How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Friends

Thursday, June 13

Friends can be a great source of emotional support, socialization, and companionship, and friendships are an important part of emotional well-being. But the quality of these relationships may vary, depending on mutual respect, trust, and understanding. 

Setting boundaries may help improve your friendships — and keep them going strong. These rules or limits may help reduce conflicts and deepen your connection to your friends. But how do you go about setting healthy boundaries? 

Below, we’ll explore boundaries in friendships in greater detail. We’ll go over their importance, different types, and ways to set them in order to build respect and trust in these relationships.  

Why friendships need healthy boundaries 

Boundaries help you and your friends maintain healthy relationships with each other. Without them, friendships may become one-sided, where one friend takes more than gives. Or they may become strained due to differences or other conflicts. 

Let’s discuss why friendships need healthy boundaries in order to thrive. 

Respect for individuality 

No matter how much you and your friends have in common, you’re all unique individuals. You have your own need for personal space and your own personality. Solid friendships depend on the ability to respect each other’s individuality. 

Setting healthy boundaries allows you and your friends to appreciate and honor individual qualities and the need for personal space. This kind of respect can strengthen these relationships. It also helps prevent friends from trying to pressure each other to like or do the same things. 

Maintaining emotional balance 

Part of friendship involves turning to each other for emotional support. You might comfort a friend who’s just gone through a bad breakup or vice versa, for example. However, these relationships may lead to emotional overload without boundaries in place. 

Having boundaries helps maintain a balanced emotional state in friendships so that one friend doesn’t feel drained or used from taking on all or most of the emotional weight. It may help prevent friendships from becoming one-sided or strained, with one friend providing all of the emotional support and getting little in return. 

Facilitates honest communication 

Friends are people that you can be open and honest with. But this isn’t always easy to do. You might hold back out of fear that you’ll be judged. Or you might not be honest out of concern that you’ll hurt your friend's feelings. Setting clear boundaries helps encourage open and truthful communication within your friendships. 

Being able to communicate honestly is essential for building and deepening trust and understanding between you and your friends. Without these boundaries, your connection with your friends may not be as strong. For example, if you’re too tired to get together, be honest about this. Otherwise, you may end up feeling unhappy or even resentful about spending time with your friends.  

Sustaining the friendship long-term 

Keeping friendships going on a long-term basis may be challenging without boundaries. Unrealistic expectations, such as how often you spend time together, or how each of you handles negative emotions may put a lot of strain on these relationships.

Setting boundaries helps with managing expectations about your friendships. It also helps manage interactions between you and your friends, leading to more enjoyable and sustainable relationships over time. 

When to set boundaries in a friendship 

How do you know if it’s a good and appropriate time to set boundaries in these relationships? You can set them — or modify them — at any time during your friendships. 

But certain situations may call for putting these limits in place to protect your own emotional well-being and improve these relationships. Examples of these include the following:

  • When you feel overwhelmed, such as when a friend takes up too much of your time or emotional energy 
  • When a friend is invading your personal space or privacy and making you uncomfortable
  • When a friend’s behavior affects your self-esteem
  • When a friendship becomes one-sided 
  • When a friend is acting needy 
  • When you have different communication styles, such as preferring to text, while your friend prefers phone calls  

Types of boundaries to set with friends 

Several kinds of boundaries help you set limits that cover various aspects of your friendships. You might only choose to set a few types of boundaries. (Or you might want to set all of the types we’ll explain in the following sections.) 

It really depends on your needs and any issues occurring in your friendships. Below, we’ll explore the different types of boundaries you can set with your friends. 

Emotional boundaries 

Emotional support or being there for friends is an important part of friendship. But there may be times when you’re dealing with a lot in your own life. During these times, you might not have the emotional bandwidth or energy to provide as much support as you would like. 

Emotional boundaries give you a way to let friends know that you need some space to avoid burnout. You might say something like, “I’m dealing with a lot right now. I care about you, but this really isn’t a good time for me to talk.” 

Physical boundaries 

These boundaries may include physical contact or physical space. For example, if you have a friend who touches your arm a lot while talking and it bothers you, set a boundary letting them know that you’re uncomfortable with that physical contact.

You might set limits on physical space, such as not allowing friends to go into your bedroom or another part of your home without asking. Physical boundaries help build respect for personal space and maintain comfort levels that you’re ok with. 

Material boundaries 

You might be fine with letting a friend borrow a shirt or lending them money on occasion. But what if a friend starts to ask for money or something that belongs to you over and over? This may create tension in your friendship — and even bring it to an end. 

Setting material boundaries around money or personal possessions may help prevent this from happening. These boundaries help manage expectations when it comes to sharing or lending these items. 

Intellectual boundaries 

You and your friends are bound to have some differences of opinion. You might like different kinds of music, for example. Or you might have different opinions on certain topics, such as political issues. 

Intellectual boundaries help maintain respect for each other’s opinions and ideas, which may prevent major disagreements or conflicts. For example, you might say something like, “It’s okay for us to disagree about this, but it’s not okay to be rude or insulting about it.”

Social boundaries 

Boundaries aren’t just for a few friends you get together with in person. They also apply to online friendships and interactions in larger groups overall. Social boundaries are important for ensuring privacy and respect in these kinds of settings. 

You might set social boundaries on social media platforms or for parties and other big gatherings. For example, your boundary might involve not allowing friends to share personal or private information about you with others. Or you might ask friends not to post or tag photos of you without your permission.

How to establish and communicate boundaries with friends step-by-step 

So, how might you set boundaries with friends? You’ll need to talk to them in order to communicate these limits. But it’s important to go about this carefully. Otherwise, you might upset them, confuse them, or create tension in your friendships. 

We’ll go over the steps to follow when setting and communicating boundaries with friends. We’ll also walk you through how to reinforce these limits after putting them in place. 

1.  Identify your boundaries 

You might have a vague idea of what boundaries you want to set. Before communicating them to your friends, clearly identify them. Doing so helps ensure that you understand these personal limits, so you can articulate them clearly. 

It may be helpful to write down healthy friendship boundaries you intend to set in order to keep them clear in your mind. You can then refer to this list while deciding when and how to communicate them to your friends. 

2.  Choose the right time and place 

Don’t dive into a conversation about your boundaries or spring them on your friends without choosing an appropriate setting. Putting your friends on the spot may make them feel uncomfortable and less willing to respect your boundaries. 

Instead, pick a time and place that helps foster a more productive conversation. For example, invite friends over to your home to have this kind of personal discussion rather than having it in a public place. 

Avoid setting boundaries during a time that’s inconvenient or stressful for your friends. For example, don’t have it when a friend is dealing with a personal crisis or big life change. Wait for a calmer time instead. 

3.  Be direct and honest, but kind 

Communicating your boundaries involves being clear and direct about them. This helps prevent confusion or other conflicts. But be careful not to come across as demanding or rude. 

When setting boundaries, it’s also important to be considerate of your friends’ feelings. Depending on the boundaries you set, your friends might initially feel hurt or offended. Approach the conversation with a good balance of directness and kindness to get your point across without causing hurt feelings. 

4.  Focus the discussion on yourself and your needs 

Setting boundaries with friends may turn into a confrontational conversation, depending on personalities, self-awareness, and other factors. But you might prevent this with the right wording when communicating your boundaries. 

Use “I” statements to express your needs and feelings instead of starting sentences with “you.” This simple change puts the focus on yourself, which might help your friends feel less defensive. For example, you might say something like, “I feel hurt when you tease me, so please don’t do that anymore.”

5.  Be prepared for their response 

You may not be able to predict how each friend will react to your boundaries, even if they’re your best friend. So, it’s important to be prepared for any kind of response. Some friends might be immediately accepting and understanding. Others might struggle or even resist respecting your boundaries. 

If a friend won’t acknowledge these limits, have a one-on-one conversation with them. Discuss why they’re having trouble with these boundaries, and consider coming up with a compromise if possible. 

What if a friend disrespects or refuses to follow your boundaries out of selfishness or other negative reasons? You may need to think about letting go and moving on if you’re not being treated with respect in that friendship. 

6.  Positively reinforce your boundaries 

Boundary setting is an ongoing process. It involves reinforcing them as needed, such as gently reminding friends about them. To encourage friends to continue respecting your boundaries, reinforce them in positive ways. 

Acknowledge their efforts and show appreciation in these situations. For example, say a simple “thank you” when a friend respects your personal limits.  

Navigate your path to improved relationships with SonderMind 

Setting boundaries can help set the stage for fulfilling friendships that last for years. Once you’ve decided what your boundaries are, you can follow the steps we’ve given to communicate them with your friends. 

If you need some guidance doing this — or working on other ways to improve your relationships — a licensed mental health professional may help. SonderMind can easily connect you with a therapist who can help you build strong and enduring friendships and improve your mental well-being. 

Find the right therapist with SonderMind today and start on the path toward healthier friendships.

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