We know that in order to have healthy relationships we have to be able to set healthy and loving boundaries, but to get started setting boundaries is a topic that many of my clients feel anxious over. I know you have heard me talk about this before and maybe you are convinced that you need to do it but the “how” part is missing. Maybe you know you need to start doing this more, but you don’t want to upset other people. Maybe you are afraid to set boundaries because you are not exactly sure what they look like. It could be a little of all of these things.
One of the reasons why we avoid getting started setting boundaries is because we think setting a boundary has to be delivered with an edge or harshness. We think it has to be a negative or something that pushes people away. Something that is not going to be a good experience, but that’s just a thought , and it’s not actually true. Sure, sometimes we may have to get a little firmer than others but we don’t have to begin there.
Setting a boundary can also be a way of just letting another person know you. It can simply be letting someone know what you want or prefer. Many times we don’t say what we want because we do not want the other person to not like it, or us, or disagree. We don’t want to let them down by wanting something else so we don’t tell them what we actually want.
This can be as simple as telling your spouse what you want for dinner. We have all been there – we are asked what we want for dinner and instead of just saying we want pizza, we say “I don’t care” or “ it doesn’t matter, what do you want?” Sound familiar?
A boundary can also be stating what works for you, what you like, or letting your partner know when they do something that feels really good for you. Boundaries can also be showing people these positive things and letting them in, so they know you.
Oftentimes people who are overstepping boundaries don’t know they’re doing it because we never told them. So the first time we do it, they might be surprised and that’s okay. We can set a boundary, honor ourselves and still do it without edge, even if we have to express something that does not work, or that we do not want. We just have to start.
One way to get started setting boundaries is to say no without explaining yourself. Simply saying no, without having to justify your “no”. In general this is something that we tend to not do very well. Usually, someone will make a request or ask us something and when we go to say “no” to them we feel like we have to have a reason or an excuse for not doing what they have asked. You do not have to, though, and with some practice, you can get better and better at this, and feel more comfortable.
You can start by saying “Oh, no thank you” or “Oh, no, that doesn’t work for me” or just “no”. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first, and there’s going to be a few seconds of silence when you just say no and nothing after. They’re probably not going to ask a lot more questions once you do this, especially if you have not done so before, and they may not like it, but that is okay. Let it be uncomfortable. We can all do uncomfortable things for a few seconds.
When you can say “no, thank you, though” it can be very powerful. You do not have to start out saying no to something big. You just have to start practicing.
Let’s say you get an invitation to something. You can say “no that doesn’t work for me, but have a great time”. There’s no edge there, no sarcasm, nothing. You can also say “that’s not going to work for work for me, but thank you ” or “that doesn’t work for me”. Really any version of that is great. You’re not ruining a relationship by saying no.
You can always say “no, but thank you for thinking of me, keep me in mind for next time”, if that’s actually true . If you do not want to be invited again, you really don’t want to say that. You can simply say “no, thank you” or “that’s not going to work for me”.
The phrase “that’s not going to work for me” also works for behavior. Saying something does not work for you is way of letting someone know when they have overstepped a boundary. Maybe you have noticed that your partner is always interrupting you, talking over you, and raising their voice when you try to speak. You can say “I’ve noticed that you are not really listening to me, and keep interrupting me. When I try to talk, you raise your voice and keep talking and that isn’t going to work for me.”
If you do not say anything, they are not going to know that they overstepped it, and you are likely going to see the behavior again. It may feel uncomfortable at first to speak up, but you can do uncomfortable things, and the other person is not going to know unless you tell them. Hopefully this will give you some ideas on getting started setting boundaries