Setting Boundaries for Good Relationships

Happy Couple

Photo Courtesy of featurepics
Photo Courtesy of featurepics

Setting Boundaries in a Relationship

How do you set boundaries in relationships? You can clearly see a boundary when a homeowner puts up a fence around his home. However, in any relationship there sometimes is confusion about responsibility and ownership which can create problems. Boundaries are tough for those who have difficulty saying no, and they usually don’t like conflict either.

Think of your personal boundaries just like the homeowner’s fence. It is very clear with the fence where his home begins and ends. The goal for you is to be able to define your boundaries clearly, which is tougher as they are invisible, yet ever present. It often comes down to how well you know yourself, and what is most important for to you. Feelings play a major role in this process, and it is important that you “own” your feelings and are aware of them.

What Boundaries Mean

Boundaries define “what is me” and “what is not me.” In a marriage relationship it sometimes becomes confusing as to where I end and where does the other person begin. You experience a sense of freedom when you know which part is you. If you do not have control in your life, then your choices become very confining and limited.

We obviously have responsibilities to others and to ourselves. When you can work out these responsibilities with a partner you have a much healthier relationship. However, if you are carrying more than half the load, then resentments and anger build which affect the relationship in a negative way. Couples counseling or some type of relationship therapy may be helpful if you are unable to resolve issues. Goal setting is a good way to measure progress in a relationship.


Photo Courtesy of cartoostock
Photo Courtesy of cartoostock

When You Need Help

Boundaries help us keep nurturing the things inside and keep the harmful things out. If you find you are holding onto pain or guilt, it is important to open up to someone and talk about the situation. Remember, your beliefs are anything you accept as truth.

The help could come from a counselor, pastor, or a friend you trust implicitly, but it is probably best to sort this out with someone that is not emotionally vested in your life; so that leaves out husbands, mothers, sisters, etc. Mothers that respond, “Oh, my poor baby’ aren’t going to be objective. These talks are really a type of confession which is good for the soul. It will be like a burden lifted just by discussing those feelings. This is a great time to set goals for you.

Marriage Counseling - Setting Boundaries

Excellent Books on Setting Boundaries

Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships
Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships

With more than 35 years of counseling experience, David Hawkins, PhD, has a special interest in helping individuals and couples strengthen their relationships


Understanding Yourself

Boundaries can also become a big issue if you can’t say no. If you are continually asked to do things for other people that ultimately shouldn’t be your responsibility, but you say yes anyway, then, that is an area you need to assess and improve. Ask yourself, why do I do that? It’s important to look at yourself honestly. Is it to be liked? Is it to avoid confrontation? Is it to feel good about yourself because you get some pleasure in doing more than anyone else?

Figure it out and think for a few minutes before answering the question next time and decide whether you really want to take on this new task. You can also buy yourself some time and say, “Let me get back to you on that.” Then, you have time to think about it, and you will ready to say, “No, I’m sorry but I can’t help with that right now”. No further explanation is required.

The basic boundary setting word is obviously “no”. You are letting others know you are apart from them and in control of your life. Be clear in your thinking, for example, “I like this and I not that.” Also, it’s always best to stick to the truth, as people can usually spot a lie, and it is okay to just say no.

With some persistent people it can be helpful to avoid those for a while; just consider taking some time off to let yourself regroup. Emotional distance on a temporary basis sometimes works to allow your heart to feel safe for a short period of time, again giving yourself some time to sort out your priorities.

Setting Boundaries

Make Safe Healthy Choices

If you are living in an unhealthy situation where you are subject to another person’s addictions, control or abuse get some help. This situation won’t improve without serious intervention or getting away from this person. Your safety is always number 1! Behaviors have consequences and always rescuing someone so they don’t reap those consequences is unhealthy for both of you.

You are the only one that can make choices for you. Obviously, you will be happier if you are making healthy choices that nurture you and if you have the freedom to comfortably say yes or no. When you have set you own internal limits you will feel more comfortable when confronted with someone who is trying to get you to volunteer or force you into doing something that you would rather not do.

To Summarize:

Boundaries setting involves 3 things:

  • You must own your own thoughts. Listen to others, but make your own decision.
  • You must grown in knowledge and expand you mind.
  • You must clarify any unhealthy thinking. As we improve in this area with new boundaries, we will feel better and be able to communicate more effectively.

Setting boundaries is a healthy thing for anyone to consider as self-assessment is a healthy thing to do occasionally, even if you are not having any major problems.

© 2010 Pamela Oglesby

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Comments 51 comments

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Good points on boundaries - growing in knowledge and expanding your mind is so important. Something that I see many people don't too holding onto fictitious or stubborn resistance. Goals are essential to allow focus in difficult times. Rated up :)

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Billy, I very much appreciate your comments and fully agree with you.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for a great hub. I wish I had read your article years ago.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Hello. Thank you so much for your comment.

profile image

jasper420 6 years ago

great info thanks

breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Terrific advice that I heartily agree with.

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

This is fantastic information and could save many a relationship from running off the cliff, Setting Boundaries in a Relationship is a vital step we often let slide or over look. SO glad you wrote and designed this powerful hub, rated up and everything good, will share. :)

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Jasper, Thanks so much for your comment.

POP, Thanks so much for your comment also.

Katiem, I appreciate the compliment and the comments. I agree that setting boundaries in a relationship are very important and seldom thought about.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago

Good advice. I agree it's important to know yourself, in order to define boundaries in a relationship. thanks, Pam!

Tom Whitworth profile image

Tom Whitworth 6 years ago from Moundsville, WV


Good advice and it must become a way of living. A positive self image is vital!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Anginwu, I appreciate your comments as always.

Tom, I agree that a positive self image is vital also. Thanks for your comments.

Cassidella profile image

Cassidella 6 years ago

Very nice work, Pamela, on a subject that does have an impact on the way we deal with others while trying to keep ourselves in a healthy place. It can be challenging, and you've made some good points here.

EnLydia Listener 6 years ago

Very good gentle, informative article...I could just picture you sitting across the table from someone who just came to you for advice...written in a sensitive and professional voice. thankyou...I will use this information where I need it. Blessings

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Cassidella, I very much appreciate your comments.

EnLydia, Thank you so much for a very nice comment and I hope the information will be helpful to you.

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

A most excellent hub, I really enjoyed your writing and the way you share your advise, I have always reached goals, however boundary's where a strong lesson for me. Rate up Peace

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California

Such important information you provide here. One of the biggest issues in partnering is knowing where boundaries are, your own as well as the other persons. Thank you for offering your wisdom and knowledge within your work.

~Always choose love~

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Darlene, Thank you for such a nice comment. I'm glad you've set goals and that you enjoyed the hub.

K9keystrokes, I appreciate you lovely comment and I agree that you should always choose love. Thanks.

G L Strout profile image

G L Strout 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

What a wonderful article. You have made some wonderful point for both women and men to think about. I think a relationship is much stronger and happier when both people know who they are. Thanks.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

G L Strout, Thank you so much for your comment and I agree that relationships are stronger when people know who they are and have self confidence.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Super advice, Pamela - and I think setting boundaries once you get the hang of it extends across the board. I have never had any trouble at all setting boundaries with Bob because first off, he is such a gentle person and such a good man - although that said, the older we have grown, the better our relationship has gotten just because we understand more and more what hurts and what helps the other person most.

That said, my biggest problem in life has been setting boundaries with other people in my 'circle of life' - mostly family but some friends as well. It is really important to me to be liked/loved/appreciated but sometimes in younger days especially, I found myself 'taking things' that were not in my best interests and never could articulate (apparently) clearly enough what I wanted.

However, on thinking about it and learning how to do that, I have learned how to 'get what I want' so to speak out of life meaning respect and consideration of my feelings - as well as those of others. I think as women we tend to take more and speak up less sometimes and that was a hard thing for me to acknowledge about myself. As independent and strong a person as I am, sometimes I let life or circumstances run over me without standing up and saying 'hey - I need this rather than that'.

Anyway - sorry for the 'novel' here - but great points and in marriage, essential! All relationships in my humble opinion should improve with age - just like fine wine.

Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Knowing when to say no is vital. Respecting the choice of another who says no is as well. ESPECIALLY when that is in a marriage. And if you happen to think the boundary is too strictly adhered to or is unreasonable, then yes...opening the lines of communication, or as you suggested, relying on an unbiased, unrelated third party to help you through issues is a must.

Great and informative hub here, Pamela.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Audry, It is great you have such a good husband. I know sometimes it is difficult to say no to other family members. Pick and choose your battles I guess so you will be clear what is most important to you. I appreciate your comments.

Excellent comment Springboard and I fully agree. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and thanks for your comments.

KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Terrific information. Setting boundries is so important, unfortunately too many people fail to do so. Thanks for a great hub with great tips and advice.

Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Nice information on setting boundaries.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Gals, Thank you for your nice comments and I agree with your statements.

Sandy, I appreciate your comment.s

bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

Very good topic and insightful comments.

I wonder why people call you selfish if you nicely decline to work on a project, carpool with them, join their club, come to their tupperware (TM) party,etc.

Why can we have our boundries and friends,too?

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

bayoulady, You should be able to say no anytime and friends should understand. Thanks for your comments.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Excellent! And the best time to set one's reasonable boundaries is BEFORE being locked into a relationship, certainly as soon as possible. If it can't be done then, - it probably won't be possible later. If a pattern is set for giving in and not having one's legitimate rights and space, it gets worse, not better.

This is definitely something that needs to be understood by both people from the beginning.

Thanks for a good article, Pamela!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Nellieanna, I agree that the boundaries should be set up front to avoid disagreements after the fact. Thank you so much for your comments.

Rafini profile image

Rafini 6 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

And if someone repeatedly disrespects your boundaries - you'd be better off without them in your life.

Good information. :-)

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Rafini, I think that is true. I think it is important to set boundaries before you get too deep in a relationship. Thanks for your comment/

carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Some really good advice here !!!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Carolina, Thanks for your comment.

CYBERSUPE profile image


Pamela, you are right on. It seems everyone knows what their Rights are but somehow can't quite remember what their Responsibilities are to each other in a relationship.. Which goes along with boundaries that you are suggesting. Super information Pamela.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Cybersupe, Thanks so much for your comments. You're right about the responsibilities to others which is as important as setting boundaries for a healthy relationship.

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

This is so true, a married couple has to share but how far do each of us change, to suit the other person. Like you say we all have boundaries. Marriages are no different. We still need to keep our own personalities and beliefs tio a certain extent.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Eileen, Your comments are so true. We have to keep our own personalities and work out boundaries where they are needed. Thanks so much for your comments.

Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

Wonderful hub Pamela. We must be comfortable in our own skin even when we are with someone else, whomever it may be and for whatever reason. Voted-up/rated.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Support med, Absolutely true. Thanks for your comments.

RachelSmile profile image

RachelSmile 6 years ago

ur hub inspired me,thanks :-)

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Rachel, Thank you so much for your comment.

Belinda Hodge profile image

Belinda Hodge 6 years ago from Brisbane Australia

Hi Pam

I really enjoyed reading this, particularly since it's one of those times where I'm reassessing my boundaries. Your Hub has brought some light on a dark subject. Thank you. I'm rating it up now.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Belinda, I am glad you found the hub helpful and I wish you the best. Thanks for your comments.

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

Pamela...over the years, I have seen a lot of people, especially women, in situations they should have never entered. Most of them needed your guidance badly. Men prey on women like this and dominate their lives sometimes forever! I think it is always good advise to look at the relationship a man has with his mother and a daughter has with her father. These roles will always come in to play in the relationship. If mom treated him like a king and picked everything up from where he threw it down, then the new wife will be expected to take on mom's role. If dear daddy bought me anything I wanted and kept me happily entertained, then surely my new husband can take over that role. It happens every day! Thanks for some good advice presented in a very good way. WB

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Wayne, I agree that it is good to see how the family members interact and that would have been a good point to include in the hub. You can learn a lot by observing family interactions. I appreciate your comments.

nancy_30 profile image

nancy_30 6 years ago from Georgia

This was a really great hub. Thank you so much for this useful information.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Nancy, Thanks so much for your comments.

Marisa OConnor profile image

Marisa OConnor 6 years ago

Great hub. Fantastically useful information. Thanks!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Marisa, I appreciate your comment.

Loves To Read profile image

Loves To Read 6 years ago

Pamela, this is a great hub. You make some very valuable comments. The young of today are taught to assert themselves which can go the totally opposite way with some. When i was a child we were taught to respect our elders. Seen and not heard in most cases and if we ever had visitors, we as children were sent outside to play. Sadly all through my life these rules have stuck with me. I believe in the old fashioned values and believe that children today hear and see far too much. There are many who are just plain rude and obnoxious. I don't regret the way i was brought up and did the same with my kids. One day however i overheard some young teens who were visiting on the farm with us order my children then 10, 8 and six to cook them toast. Make them drinks and get wood for the fire and my kids were doing it for them. My kids when asked why replied that the teens were their elders. This posed a problem, as how do you then teach your children that it is ok to say no to people that are older without being disrespectful.

All worked out well praise God but i have always struggled with saying no and having boundaries myself.

Thank you for this great information.

Love and Hugs

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Love to Read, I think this is something most of us struggle with in some areas. I do a lot better now that I used to as I will say no and mean in most of the time. This is an interesting story about your children. It's funny how we just assume they understand but sometime things down to the smallest details have to be explained in black and white to children. Thanks for sharing your comments.

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