How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Friendships
It takes practice, but it can feel like a relief once you do it.
Having friendships can benefit your physical and emotional health. Friends can provide emotional support in rough times, act as activity partners when engaging in hobbies, and provide socialization opportunities. For some people, friendships offer levels of intimacy that you may not find in your other relationships. In friendships, knowing where to set healthy boundaries is essential. If you find yourself exhausted or pessimistic about your friendships, it may indicate that it's time to set some limits.
What are the benefits of friendships?
Friendships can be beneficial to your life for a variety of reasons. Research from 2021 that included a sample of 323,200 participants found that prioritizing friendships was associated with better health and well-being. Additionally, a study examining the quality and intensity of friendships found that friendship relationships are linked to higher life satisfaction, especially when you see your friends often and are satisfied with your relationships. While friendships can benefit your overall well-being, sometimes they can be a source of stress.
What are some signs I need to set a boundary in my friendships?
In your friendships, if you suddenly notice that you're saying yes to things you don't want to do, not feeling heard, or feeling exhausted by your friends, it may signal that it's time to set a boundary.
Many different types of boundaries may come up in friendships, such as:
Emotional boundaries encompass what we need to do to protect our mental health. Physical boundaries may include our comfort with personal space or what we will and won't allow someone to do in our homes and belongings.
Here are some situations in a friendship where a boundary may need to be set.
The friend who puts you down
You and your best friend grab dinner at your favorite local restaurant twice a month. You recently went through a breakup and discussed this with your friend in-depth. The last time you went to dinner, your friend became pushy about you returning to the dating scene. You've told her multiple times that it's only been three months, and you're still healing from losing your previous relationship. Your friend is relentless, saying she can't believe you aren't
"over your ex." She starts to say things to you like, "You're so sensitive, and if you find someone new, maybe you won't be so hung up on your ex." These comments hurt you, but you say nothing instead of calling her out on this. After you go home from dinner, you find yourself exhausted by your recent interactions with her. You feel sad, angry, and hurt, and wish she would try to have more empathy.
The friend who leaves your house a mess
One of your close friends living out of state visits you twice a year. It's easier for him to fly to your place because he doesn't have kids, and you do. You and your wife let him stay in the guest room when he visits. The last time he stayed for a week and was disrespectful of your space. He left dirty dishes in the guest room and the bathroom a mess and strung his belongings around your house. You felt stressed and frustrated until he left when you had to spend significant time cleaning up after him. He seems unaware that he did anything wrong and never apologized.
The friend who was late driving you to the airport
You recently had to fly out of state to attend your grandmother's funeral in another state. One of your friends offered to drive you and your partner to the airport, as you have no family nearby, and the parking fees would be expensive if you left your car there. Your flight left at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, so you asked your friend to be at your house by 8 a.m. so you had plenty of time to get through security. On the day you left, your friend overslept and arrived at your home at 8:35 a.m. You and your partner had to rush through the airport; you barely made your flight before they closed the doors. You're angry at your friend for causing additional stress to an already stressful and emotional trip.
How do I set a boundary in my friendships?
In each of the above examples, a boundary needs to be set. Boundaries show what we will and won't tolerate in various areas. Sometimes people get limits confused with requests. A request is different than a boundary. Boundaries say what we will and won't do and tolerate. A request is asking someone to start or stop doing something.
To set boundaries, you can:
Use I statements "I felt ______ when you did ______. If it happens again, I'm doing this________."
Be clear and direct
Say what you will do if the person doesn't respect your boundaries
Let's use the examples above to set a limit.
The friend who puts you down
Here's how you might set a boundary in this case:
"I wanted to talk to you about the last time we went to dinner. I felt sad and angry that you pushed me to date when I was not ready. I also didn't like that you called me too sensitive and stated that I should be over my ex. If we have a conversation where you put me down and push me to date again before I'm ready, I will leave the restaurant."
In this situation, you were direct and assertive about how you felt, stated what you won't tolerate, and said what would happen if your friend disrespected your boundaries.
The friend who leaves your house a mess
Here's how you might set a boundary in this example:
"I love the time we get to spend together when you stay with us, though last time you stayed with us, I was extremely stressed out and upset at the condition with which you left our home. It required significant cleaning on our end after you left. If it is left that way the next time you stay with us, I will have to ask you to find a hotel."
In this situation, you clearly stated your feelings and told your friend he's not welcome to stay there again if he can't clean up after himself.
The friend who was late getting you to the airport
Here's how you can set a boundary in this scenario:
"I appreciate that you drove me to the airport for my last trip; however, you were late, causing my partner and me almost to miss our flight, and I felt angry that you couldn't honor your commitment. Thank you for the ride, but my partner and I will Uber to the airport from now on."
You were clear and direct and told your friend what would happen.
Boundaries are more than requests. In our friendships, situations may arise where setting boundaries is necessary and can help enhance friendships. It can be challenging to set boundaries if you've never done it before. Being transparent and assertive with your friends can help lessen resentments and improve your relationships in the future. Setting boundaries takes practice, but it can feel like a relief once you do it.
Marissa Moore, LPC, Website
Sources: Amati V, et al. (2018). Social relations and life satisfaction: The role of friends; Lu P, et al. (2021). Friendship Importance Around the World: Links to Cultural Factors, Health, and Well-Being.