How to Establish Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries in relationships are always present, even if sometimes they are difficult to see. They can be difficult to set and maintain, and we all have different ideas and experiences of what good boundaries are. Generally, all healthy boundaries have the same qualities: they protect all involved, they set the rules for engagement, they tell us what is and what is not appropriate, and they greatly reduce the chance that someone in the relationship will be significantly hurt or disappointed. Below are some great questions to consider when establishing boundaries in your relationships:

1. What are the boundaries currently in place? Reflect on your experience of meeting the other person’s needs as well as how they meet yours. Take note of how often and in what circumstances you feel drained and irritated, or rejuvenated and excited. Name the quality of the boundaries in your relationship—loose, unclear, and rigid are good places to start.

2. What do I expect to give to them? Consider what you are willing to give to the other person emotionally, mentally, and physically. Take note of where you are at and what you are able to give. Know that certain seasons of life may require you to give less, and that is okay.

3. What do I expect them to give me? What do you want and need from the person you are in relationship with? Naming our own needs can be extremely difficult, especially if we have experienced trauma or abuse in our past. If your current relationship is safe, be willing to name what you need. It will likely increase the trust and intimacy within your relationship.

4. Have the boundaries been communicated? If you notice yourself feeling constantly frustrated with or resentful of someone, chances are the boundaries in your relationship have not been clearly communicated. If you have identified the boundaries you want, speak clearly with the other person about them. Establishing boundaries is not an insult or injury to the other person. Healthy boundaries create emotional safety for closer connection.

5. Have the boundaries been crossed? Being in any relationship is risky because we are all imperfect and all make mistakes. No matter how clear you are about your boundaries, they will likely be crossed at some point or another. Recognizing when it happens and kindly naming it to the other person is key to maintaining safety. If this happens every so often, forgiveness and grace can be healing to the relationship. If it happens repeatedly, consider whether staying in the relationship is healthy.

Boundary work can be very difficult for all of us. If you want to talk to a licensed professional about this and are in the Chicagoland area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000.

Written by Kathryn

2021 Graduate Intern


Boykin, E. & Turner, E. (Hosts). (2020, January 28). It’s always you…even when it’s them [Audio podcast episode]. In With that being said. Esther Boykin.

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