In today’s me-focused culture, the word “boundaries” has become a popular buzzword. Although some may misuse the concept of establishing boundaries in relationships as an excuse for spending less time with someone or committing to fewer responsibilities, real boundaries are not about selfishness or simply carving out “me” time.
Boundaries in relationships are actually helpful to both people. Boundaries help each person know where they end and the other person begins. If you’ve thought about boundaries as a luxury or simply a way to get what you want, think again. Boundaries help you and the other person understand each other’s needs, values, and how each of you is wired. These are crucial to having a healthy relationship – whether it’s with your spouse, a parent, a friend, or even a grown child.
6 Signs that You Struggle with Boundaries in Relationships
Taking a self-assessment can go a long way in making sure your relationships are about mutual respect and balance. Here are six cues that you struggle with boundaries in relationships.
1) You’ve given your work schedule to your friend two or three times, but he or she continues to call during those hours — and you don’t say anything.
If you’ve recommended better times for your friend to call in the past, and he or she isn’t honoring those, it is time to speak up. There could be multiple reasons that he or she keeps calling during the workday. Maybe your friend doesn’t work and has no frame of reference for what a workday can look like. Or perhaps he or she has simply forgotten, especially if your work hours are not standard.
But if you continue to drop what you are doing to take his or her call, it communicates that you are always available. Setting a boundary doesn’t have to be mean, but it does need to be clear.
The next time your friend calls during work hours, you can simply reply with a text: “Hi, I’m not available right now. I need to shut my phone off during work hours from now on. Let’s choose a night that I can call you on my way home from work — after 5 p.m.” This not only communicates that you will not be taking any more calls during the work day, but it also communicates that the friendship is important to you.
2) You feel guilty for saying no when someone at church asks you to volunteer.
Christians have been told that service is a key component of their faith. In this vein, wanting to express your love for Christ through service isn’t a bad thing. But when you can’t say no to requests that don’t match your passions, time, or talent, there is likely a boundary issue.
Even if the church can’t find anyone else with your skill set and the volunteer activity is something you can do, it is okay to say no. Unless it’s something you’ve decided you have time for and want to do, saying no does not make you a bad person. It just communicates that you have a life outside the church, and it doesn’t always coordinate with church needs.
3) You struggle with decisions.
Making decisions about what you will do, where you will live, and how you will spend your time is crucial to living a satisfying life. If you find that these kinds of decisions, even smaller ones, are tough, it may be that your boundaries are unclear.
When you are unsure of what you value, you tend to go along with what others value. This can be a dangerous, dramatic way to live. Remember, boundaries in relationships are just like state and national boundaries — they help you understand where your property ends and another person’s property starts. In relationships, this can mean values, likes/dislikes, how you spend your time, who your friends are, and more.
4) Drama seems to follow you around.
When a person lacks personal boundaries, he or she usually struggles with knowing how to stand up for what he or she likes, doesn’t like, wants, and needs. Not being able to stand firmly in your own convictions may mean that you draw people to you who take advantage of that lack of self-assurance
Likewise, it may mean that you gravitate toward codependent relationships. These are relationships that are not equal in their give and take. Maybe you are always the one surrendering to your friend’s choice of which restaurant to eat at, but he or she rarely, if ever, lets you choose.
Sometimes we even grow up in households that perpetuate this lack of boundaries. If you grew up with a parent who rarely shared their opinion about anything, it’s likely that they struggled to set boundaries. This could have created a sense of normalcy around codependency, but it’s not healthy to need someone else to make your decisions or another person’s stamp of approval in order to set your own course in life.
5) Finances are a challenge for you.
If you’ve grown up not knowing how to handle money, it could be that financial issues weren’t spoken about in your childhood home, and you haven’t been coached about sticking to a spending budget. When boundaries in relationships are an issue, this can trickle down to how you and your spouse talk about money and spending.
You may fear bringing up spending habits or spending money secretly to avoid being found out. Perhaps you’re the one checking up on your spouse’s spending habits. Neither of these behaviors is healthy. A person with healthy boundaries is able to set boundaries on spending, discuss money with his/her spouse from a mutually respectful perspective, and take stock of where to cut back or change habits.
6) You are tired for no defined reason.
Living your life to please others or avoid conflict is exhausting. It leaves very little room for your own choices and pursuits. If you are carrying resentment about never having time to do what you want to do, it could be that you’re not establishing personal boundaries with your spouse, your children, or even your boss.
Not everyone will like you for setting boundaries, and that’s an important reality to accept. Especially if you’ve struggled to set them in the past, this change in behavior can be difficult for others to embrace.
But if you notice that you’re the one who takes all the extra shifts at your job, and your co-workers have come to expect you to trade with them or take the shifts they don’t want, or if others always expect you to take on all of the extra projects or responsibilities, it’s a sign. It signals to you that setting firm boundaries of when you will work or how much you will take on is necessary.
In the end, setting boundaries in relationships will provide a sense of peace and contentment. You will finally understand what you value and others will learn to respect those values. If you suspect that a boundary issue is causing conflict in your relationships, let one of our trusted counselors walk you through this process. He or she can help you unpack why setting a boundary is difficult and help you overcome any fear or anxiety associated with it.
“Consultation”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Briana Tozour, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Making Dinner”, Courtesy of Gary Barnes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Freedom”, Courtesy of Fuu J, Unsplash.com, CC0 License