How Can I Establish Lasting Relationships…?

A good start is by establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries based on mutual respect. Here are a few suggestions that have served me well:

1. Name your limits. You can’t set good boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand. So identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. These feelings help us identify what our limits are.

2. Tune into your feelings. There are two key feelings that are red flags or cues that we’re letting go of our boundaries: discomfort and resentment. Prior to setting boundaries, we may feel resentment, which usually comes from being taken advantage of or not being appreciated. It’s often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty (and want to ‘feel’ that we are a good son / daughter / spouse / friend), or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us. When someone acts in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable, that’s an indicator that they may be violating or crossing a boundary. 

3. Be kind, and direct, if necessary. With some people, maintaining healthy boundaries doesn’t require a direct and clear-cut dialogue. Usually, this is the case if people are similar in their communication styles, views, personalities and general approach to life.  With others, such as those who have a different personality or cultural background, you’ll need to be more direct about your boundaries. Consider the following example: “one person feels [that] challenging someone’s opinions is a healthy way of communicating,” but to another person this feels disrespectful and tense.

4. Give yourself permission. Fear, guilt and self-doubt are big potential pitfalls. We might fear the other person’s response if we set and enforce our boundaries. We might feel guilty by speaking up or saying no to a family member. Many believe that they should be able to cope with a situation or say yes because that is the requirement if they are to be considered ‘a good person’, even though they may feel drained or taken advantage of. We might wonder if boundaries are selfish on our part and that we don’t deserve to have put them in place. Boundaries are not only a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. So give yourself permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them. By doing so, you will build relationships based on mutual respect that have the ability to go the distance.

5. Practice self-awareness. Again, boundaries are all about tuning into how you are feeling and honoring what you value. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your boundaries, ask yourself: What’s changed? Consider “What am I doing or what is the other person doing?” or “What has brought me back to feelings of resentment or stress?” Then, consider your options: “What is the best thing to do about the situation? What do I have control over?” And finally, take action with the confidence that the best relationships will be the ones that are well-cared for and that will require some effort. From this practice, we develop maturity, which means we are able to press through our feelings of fear or rejection, and do the work that will build relationships that last.

6. Consider your past and present. How we were raised along with our role in our families can become additional obstacles in setting and preserving boundaries. If you held the role of caretaker, you learned to focus on others, letting yourself be drained emotionally or physically. Ignoring your own needs might have become the norm for you. This will be especially difficult for you without proper support in place. Also, think about the people with whom you surround yourself. Are these relationships reciprocal, providing healthy give and take?

7. Make self-care a priority.  I recommend to those I mentor, to make self-care a priority, which also involves giving yourself permission to put yourself first. When we do this, our need and motivation to set boundaries become stronger. Self-care also means recognizing the importance of your feelings and honoring them. These feelings serve as important indicators regarding our well-being and allows us to experience more peace and joy. On an airplane if the oxygen masks drop down and we are caring for someone, we position ours in place before assisting another. When we care for ourselves properly, we can be a better spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, etc.

8. Seek support.  Keep in mind that it is often difficult to develop healthy boundaries without a support system in place. These can be people who respect your limits and celebrate the authentic person you are!  If you’re having a hard time with boundaries, find a support group, church, counselor or good friend. Make it a priority to find safe people who respect one another’s limits (boundaries) and hold each other accountable.

9. Be assertive. The biggest challenge in establishing healthy boundaries is being consistent with implementing them. Even though we know people aren’t mind readers, we sometimes still expect them to know what hurts us or makes us feel taken advantage of. If someone crosses a boundary, it’s important to communicate it to them in a respectful way, so you both can work together to effectively address it.

10. Start small.  Like any new skill, communicating your boundaries (limits) takes practice. I often suggest to my mentees to start with a small boundary that isn’t threatening, and then incrementally increase to more challenging boundaries as your confidence builds. I want to again, stress the importance of having a support system in place as you begin this journey.

Suggested reading:  Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life  by Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, along with several of their other books on boundaries, are excellent resources to begin mastering the art of establishing healthy boundaries.

You are a blessing, treat yourself as such……Sheri