15 Effective steps to set boundaries in relationships

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What are boundaries?

Boundaries are simply about being able to say no to others, sometimes to yourself. We set boundaries in relationships as a way to protect ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and sexually. It is about knowing what is good for you and what is not. Healthy boundaries are about giving us clarity about how we feel. The more clarity we have, the more connected and authentic we are. Yet it is not about being rude or uncaring but about being fully connected and showing up for yourself. 

The purpose of boundaries:

set boundaries in relationships

The primary purpose of boundaries lies in their varying functions. They act as a protective shield, protecting us from both physical and mental invasions and ensuring that others respect our space and well-being. These external boundaries serve as personal guards, preventing abuse or violations.

Internal boundaries, on the other hand, govern us in our interactions with others, preventing us from invading their emotional or mental areas. They cultivate empathy and control, promoting healthy relationships by avoiding conflict.

Furthermore, boundaries shape our sense of self-identity. They define the contours of our uniqueness, separating our desires and views from those of others. Internal and external boundaries build our sense of self, increasing self-awareness and emotional resilience.

Boundaries, in essence, are the guardians of our well-being, the framework of respect in relationships, and the sculptors of our true selves, serving a profound and holistic purpose in our lives.

How to Set Internal Boundaries:

These are personal statements and agreements that you have with yourself regarding a particular issue. These become contracts you make with yourself throughout the day, as you constantly need to remind yourself. They help you be responsible for yourself. Some internal boundary statements are:

  • I will not drink with my friends because I know it is not good for me.
  • I am not going to yell, talk meanly, demean, blame, or ridicule others.
  • I am going to commit myself to working out five times a week.
  • I am to honour myself and have strong boundaries.
  • I am not going to take negative criticism from others.
  • I am going to practise gratitude for all that I receive every day.

People who know themselves have strong internal boundaries. And those who don’t have internal boundaries have difficulty making decisions and have no power to define their reality.

Example scenarios for Internal boundaries

Here are a few scenarios of internal boundary statements that you can make for yourself and should not break:

  • Scenario: You have a habit of overcommitting to social engagements, leaving you exhausted.

Boundary statement: “I will limit my social commitments to ensure that I have enough time for self-care and personal downtime.”

  • Scenario: You find it difficult to disconnect from work after office hours, which interferes with your work-life balance.

Boundary statement: “I need to maintain a clear boundary between work and personal life.” I’ll set defined work hours and disconnect once they’re completed.”

  • Scenario: You frequently battle with negative self-talk and self-criticism.

 Boundary Statement: “I will not engage in self-criticism.” Instead, I’ll practise self-compassion and concentrate on my accomplishments and strengths.”

  • Scenario: You have a tendency to compare your life to that of others on social media, which leads to feelings of inadequacy.

Boundary statement: “I will not compare my life to others on social media.” I’ll utilise it with caution, remembering that people frequently present filtered versions of their lives.”

  • Scenario: You have a tendency to prioritise the demands of others over your own, ignoring your own well-being.

Boundary statement: “I will prioritise my own needs and well-being, knowing that I can better support others when I’m emotionally and physically healthy.”

  • Scenario: You have a tendency to get caught up in previous mistakes and regrets.

Boundary statement: “I won’t dwell on past mistakes. Instead, I’ll concentrate on learning from them and moving forward in a positive manner.”

Setting and adhering to these internal boundaries is critical to your mental and emotional wellness. It allows you to live a more balanced and satisfying life while remaining mindful of your own needs and limitations.

Related post: 5 steps to heal childhood emotional trauma

How to Set external boundaries:

External boundaries are statements that you establish with another person or situation. These boundaries can be set when you have inner clarity about what you want and don’t want. Some examples:

  • I am hurt that you didn’t include me in this discussion.
  • I feel disrespectful about the way you talk down to me.
  • I feel uncomfortable when you come into my personal space.
  • I feel confused when you try to decide for me.
  • I will respect you when you say no and please respect me when I say no.
  • I am grateful that you are my friend and are always there for me.

As you see, both internal and external boundaries are not always about saying no. It is also about what you agree to.

How to set boundaries in relationships:


It is harder to set boundaries in relationships that have meaning to us. Trust yourself and your relationship. Any relationship that is worth having will have a healthy boundary exchange. If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, they will not have a sound boundary system and may even be narcissistic. 

  1. Self-Reflection: Take some time to consider your own needs, values, and limits. Recognise what makes you feel at ease and uncomfortable in your relationships.To set healthy boundaries, ask yourself at the moment, ” How do you feel about this person, place, or situation?” Your boundary statement is your immediate gut reaction.
  2. Identify Specific Boundaries: Be specific and clear about the boundaries you wish to establish in your relationship. Consider what behaviours, actions, or situations you must address. Make sure that you align them with your core values.
  3. Open Communication: Approach your communication with your partner in an open and honest manner. Choose a good time and location to discuss your boundaries
  4. Never try to talk yourself out of your boundary statements: Things like “He is having a hard time, so I’ll do this for him this one time” make it hard for us to set boundaries. The rule to remember is: Say no if you don’t want to do something; you don’t need something.
  5. Your tone matters: Healthy functional boundaries are not about being controlled and pushy. It is about being assertive and calm. Avoid apologising for mentioning your boundaries.
  6. Start your statements with “I”: As you see above, all the boundary statements start with “I.”. This is important, especially when you draw an external boundary. Look at the sentences below.

                       “You make me uncomfortable. You always hurt me.” 

These appear to be blaming the other person, which subsequently doesn’t give us the result we need, which is them respecting your boundaries. These “I” statements make the other person feel less defensive and thus able to hear and understand you. This increases the chance of them respecting and not breaching your boundaries.

  1. Active listening: Allow your partner to express their views and feelings about your boundaries. Listen carefully and be receptive to their point of view.
  2. When necessary, negotiate: Some boundaries may necessitate compromise. Be willing to negotiate and reach a middle ground when it is reasonable and does not jeopardise your values or well-being.
  3. Set Consequences: Clearly outline the consequences of boundary violations. If the limits are routinely ignored, it may be necessary to reduce the amount of time spent together or to take a break to reassess the relationship.
  4. Respect Their Limits: Respect your partner’s boundaries as much as you expect them to respect yours. It’s a two-way road.
  5. Consistency is essential: Once you’ve established boundaries, stick to them. This fosters trust and displays your commitment to upholding those boundaries.
  6. Return and Revise: Your boundaries may change over time. As your needs and circumstances change, evaluate and adjust them on a regular basis.
  7. Self-care is essential. Prioritise self-care to ensure you have the emotional strength to effectively enforce boundaries. Meditation, exercise, or spending time doing activities you enjoy are all examples of self-care.
  8. Celebrate wins: Recognise and acknowledge your successes in establishing and keeping boundaries. I know it is not easy. And you deserve appreciation for maintaining them. 
  9. Seek Help: If you are having difficulty setting or enforcing boundaries, try obtaining help from a therapist or counsellor who can provide assistance and help you find solutions.

The consequence of not setting boundaries:

What happens when you don’t say no in a relationship?

Your friend asks you to go with her somewhere. You don’t want to go, but you say yes in fear of disappointing your friend. Now what happens next? You will start resenting yourself for violating your boundaries. You will be with your friend, but thinking about the time spent, the money spent, and the actual work that you missed doing because of this outing, you will end up regretting and resenting yourself and your friend. This vicious cycle extends beyond the present and into the future.

But if you said no, it would have been an awkward moment, yet it would have passed on. Your friend might have been disappointed or taken someone else to accompany her. her. You would have gotten busy with the work to be done. SeIt seems like less confusion for our mental space.

I know it is easier said than done. But remember, we need authenticity in life for us to be happy within ourselves and in our relationships. For which you need to heal your emotional wounds and become aware of the patterns. This, in turn, needs you to set effective boundaries.

If at all you are in need of breaking your boundary for someone, do it occasionally and consciously. “I don’t want to go. But she needs my help, and I love her, so I have decided to go with her.”  Remember, this is a one-time option. If you keep repeating this, you will come back to a no-boundary situation.

Why is it hard to set and maintain boundaries? Read this post to learn about it.

Example scenarios for setting boundaries in various relationships: 

We’ll explore different scenarios and provide examples of boundary statements for each.

  • Workplace: Non-urgent questions from a coworker routinely stop your work.

Boundary statement: “I appreciate our collaboration, but I require focused work time.” Please save non-urgent questions for our scheduled meetings or email them to me.”

  • Difficult Family Member: During family gatherings, your sister criticises your life choices.

Boundary statement: “I appreciate your concern, but I’d prefer not to discuss my life decisions during family events. Let us have a good time together.”

  • With Children: Your child constantly requests snacks before supper, which is affecting their appetite.

Boundary statement: “I want to encourage healthy eating habits, I’ll remind my child that dinner is coming up soon, and we can have snacks afterwards.”

  • Unavoidable Friends: Your friend constantly calls you late at night, disturbing your sleep.

Boundary statement: “I value our friendship, but my sleep is essential, I’ll inform my friend that late-night calls are inconvenient for me and suggest alternative times to talk.”

  • With Your Husband: Your partner frequently expects you to do all of the housework. 

Boundary statement: “I want a more equitable division of chores. I’ll chat to my husband about how we can more evenly share responsibilities.”

Setting Boundaries Exercise Worksheet

setting boundaries worksheet

This worksheet is intended to assist you in identifying, establishing, and maintaining healthy boundaries in various aspects of your life. Take your time thinking about each question and writing down your responses.

1. Establish Your Boundaries: In what areas of your life do you believe you need to establish boundaries? (For example, work, family, relationships, and self-care.)

2. Clarify Your Needs: What specific needs or limits do you have in each area you identified? Go with your gut reaction.

3. Boundary Statements: Create clear and assertive statements for each boundary area highlighted.  As an example:

Work: “I need uninterrupted work time from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to focus on important tasks.”

 Self-Care: “I will prioritise self-care by setting aside 30 minutes each day for meditation and relaxation.”

4. Anticipate challenges: Consider the problems or resistance you may encounter when attempting to establish these boundaries. How will you handle or overcome these obstacles? Map out an action plan.

5. Communicate Your Boundaries: Think about who you need to communicate your boundaries to (coworkers, family members, friends, yourself).

How will you successfully and politely convey your boundaries?

Be sure to be assertive and firm.

6. Get Used to Saying “No”:

List some circumstances in which you may need to say “no” in order to protect your boundaries. These are situations that you usually find it hard to say No to.

Experiment with saying “no” assertively and politely. As an example:

Scenario: A friend begs you to take on an additional task when you are already overburdened.

Practise Saying “No”: “I appreciate your confidence in me, but I have a full plate right now and must decline this request.”

7. Self-Reflection: Assess how well you are maintaining your boundaries in each area on a regular basis.  Is it necessary to make any changes or improvements to your boundary-setting practise? Journal about how these restrictions have benefited your life.

8. Seek Help: Determine who or what resources can assist you in preserving your limits.

How can you get help when you need it?

9. Recognise and Celebrate Successes: Recognise and celebrate when you successfully establish and maintain boundaries. Make this your motivating element.

Get access to your free worksheets here.


Finally, defining and keeping boundaries in relationships is essential for healthy and respectful relationships. You pave the way for happy and fulfilling relationships that promote well-being and mutual respect by recognising your needs, talking clearly, and being assertive yet kind. Boundaries provide you with the ability to thrive in love and connection.  Remember that setting and maintaining boundaries is a continuous process. Revisit and update your boundaries on a regular basis to ensure they correspond with your changing requirements and priorities.

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