9 Boundaries You Should Have In Your Friendships, According To Experts
When it comes to friendships, although you may think they can sustain themselves naturally, there are still boundaries that apply. At least, there should be. Just like with any relationship, boundaries in friendships help both people keep their relationship healthy and intact. Once it feels off-balance to either person, it may unravel.
“Boundary-setting is massively important in relationships,” Kailee Place, a therapist at her private practice, Shifting Tides Therapeutic Solutions in Charleston SC, tells Bustle. “Not only are boundaries helpful for your own needs, but they’re also helpful for others to know how to best connect and interact with you.” She says that in friendships, people share so much of themselves and expect support and help from one another; however, even though sometimes it’s doable, other times, it’s not. So, that’s where boundaries come into play.
“Without boundaries, there’s potential for bitterness and resentment to grow, leading to fractures within the friendship,” Place says. “Making your boundaries known with clear, assertive communication leaves little room for guessing or assuming, and in the end, little opportunity for negative feelings between people who care about each other. A healthy friendship will respect and welcome these boundaries.”
If you’re wondering what types of boundaries you should have in your friendships, below, experts weigh in. And, the good thing is, it’s not too late to start applying the boundaries now.
1. How You Treat Each Other's Time
It’s probably happened to you: You’re supposed to meet a friend for coffee and you’re at the café when they cancel at the last-minute. Although it’s not the end of the world, you still took time out of your day to meet them, braved traffic across town, and missed out on potential other plans. Although issues come up in everybody’s lives, if this is a pattern with this particular friend, it seems like they’re not respecting your time.
“You need to respect your friend’s time, and they need to respect yours,” Katie Bennett, co-founder and certified coach at Ama La Vida Coaching, tells Bustle. “Often, we have far greater respect for business meetings with colleagues than we do for catch-ups with our buddies — but their time is valuable, too.”
2. What Needs You Share With Them
Wants and needs are a big part of many facets of life, including with friendships. For instance, you may want a friend to go with you to a concert on Friday night, but you need them to be punctual when you meet for coffee. “The ability to express your needs to your friends allow these relationships to remain authentic, honest, and healthy,” Place says.
Rachel D. Miller, a Chicago-based couple and family therapist at Focht Family Practice and doctoral student at Adler University, agrees. “If the friendship is one that is important to you, determine how you can assert yourself, and advocate for your needs in a way that supports you and the relationship,” she tells Bustle.
3. How Reciprocal You Are
You know that friend who only seems to contact you when they need something? “A boundary that goes unchecked in many relationships is the non-reciprocal-benefits issue,” Kate Romero, a life coach, tells Bustle. “For example, a friend only contacts you when they want you to put them in touch with a contact that you worked very hard to cultivate on your own. They are relentless and keep coming at you for their own benefit, not yours.”
Romero says this is the time to reevaluate that friendship by stating a boundary. “Tell this person, ‘Look, I care about you and I enjoy ‘x’ about you; however, the time has come where I need to tell you that I only hear from you when you need or want something from me; this doesn’t feel good to me. If you want to remain in my life, I request that you contact me to check in on occasion, or invite me to coffee to catch up. I need for you to give of your time in ways that also enrich ‘my’ life.’” She adds that she keeps in mind this saying: “Givers need to set limits because Takers never do.”
Miller agrees. “While friendships do not need to be a 50/50 give-and-take every day, they should balance out over time,” she tells Bustle. “If you’re the one always giving, or feel emotionally drained after spending time with a friend, it’s worth looking at the friendship and determining how much value it is adding to your life.”
4. How Much You Tell Them
You probably have certain friends who know almost everything about you and others who don’t, and that’s perfectly OK. “Some people have this idea that they need to tell their friends absolutely everything going on in their life,” Bennett says. “If you would like to do that, that is fine, but you are not obliged: You can be as open or private about matters as you would like.” She suggests that if a friend tries to pry, it’s best to be honest with them and say something like, “Thank you for asking, but I would rather not talk about that at the moment.”
Bennett also says to keep in mind that it’s a two-way street. “You need to allow your friends to also feel comfortable keeping some things to themselves,” she says. “Just because they do not want to tell you something, it doesn’t make them any less of a friend and, as a friend, it is your job not to push them.”
5. How You Treat Their Values
One aspect that makes friendships interesting is the fact that you and your friends are not usually carbon copies of each other. In that regard, it’s important to respect the differences between you. “Respect your friend’s values and ask that they respect yours,” Bennett says. “You may not share the same religion, ideas, or political views as your friend, and that’s OK. A healthy friendship allows two people to respectfully believe in very different things.”
It’s not your job to try and convince your friends to come over to your side, nor is it their job to convince you, she says.
6. How You Separate Your Emotions And Well-Being
Although the ability to sympathize with your friend is a great quality to have, you don’t want to get too sucked in as to lose yourself in the process. “One of the main boundaries people must uphold within friendships is keeping their emotions and well-being separate from that of their friends’,” Place says. “We can empathize with, support, care for, think of, and provide for our friends — that’s what we do in meaningful relationships! — but once our emotional state begins to rely on our friend’s emotional state, we’ve got a problem: That’s called codependency.”
Instead, Place advises that you keep your personal identity and well-being separate, in order to maintain your own emotional needs. “Remember, help yourself with your oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs,” she says.
7. How You Affect Each Other's Lives
If you think about your friends right now, you can probably differentiate the ones who truly enhance your life from the ones who do not. “Friends are people you can rely on to support you, cheer for you, and call you out on your stuff in a loving way,” Miller says. “Friends who compete with you, pick fights, and play middle-/high school-style ‘mean girl’ games continuously create storms (then cry about the rain) and often lack the ability to have healthy friendships.”
Bennett agrees. “Everyone knows someone that is just such a pleasure to be around — they have such a contagious positive energy that you can’t help smiling when you are around them,” she says. “And everyone knows someone who is the exact opposite — someone who always has something negative to say and sucks the fun out of everything.” To that point, Bennett says it’s essential to be aware of how your energy affects other people, as well as to be intentional about the mood you bring (or take away) when you’re with people you care about.
8. How You Support Them
You’ve probably had a friend decide to do something you’d never do, even though you tried to talk them out of it. However, it’s their choice. “You need to let your friends make decisions, and mistakes, on their own,” Bennett says. “You’re not always going to agree with what your friend wants to do or who they want to date. While it may be OK to have an open conversation with them about their decisions, it is not OK to tell them what they should do.”
She adds that friendship is about support, it is their life, and they need to feel empowered to own it. “Of course, the same is true for you,” she says. “If a friend is trying to mother you, it may be time to remind them that, while you appreciate their concern, you are very capable of making your own decisions.”
Sumber agrees. “It is essential for any relationship that we receive permission first before offering our advice or opinion about someone else’s life decisions or choices,” he tells Bustle. “This means we need to ask our friend if they are open for feedback before we offer it. Otherwise, we run the risk of overstepping our role in someone’s life and potentially creating distance when we really desire closeness.”
Sumber says people often say they “had to” tell their friend what they thought because they’re one of their best friends — and who else would be that honest? “It’s precisely because you are one of their best friends that you need to support them in their own process, without judgment, and give them the respect they deserve to make their own decisions,” he says.
9. Whether You're Able To Say “No”
“Learn the difference between being agreeable, flexible, and adaptable — which can be healthy in friendships — to being a people-pleaser,” Avilone Bailey, emotional relief catalyst, tells Bustle. “This is a line you must draw for yourself to keep your own self-identity intact.” She says if you recognize that you are a people-pleaser, look within and see what the root cause is for your needing to please others at the expense of your own wants and desires.
It’s not easy to say “no” to a friend, especially when they need your help. However, you cannot say “yes” to everybody. “It can be hard to say ‘no’ to a friend (to some friends more than others), but remember that being a friend doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to everything," Bennett says. "Often, they may even be inviting you somewhere so that you feel included, not because they'll be heartbroken if you can't come."
She says it's important to define your boundaries and priorities, and know when to politely decline. "Remember, they will still be your friend when you wake up the next day," Bennett says.
Place agrees. “If there’s any emotional manipulation, such as guilt or some type of other ‘punishment’ — the silent treatment or passive-aggressiveness — then that’s a huge red flag," she says. "Friends need to be able to say ‘no’ to each other and respect the other’s boundary.”
Sometimes, You And A Friend May Need To Break Up
If all else fails, sometimes you and a friend need to break up, which is never easy. “Sometimes, putting in place boundaries can help create healthier friendships, but sometimes, despite all efforts, nothing changes,” Bennett says. “If you have a friend that continuously disrespects your boundaries, then it may be time to draw a line and decide to let that friendship go.”
She also says it’s important to pay attention to how you feel when you are around certain friends. “Do they support you, encourage you, and lift you up, or are they constantly upsetting you or bringing you down,” Bennett says. “They say that you become the average of the people you spend the most time with, so it is important to choose wisely.” All that said, setting up and implementing boundaries in friendships is important. As a result, you will see your friendships reap the benefits and grow stronger as a result.
This article was originally published on June 11, 2018 and was updated on September 6, 2019.
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