How to set boundaries with friends and why

Boundaries are not just meant for your colleagues or partners. You also need to set boundaries with friends. Know why it's important and ways to set boundaries with friends.
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Set boundaries with your friends! Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 17 Jan 2024, 02:30 pm IST
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Every relationship should have its set of boundaries – whether it is a romantic bond or with parents, relatives and friends. Boundaries are basically guidelines communicated to protect the emotional, physical and overall health of everyone. They outline needs dictating what behaviours and treatment are acceptable versus the ones that could be deal-breakers. By outlining individual rights, responsibilities and limits openly through clear boundaries, people can foster healthy relationships while restricting toxic behaviour. So, here’s how to set boundaries with friends and why it is important.

Why are boundaries needed in friendship?

Boundaries are essential in any close relationship, including friendship, says psychotherapist, life and business coach Dr Chandni Tugnait.

  • They protect everyone’s sense of self within the relationship dynamic and set shared expectations for positive treatment.
  • Boundaries matter because all healthy relationships must balance intimacy and autonomy.
  • Strong boundaries preserve both sides by asserting spheres of life that remain private, formidable personal values that won’t get compromised, and non-negotiable wellness practices.
  • Boundaries defend dignity and ultimately uplift friendships by ensuring mutual consent, safety, and care through clarity.
Two friends leaning on each other
Setting boundaries is important in friendships too. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

What are the ways to set boundaries with friends?

Follow these tips to set boundaries with friends.

1. Know your needs

Spend time getting clear on your core values, communication preferences, social battery limits, sensitivities, and other personal parameters important to your well-being, so you can articulate them clearly when establishing boundaries.

2. Affirm the relationship

Before discussing the boundary, reassure your friend about how much you value their friendship. This frames the conversation as a caring move to improve the relationship rather than critique them.

3. Use “I” statements

When expressing the boundary, use “I feel, I need, I prefer” statements rather than accusatory “you” statements. This reduces defensiveness in the listener, the expert tells Health Shots.

4. Set direct requests

Request specific observable changes in enabling behaviours rather than demand vague personality changes or mindset shifts. For example, asking a friend to give you a heads up before discussing triggering issues is more realistic than insisting that they stop being inconsiderate.

5. Discuss thoughtfully

Have a two-way discussion allowing space for your friend to share their perspective and motives with empathy while still asserting your reality. Finding the win-win demonstrates you believe multiple experiences can coexist.

6. Allow processing time

Understand that some boundary shifts require a period of adjustment. Be patient but firm if small violations occur at first. Give time and gracefully clarify the boundary again if needed.

7. Reinforce positively

If they respect the new boundary, express sincere gratitude at their consideration and effort. Positive reinforcement strengthens continuity.

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8. Maintain accountably

Follow up promptly if boundary violations recur in a pattern, like taking a friendship break to underline seriousness. Don’t allow dismissal or enable harmful behaviour in yourself or friends by failing to intervene.

9. Don’t debate

You don’t have to get into endless debates over who is right or wrong. If friends repeatedly cannot align with explicit needs, release the bond with care.

10. Walk away when necessary

Part amiably when chronic breaches combined with resistance to accountability signals a gap in values so fundamental that enabling it perpetually destabilises your health and self-respect. Recognise when it is time to walk away, while still holding respect and care in your heart.

Why don’t some friends respect boundaries?

The most common reasons friends struggle to respect boundaries boil down to maturity and emotional intelligence deficits, says Dr Tugnait. Some lack self-awareness and refuse to take responsibility for how their behaviour affects others. They avoid accountability through dismissal or arguments rather than adjusting conduct when called out.

Others understand their own needs well, but fail to extend empathy towards less familiar personalities and communication styles in friends. There is resistance to moving at another’s pace. Often, silently expecting friends to mind-read unvoiced hopes and then punishing them when those hopes are unmet breeds resentment that sabotages respect.

Insecure friends also use manipulation tactics out of fear rather than engaging in constructive conflict literacy to reconcile different needs. When ego protection matters more than partnership to such people, they forfeit the courage and care required to set boundaries wisely. Consent gets overridden by self-absorption and power plays for some, even in friendships.

How to deal with friends who don’t respect boundaries?

If your friend doesn’t respect boundaries, you can take some steps.

1. Communicate firmly

Reassert the violated boundary clearly. Use empathetic language but be direct about the hurt caused and state the specific change desired without making any accusations. If they repeatedly violate stated needs, the friendship’s foundation needs re-evaluating.

Friends standing back-to-back
Communicate firmly if your friend doesn’t respect the boundaries. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

2. Seek understanding

Through non-judgmental communication, uncover why they struggle with this boundary. Sometimes, mismatched personalities unintentionally trigger each other, or past trauma breeds reactivity. If self-awareness exists, constructive compromise is possible.

3. Establish accountability

If understandable triggers contribute to violations, kindly offer support while creating accountability plans to intercept unhealthy behaviours in the future before enabling harm. Offer resources and propose boundaries around your level of involvement.

4. Enforce consequences

To condition new habits follow through on proportional consequences when violations continue, says the expert. For example, temporarily limit contact, decline activities vulnerable to repeat harm until there is improvement.

5. Release with compassion

When fundamental lifestyle differences or reluctance towards accountability reaches irreconcilable levels, letting go respectfully preserves your peace without attacking the other for incompatible worldviews from unhealed wounds.

You can fill the void by seeking compatible company aligned with your values. Build closer ties with people who uplift you through considerate, communicative care.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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