy is having nightmares and asks to sleep in your bed. You comply saying “just for tonight”. Two weeks later you have Spot, Jack, little Lucy, and not so little Corbin sleeping in your bed. On top of that, your spouse’s brother is asking to borrow 500$ to pay off some debt. All these things piled together have left you feeling worn out, exhausted, frustrated, not able to get a good night’s rest, and maybe even resentful.
These feelings are the result of not having healthy boundaries in your life.
If you have ever felt this way, the good news is you don’t have to live with these feelings! You can learn to set healthy boundaries in your lives.
First, to understand more about what healthy boundaries look like let’s break down what healthy boundaries are and what they are not.
What Healthy Boundaries ARE NOT:
- Being selfish.
- Saying no to everything.
- Controlling someone or telling someone what to do.
- Self-protecting, or defending yourself.
What Healthy Boundaries ARE:
- Understanding that not everyone should have equal access to you, your time, and your money.
- Respecting and valuing yourself.
- Setting limits.
- Taking responsibility for your actions.
Now you may be thinking, ok that all sounds great but how do I implement and set healthy boundaries in my life.
How To Set Healthy Boundaries:
Start with learning how to value yourself.
This is the very first step in learning how to set healthy boundaries in your life because you won’t protect what you don’t value. For example, you wouldn’t just give your car keys to a random stranger, probably because you value your car, and you don’t want someone to steal it. However, maybe you give your car keys to your spouse or sister because you trust and value them to take care of the car and you know they will return it. Further, you can’t take care of others until you’ve taken care of yourself. My favorite example of this is the oxygen masks on an airplane. The flight attendants always instruct people to put on their oxygen mask first before assisting others with theirs. The reason for this is if you cannot breathe, then you won’t be able to help someone else breathe. Setting healthy boundaries in your life will set you up to be a better help to others.
Identify areas or people in your life that you might need to set a boundary with.
In order to set healthy boundaries, it is important to reflect on the people and areas in your life where you feel that your boundaries or comfort zone have been crossed. You can’t set a boundary unless you know where there is a need for a boundary. A great example to illustrate this idea is to think about when you move to a new house. Typically, there is a property line that indicates what you own and what you don’t own. If you are wanting to build a fence around the land that you do own, you first need to mark out which part of the land you own. If you end up building your fence on your neighbor’s land, they are going to be pretty upset and will probably request that you rebuild your fence. Let’s start with Identifying 3 boundaries that you could set today.
Communicate your boundary.
The next step is probably the most important one. Once you’ve decided what your new healthy boundaries are, it is your job to communicate those new boundaries to those around you. How you communicate these boundaries will be critical. First, make sure that you use “I” statements. This will help the people you are communicating with to not get defensive. Second, communicate your boundary in terms of what YOU are going to do or not do, this will help you avoid telling someone what you think they should be doing. An example can look like this:
- “I’ve committed to spending the evening with my spouse.”
- “I am not going to give your brother money, because we are saving to buy a new house, but I will invite him over for dinner this week.”
- “I will allow the dog to sleep inside, but not in our room.”
- “I will lay with little Lucy in her bed for 15 minutes to help her fall asleep”
- “I will continue this conversation with you as long as it stays respectful”.
When communicating these boundaries, it is important to stay calm and collected. The moment when we raise our voice or get agitated, we lose our audience and our ability to have our boundaries heard and respected.
Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.
The final step when setting and implementing our boundaries is following through. Actions always speak louder than words. When you set a boundary, it is important that you hold that boundary and don’t stray from it. People might not always react the way we want them to when we first introduce our new boundaries, but over time if we stay true to our words and prove them through our actions, people will come to respect us and our boundaries more.
Finally, remember that setting healthy boundaries and saying no might not always be easy, but I promise you that over time and with practice, you will be able to be firm and set healthy boundaries while at the same time showing love to those around you.