Healthy Boundaries Equal Healthy Relationships

Written by on April 18, 2016 in Accountability with 45 Comments

Healthy Boundaries Equal Healthy Relationships

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in life is that when it comes to relationships no matter how hard we try other people aren’t always going to behave the way we want them to, care for us the way we care for them, or respect our feelings, even when we respect theirs. People everywhere struggle with this truth every single day, and for some relationships are their greatest source of stress and unhappiness.

But here’s the thing, trying to get other people to feel and behave the way you want them to is almost always an exhausting exercise in futility. You really only have control over yourself, your feelings, beliefs, choices, and actions. As for the people in your life, you can show them the way you want to be treated, model effective communication, love and support them, inspire and maybe for a time motivate them, but in the end, they will do what they are going to do. We can accept them as they are, or walk away.

Why healthy relationships need boundaries …

Of course, relationship stress is rarely that simple is it? We have responsibilities, shared history, emotional attachments, and circumstances over which we have no control (aka relatives). Or, do we?

This will come as a surprise to many, but you have more control over the quality of your relationships than you may realize. Whether we’re talking significant others, family, or friends, relationships thrive when there are healthy boundaries.

“Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships. When a relationship ends early, it’s rarely as a result of defining our boundaries, but because we DIDN’T, then got resentful because the other person wasn’t able to recognize our needs.”

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a list of rules you make up just to keep others in line. Healthy boundaries are about caring for yourself in ways that foster confidence and integrity, and come from respect, core values, and your highest priorities. They protect you from being overwhelmed by the demands of others and pave the way for you to achieve a more balanced life with happy, fulfilling relationships and true intimacy.

To establish some perspective, let’s take a moment to consider the following signs of unhealthy boundaries.

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

  • You sometimes feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain.
  • You find yourself constantly having to “save” people close to you and fix their problems.
  • You tell yourself (and others) that you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it.
  • You spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault.
  • You find yourself saying yes to things you’d rather not do, just to avoid conflict or the guilt of having to say “no” to others.
  • You find yourself feeling resentful because you are doing more for others than they are doing for you.
  • You stuff your emotions and frustration because you had no idea you are actually allowed to set boundaries for family members.
  • You expect that the people closest to you should somehow just know when they’ve done something to upset or offend you without you having to say anything.

If any of these sound familiar to you, what you need to know is that it is well within your power to create more positive interpersonal experiences by doing the work to establish healthy boundaries.

Unfortunately, many people avoid setting boundaries in the misguided belief that complying with each and every request will win the love and respect they desire from others. The problem is that every act of compliance or self-denial chips away at the respect others have for them, in effect undermining the very things they wanted most.

Remember – you teach people how to treat you, and if you don’t respect yourself then how can you expect others to?

“At first, you may feel selfish, guilty, or even embarrassed when you set a boundary, but don’t confuse discomfort with self-worth or the reaction of others with the validity of your right to take care of yourself.”

A healthy relationship is one in which the boundaries are strong, yet flexible enough to allow you to embrace and thrive with your own uniqueness. There is a sense of respect on the part of each individual that allows the other to live as full a life as possible and to explore their own personal potential. Healthy boundaries allow trust and security to develop over time.

You can’t live your life based on what other people do …

Sometimes we believe that if only people were different, cared enough about us to accommodate all our wants and needs, our lives would be so much better.

You can talk about why people do the things they do until you’re blue in the face. You can try to make sense of a situation and replay conversations over and over again. But people will continue to do what they want to do. All you can control is how you choose to live your life.

By choosing to set healthy personal boundaries that reflect your authentic self you balance respect for others with respect for yourself. And the best part is it’s all up to you – you have the power and authority to create the quality of your own life experience, and that includes building stronger healthier relationships!

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

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  1. Ramona McKean

    When I read your counsel on boundaries, Marquita, it makes such good sense that I figure it should be easy! Like anything else, though, practice is necessary to undo habitual ways of being. Of course, I also need to be honest to see how I am a big part of a relationship not working. Fundamentally, healthy boundaries are about self-worth and self-love, perhaps one and the same. Thanks for the reminders.
    Ramona McKean recently posted…Deja-Vus are Glitches in TimeMy Profile

    • You are of course absolutely right Ramona, it does take time and practice to develop healthy boundaries, and it DOES start with us. You have to believe you not only have the right to set boundaries but that you deserve them. It can seem intimidating at first, but by starting small and being consistent, there will be progress. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Psychic Nest says:

    Another excellent post from you Marquita! In the past I used to be one those people who want to make everyone smile and fix their issues. The problem was that I never saw that these people don’t want to my help but instead they prefer to victimize than fixing anything.

    I believe those kind of people make us being stuck in such situations. They play the victim yet they don’t need help. If we don’t see their intentions straight up, they will drag us down with them.

    When I learned that lesson, I stopped fighting battles that are not mine. I stopped offering help unless the person really needed my help and so on. I am so glad I read your post and I feel that this attitude is so far away only because I set those boundaries. Thank you!

    Psychic Nest recently posted…Reincarnation and the AfterlifeMy Profile

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article Zaria, and even happier that you’ve found the value in not trying to “fix” people. It can become quite a burden and I think the only reason I haven’t experienced much of a problem in that area is that there were SO many people who needed fixing in my family when I was growing up it seemed like an impossible task. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation.

  3. Kimba

    I spent WAY too many years trying to change someone in my life. I needed them to be a good role model and protector which I see now is something that is just not part of their personal capacity. As an adult I came to realize that no matter how angry or confrontational or hurt I was, it didn’t matter, they would not change. Once I let go of trying to make that happen, a huge burden was released. I now have healthier boundaries with this person and much more reasonable expectations. But it’s work.
    Kimba recently posted…Can I Ask You a Question?My Profile

    • You are absolutely right, boundaries are work, but if you put it in perspective, not having boundaries is a whole lot MORE work, not to mention stressful. Sounds like you’ve already figured that one out for yourself. Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation Kimba. 🙂

  4. Diane Topkis says:

    How do I share this gracefully with my family – sisters and mother?? I think I’m pretty good with boundaries but family trips me up. One time I declared that I relinquish my self-appointed savior role as the oldest. But always get pulled back into it. Trying to remember that people have to learn for themselves. Of course, I do fine with coaching clients – just not family!
    Diane Topkis recently posted…Use Make Believe to Feel ConfidentMy Profile

    • It sounds to me like you understand how to set boundaries with your family, Diane, it’s enforcing them that is the problem. And unfortunately the fact that you’ve allowed yourself to be “pulled back in” has sent a very clear message that (in their minds) you don’t take your own boundaries seriously. If you really want to draw the line somewhere you’re going to have to start by picking one thing, a behavior or circumstance, that will be fairly easy to identify your boundary line, and then you need to clearly communicate it to your family and stick to it. Someone may get angry or have hurt feelings, but I promise you if you hold on eventually they will come around.

      When my husband and I moved to Hawaii my mother-in-law accused us of deserting the family, then she escalated and said we were breaking her heart, and it went on like that for nearly six months. We just remained calm, nice as we could be, but firm, until she finally realized we weren’t going to baby her or move back and she got over it and was fine. It’s not fun, but remember that it took years for these behaviors to form, so it’s not out of the question to expect meaningful change to take a few months. Good luck!

  5. Lisa says:

    “Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships. When a relationship ends early, it’s rarely as a result of defining our boundaries, but because we DIDN’T, then got resentful because the other person wasn’t able to recognize our needs.”

    I love this! This is so true. Thinking back on every relationship, I can definitely see this is an absolute truth. It’s sad that when we are in the relationship, we are either too close to see it or our pride gets in our way. So happy to have read this and realize what truth this holds so that going forward I can step back and evaluate from this standpoint!

  6. Joyce Hansen

    Having to save people close to you. That was a hot button for me. Most of my life I spent time, money and energy here. Being older and more experienced you want to save others from the pain, But eventually, you learn that they have to learn the hard way. When you step back or walk away, you suddenly realize how freeing you life is.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Bad Day for Your BrainMy Profile

    • Sounds like you’ve gained some valuable wisdom, Joyce! Unlike most people, I found it much easier to set boundaries with my family than others, but it’s always a challenge. I still like helping people, but my golden rule these days is if someone demonstrates they are willing to do the work to help themselves, I’m happy to support them, just not do it f-o-r them. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Joyce!

  7. Millen

    “Change the Changeable. Accept the Unchangeable. Remove yourself from Unacceptable” Looove it, Marquita, would love to quote you on my pages! 🙂 My most painful experience with setting boundaries comes from family relationships. For years, I was keeping frustration inside when my younger sister was acting unkind, uncaring or demanding toward me. I felt that it was “unchangeable” and accepted. But the level of resentment was building up and finally reached the “unacceptable”. I realized that I have to choose myself and leave my expectations for this relationship for another lifetime. It still hurts, occasionally, but less than being out of integrity and not having my boundaries. Thank you for another great post!
    Millen recently posted…Do You Know How To INVEST Your Money?My Profile

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article Millen, and by all means, feel free to quote me any old time. There is no question that some of the toughest boundaries are those with our family. In fact, this is the number one topic of the emails I receive from readers and they usually go something like, “How to I make (fill in the blank) do what they are supposed to?” which of course is a control issue. Relationships are always a challenge, but it sounds like you made the right choice, sadly it isn’t always the easiest choice.

  8. My boundary setting skills definitely can use some tweaking. As someone who loves to support others and help in anyways I can, I often jump into “let me help you” mode. Often people come to me for help as well and they tell me, “You are so good at doing this” or “You can do this so much faster and easier than I can.” I admit I am a sucker and am learning that “No” is actually a complete sentence and is okay to say. For people who have been close to our lives for a long time, it is more challenging to change suddenly, however, I’m doing it. Recently on one of our monthly calls, Dr. Christiane Northrup talked about how every time we say “yes” to something we don’t really want to do, we are saying “no” to something else we do want to do. When I can think in this way, it really does change the perspective and I realize if I don’t put myself first, it ultimately affects my health and wellbeing. This was a wonderful article, Marquita! I really appreciate all of the information you shared and how you shared it!
    Beverley Golden recently posted…Health is Truly a Matter of Choice(s)My Profile

    • I’m really glad you found value in the article Beverley. One thing about boundaries is that they require constant vigilance, so it’s perfectly normal to periodically find that you need to do a bit of “tweaking” here and there. We’re all human after all and each day brings a new challenge to test us. Certainly helps to have a sense of humor. 🙂

  9. Teresa Salhi

    Your first paragraph really sums it up. Relationships are so very powerful in every area of our life and it is worth taking precious time to ensure we are creating them cohesively… and ensure we don’t neglect the most important one…with ourselves.
    Teresa Salhi recently posted…Fearless Women Do 7 Things DifferentlyMy Profile

  10. Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Marquita,

    Have I ever learned this one.

    Biggest block for me; getting over uncomfortable feelings associated with setting boundaries. All about me of course, so I embraced them, and let them go, to be healthy.

    I have no cell phone. Boundary 1. I go dark for periods daily, being in quiet, solo, away from it all. Boundary 2. I limit time spent online. Boundary 3.

    Unplugging from all to go within, to be in quiet, helps me live from a healthy, balanced space. Most of the time 😉

    Excellent points here.

    Signing off from kinda sunny NJ.

    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…Free eBook Friday: Download How to Build an Online Empire through Blog CommentingMy Profile

    • You had me smiling with each of your points Ryan. As an ‘extreme’ Introvert I relish time away from the chaos that so many others seem to find necessary for survival, and yes, it absolutely helps me to remain balanced and calm. Except maybe today as the tree trimmers are working to clear away some of the jungle around my house before tsunami season arrives. Nothing like the sound of a power saw when you’re trying to be creative. 🙂

  11. Jeri

    We’ve been working really hard on this in my post-divorce relationship. It’s not easy, but boundary setting is so necessary. I’m also listen to Rene Brown’s Rising Strong right now and she addresses this topic as well. People become far less vexing when we can communicate our boundaries.
    Jeri recently posted…#AmWriting: Sacred Writing Challenge by Sofia WrenMy Profile

    • And you’ve made an excellent point Jeri. The key to effective boundaries is communication … in fact, if you think about it, the key to pretty much everything to do with relationships is communication! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and best wishes on your post-divorce relationship. 🙂

  12. Erica says:

    I would say yes to everyone starting from middle school until my early 20s. I truly did believe that would make people value me. But I realized that it really teaches people to use you. I’ve become pretty good at setting boundaries as an adult. It can be hard to say no when someone is really pushy, but I just remind myself that I don’t need to comply with everyone else’s needs to be a good person.

    I think men, in general, more instinctively get that. Maybe it has to do with how they are brought up. Having said that, my husband is way worse than me at saying no to others.
    Erica recently posted…12 Easy Ways to Detox DailyMy Profile

    • Well our foundation for learning about boundaries does begin when we’re children so your point about how men learn about them may be very true, though I haven’t seen any research other than the usual stuff about women being natural “people pleasers” but again, I wonder sometimes how much of that is inherent and how much is environment. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  13. Ken Dowell

    As someone who has had one successful and one unsuccessful marraige I can vouch for teh sageness of your advice. Now if I could only build the boundaries high enough for my in-laws.

  14. Donna Merrill

    Wow Marquita,

    This came at the exact time my long lost brother just came out of rehab. The first thing that came to my mind is boundaries.

    Oh this didn’t come naturally….I spent half my life as the fix it person from my family dynamics to my first husband. It took a long time for me to understand what a boundary was.

    I spent a long time in therapy to find that one out and practice it. Still now, as of this day, I have to create boundaries with my brother. It is only 30 days since he has been “clean” and I do know the deal.

    Thanks so much Marquita…I am so glad you are in my life.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…Getting To Know Your Target AudienceMy Profile

  15. Kristina Rylova

    Marquita, thanks for your post. Honestly for me it is a really good timing to read it post, because as you wrote “I hate drama, but I realize that I am always in the middle of it” and I was thinking that setting up some limits with people around me will help me to avoid all these problems. But it is really not easy, when you are an open person who gets used to people very easy. Thanks again
    Kristina Rylova recently posted…Job abroad. How to start?My Profile

    • Recognizing that you need to set some limits is an important first step, Kristina. Just pick one small thing or behavior at a time to work on and if you stick with it you’ll be amazed at the difference it will make to your life!

  16. I can barely fix myself, let alone the others in my life! Not that a past me hasn’t given that the college try now and again only to fail each time.
    I have only begun to truly understand boundary-setting in the last year. And what a valuable learning process it has been. As you said, the person you’re setting the boundary with is going to react how they’re going to react. The important thing is remaining true to myself. What I’m finding is that the other person (one in particular I’m thinking of) keeps rising to the occasion. That’s an unexpected and very welcome turn of events.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Get Transported in History with a Charleston Plantation TourMy Profile

    • That’s great Rose Mary, in fact, isn’t there a quote about people rising to the level of our expectations? It does take some time to learn to create and communicate meaningful boundaries, but as I have a feeling you’ll agree by now that the real challenge is in managing them because there are so few absolutes in life, we always have to be prepared to adapt to circumstances in order to keep from our boundaries turning into brick walls. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, always appreciated!

  17. Sabrina Quairoli

    This is a great reminder, Marquita! We must respect ourselves so others will respect us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Turkey, Broccoli and Cauliflower Alfredo with PenneMy Profile

  18. lenie

    Marquita, when I was reading this post I was thinking about marital (partner?) relationships where one goes into the marriage knowing the partner has a few problems but fully believing they can change the person. That happens all the time and is so silly. If a person doesn’t show his/her best side during courtship, they sure aren’t going to be changing afterwards.
    As you pointed out – in any relationship you need to set the boundaries and then stay within them – that is actually the hard part because you may think ‘just this once’ or ‘this person really needs me’. May seem like good reasons at the time but they usually backfire.

    • Yep, boundaries apply across the board, in fact, my subscribers also received tips on family boundaries in the weekly newsletter. But you are so right about how easy it is to fall into the trap of just wanting to help and support. My ex-husband had a serious substance abuse problem and while I was more than ready by that point to end the marriage, I hung in there trying to get him into rehab. But then when I flew to Oahu to pick him up and bring him back to Maui a “helpful” counselor laid a major guilt trip on me about how vital it was for his continued recovery that I continue to support him. I will never forget that sinking feeling, but I hung in there another year through a relapse and an affair. What a wasted year that was, all because I thought it was up to me to help him recover. Hard lesson learned. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Lenie!

  19. Dave

    This information is available in so many formats in so many different places, Marty. And yet, you provide a unique perspective that only you can give. I especially like your thought at the end of the article …

    Remember – you teach people how to treat you, and if you don’t respect yourself then how can you expect others to?

    That is some eye-opening and empowering stuff right there 🙂 I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to shy away from confrontation and holding firm to personal boundaries in the name of – heck, that’s probably the problem – I’m not sure what it’s in the name of! Probably a mix of acceptance and the desire to sail on smooth waters.

    Your words have certainly nudged me toward respecting those personal boundaries, and myself, in the process! Thank you 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Dave, and of course you are so right about the endless array of articles, books and inspirational tidbits available on this subject, which is one reason I so rarely write about “relationships”. But it is an important element of our theme this month, so I’m glad you found my perspective thought provoking. 🙂

  20. Dana

    Hi Marquita,

    Gosh, there are so many things that I can identify with in this post, so I’ll just mention the ones that stood out to me the most (or you’ll end up with a book here) 😉

    I used to get so angry with people over what they did, how they treated me…but I never set boundaries. So when you say you build up resentment, it’s true – and I sure did.

    Then you expect people to be mind readers in addition to knowing how to treat you. It’s a tough way to live – for both you and the other person.

    I think this gets tough for people (or at least it did for me) because you feel like you’re being confrontational by setting boundaries. But if it’s done from a place of truth, and by explaining “I’m setting this up this way because I care about you and this relationship enough to make it an honest one from the start”, you feel better about it.

    I have.

    I also know what it’s like to say you don’t want drama, but to then act dramatic in every way imaginable. It takes some honest self-reflection and a willingness to admit to yourself that you bring it on yourself. But if you do (and I did), you’ll see your role in it and you’ll know how to change it.

    You can always walk away from someone if they can’t follow your lead. Sometimes, that’s what it’ll take. It requires courage, but isn’t inner peace and self-respect worth it in the long run?

    Awesome post.
    Dana recently posted…How I Use Well-Being As A Tool For Personal EmpowermentMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post Dana! I love the points you share, and I do think it’s important to understand that we all occasionally do things like expecting others to read our mind, and of course participating in dramas. I believe what makes the biggest difference is being willing to become self-aware so that we catch ourselves before these behaviors become fully engrained. Thanks again for your beautiful contribution to the conversation!

  21. Hi Marty. Your post describes a very close friend of mine to a T. I wish I could help her, but she really believes her life role is to be a martyr. I’ve given up trying to help, and have therefore distanced myself to reduce the stress of dealing with her and her life drama.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…more great mexican chocolateMy Profile

    • I hear you Doreen, and unfortunately I’ve had to make similar decisions in the past. It’s sad, but sometimes you just have to take care of yourself first. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Mark

    So very well said as usual M!

    And I imagine, you write about this complex subject
    from now on and barely scratch the surface!LOL!

    And I also imagine, this is an ongoing issue, in so many of your readers
    lives, that they readily welcome any type of proven methods of resolving the many issues that arise because of it!

    i can see so many pieces and episodes of my life, reflected in your excellent post!
    Thanks so much, for offering a real way out!That helps us keep our sanity!
    Mark recently posted…So How Come More Small Business Owners Don’t Use Strategic Cross Promotions To Create 250% Better Results?Part TwoMy Profile

    • I’m glad you found value in the post Mark. You are so right about how virtually endless this topic is, which is why I’m normally happy to leave it to others who specialize in “relationships”, but it is an important topic for our theme this month. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation, always appreciated!

  23. Phoenicia

    You always write such thought provoking and encouraging posts Marquita. I look forward to reading your blog weekly.

    As you have stated, we cannot force a person to see or treat us differently and it is not our job to. We cannot “fix” people. How many people undergo counselling and face major mental health problems due to not receiving from others what they expect they should? We often believe people should treat us as we do them but this is often not the case.

    It is painful when others do not reciprocate when we reach out to them, listen to them, care for them. I learnt the hard way that I may not get back what I put in. I now expect less and therefore am less disappointed.
    Phoenicia recently posted…The highs and lows of blogging!My Profile

    • Beautifully said Phoenicia, and of course, you are so right … relationships are the blessing and the curse of life. I don’t believe it’s possible to reach adulthood and not experienced at least a few heartbreaks along the way. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insights, always appreciated!

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