Is there someone you just can’t say no to? It might be a sibling, a close friend, an adult child or even a partner. Saying no feels bad even when they ask you for something you really don’t want to do, but an inability to set boundaries can drain you emotionally and financially and may ultimately destroy the relationship. If you’ve internalized a cultural message that showing love means always giving something of yourself, you may burn out. Boundaries are key to maintaining a healthy relationship, and the steps below can help you establish and maintain them.
If you have poor boundaries, you may have repressed these. You need to be honest with yourself about what you want and need and what you consider unacceptable so that you can communicate this to your loved one.
Many people who struggle with boundaries may also struggle with expressing their wants and needs directly. You might just expect your loved one to understand what you need through hints you have dropped, but if you are establishing boundaries, it is best to be direct. It can be hard to tell your best friend that you can’t take any more phone calls after 10 p.m. because it’s affecting your ability to get enough sleep for work, but it’s better than telling them how tired you are all the time and expecting them to read between the lines to get your message.
You might feel better about saying no if you can think of other ways to help. After you tell your friend that you can’t take late-night calls, you might follow up with agreeing to check in by text earlier in the evening to make sure things are okay. If a loved one has asked you to cosign on a private student loan and you are worried that this will make you financially vulnerable, you could help them figure out how to get a loan without a cosigner to invest in their future. This might involve helping them review their credit report, looking for online lenders, and assisting them with the application. Alternate solutions help you reassure your loved ones that you still care and you still want to help even if you can’t provide exactly what they need.
You should explain your change in behavior by saying that you are setting a boundary and that you need your loved one to respect that. Otherwise, the person may be confused by the sudden shift. You should pick a calm time in which to have this conversation and try to remain neutral. If your friend or relative keeps pushing against your boundary even after you have established, you may want to consider whether they truly value you.
Usually, when there is a lack of boundaries, you are taking too much responsibility for others. However, even children need to learn about boundaries, and you can’t solve adults’ problems for them. You can’t always be a listening ear or a lender of money. It’s important for you to remind yourself that showing support does not always mean doing everything that a person asks of you.