Setting Limits for Healthy Relationships

June 6, 2020
Setting limits is a fundamental part of any healthy relationship. What's more, it's an act of respect towards yourself, the other person, and the relationship your both share.

Setting limits, our boundaries, can be hard to do in relationships. In many cases, we’re not even completely aware of where our limits are or where to establish them. However, they’re fundamental when it comes to having healthy relationships, no matter what kind of relationship it is.

Setting limits

Many people confuse setting limits with being demanding or needy. Meanwhile, others use their own problems to “force” others to adapt to them. In any case, neither has to do with setting healthy boundaries for relationships.

So, what does it mean to set limits?

Setting limits means letting others know that you have needs, desires, and personal preferences that are different from their own. Just the same, you can enjoy a full and healthy relationship if you respect one another’s unique tastes and differences.

In this regard, it’s not about making impositions. On the contrary, it’s about making our reality known to others and becoming aware of their reality as well. The goal and purpose here is mutual respect.

In this sense, setting limits is truly beneficial for all:

  • By establishing personal boundaries, we avoid falling into emotional manipulation and blackmail.
  • Given that we reveal our true needs and identity, our relationships and mutual knowledge are truer, more genuine, and more real.
  • Therefore, our relationships grow in quality, duration, and satisfaction.
  • In this sense, setting boundaries helps us to prevent stress and frustrations in our relationships, be they with our family, partner, friends, work, etc.).
  • What’s more, we will be favoring our self-esteem.

Keep reading: How to Build a Healthy Romantic Relationship with Your Partner

It’s not easy to say “no”

Parnters having an important conversation.
Being assertive and adequately expressing our emotions are two of the basic pillars when it comes to setting limits and boundaries.

Setting limits isn’t easy to do. In fact, many factors influence whether we are more or less assertive.

For example, many people are unable to say “no” in a given type of relationship because they fear being rejected by the other party. In the same way, others experience true stress in the face of the possibility of starting a conflict. As a result, they refuse to express their feelings and needs at all costs.

In many cases, not knowing how to establish boundaries or being unable to do so is something we learn at a young age. It’s a behavior that has developed out of being taught to please others. As a result, even in adulthood, we have a hard time saying “no” and setting personal limits.

In fact, some people may feel guilty when they don’t please others. Therefore, they ignore their own needs and feelings.

How to set limits

1. Find the right moment

Partners having an argument.
Setting limits is a moment of mutual respect. Therefore, we should avoid turning it into a situation of anger and argument.

There are good moments as well as moments are that not all suitable for setting limits. For example, it’s not a good idea to spew your needs and limits out in the middle of an argument.

Rather, you should look for a time when bother parties are relaxed. To be successful, you need to both be able to express yourselves without outbursts. You both need to measure your words and aim at cooperation and understanding, avoiding saying things that will hurt one another.

We must remember that setting limits can be beneficial for both of you. Therefore, it’s best to find a time when you’re not tired and that your mood is stable. In other words, it should be a time when neither of you is angry or upset.

2. Set limits with love and respect in every sense

We need to get rid of the idea that setting boundaries means we’re being selfish. Rather, it’s an action that’s born out of a need and desire to keep our relationships as healthy as possible.

This means that when we set personal limits, we must keep in mind that what we’re doing is helping to maintain a healthy and balanced relationship. It’s an act of love and respect towards ourselves, others, and our relationships. Therefore, we need to shake off all feelings of guilt that we have about being assertive.

After all, wouldn’t you want to know what’s best for your loved ones? The same goes for sharing what’s best for you. It’s the ultimate act of kindness for both you and your loved one, even if it isn’t always easy.

We recommend reading: Bad Habits that Will Kill Your Relationship

3. Practice detachment

A couple with a healthy relationship.
Being coherent between our needs and our emotions will allow us to coverse in order to keep our relationships healthy.

Many times, we are unable to say “no” or establish limits because of an emotional bond. In short, we’re afraid of hurting the other person, we hold them in high esteem, we’re afraid they’ll misunderstand us, etc.

In this case, it’s best to practice “detachment”. This means establishing a distance between our feelings for that person and our true needs. Only then can healthy and necessary limits be set.

4. Honesty and consistency

We need to be honest and sincere when it comes to setting limits. This should be obvious.

However, we must also be consistent.

So, for example, if we want others to respect our limits, we should also respect the limits of others. And, logically, if we attack others, they’ll attack us. If we don’t respect others, they won’t respect us.

Whatever the case, we should always keep in mind that all of this advice should go hand-in-hand with respect and a desire to have a healthy and long-lasting relationship. We shouldn’t base this on our bitterness and anger.

Finally, setting limits should be a magical moment where you establish the foundations of the relationship you want to pursue. Therefore, we should always respect the limits that others set as well. That way, everyone involved will enjoy better mental health, and the relationship will grow in honesty and truth.

  • Wilson, T. D., & Dunn, E. W. (2004). Self-Knowledge: Its Limits, Value, and Potential for Improvement. Annual Review of Psychology55(1), 493–518. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141954
  • Katherine, A. (2000). Where To Draw The Line: How To Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day. New York: Fireside.
  • Fensterheim, H., and Baer, J. (2003). No diga sí cuando quiera decir no. México, DF: Grijalbo.