Boundaries: how can something so important often feel so…vague? As much as you love your friends, there are times when you need to think about how well those relationships are going. There are many ways to set boundaries in friendships, and you may not even realize you need one until you feel suddenly frustrated or disrespected.
But the fact is, boundaries are essential for good health, and they make it possible to have high-quality friendships. Let's dive into why setting boundaries can be difficult and then move on to ways how to set boundaries with friends!
Why setting boundaries in friendships is tough
It might feel difficult to draw a line in the sand with your friends and simply state what is and isn't okay with you. See these examples about times when friendships can be tough to handle where boundaries are concerned.
Your friend is 20 minutes late to meet you…again. While you have a good time hanging out together, it's getting irritating to have to wait around for them all the time.
Also, it's cutting into other activities in your life. And your friend doesn't seem to understand why you can't spend more time with them even when they are late. You aren't sure what to do.
This situation is tricky because one person takes advantage of another's time, but the disrespected person doesn't want to be seen as inflexible or not fun. So they deal with the situation by not setting boundaries in friendships.
Here's another example:
It seems like you are always the one asking your friend to get together. You have a good time when you see each other, but setting things up feels kind of one-sided.
This is challenging because you aren't sure where the other person stands. You're getting mixed messages about whether or not they want to be friends. You may not want to damage the friendship, so you don't ask about it. But it's extremely important you learn how to set healthy friendship boundaries!
Reasons to set boundaries in friendships
There are some significant ways that friends can be disrespectful of your boundaries. Or there may be areas of your life where you weren't aware you needed to set a limit. Remember that everyone has a bad day now and then.
But there's a difference between that and a pattern of disrespect. It's also possible your friend is unaware that they're doing something hurtful or irritating; remember to always explain honestly and be willing to hear their side.
Boundaries in friendships are also important because not setting them can really affect you. In this article for Very Well Mind, Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., says that not setting boundaries can create resentment and stress. To avoid this, see how to fix boundary troubles. Here are some common problems.
Your friend is taking up all your time
This person will often be late for appointments that you've set, like a coffee meet-up or an event. They may overstay their welcome when you get together or be less than understanding when you have to leave due to your own commitments.
If any of these situations sound familiar, you may be dealing with a friend who has trouble respecting time boundaries in friendships.
How to set boundaries in friendships that are time-suckers
Tell your friend in advance that you are only available from (set time) to (set time). If they are late, feel free to leave when you said you would, regardless of whether they are ready to go or not. You can also politely explain that you feel disrespected or frustrated when they aren't on time for meetings.
Your friend's money problems are becoming yours
A friend like this may often want to borrow money or ask you to pay for things when you're out, like food or drinks. They may say they're going to pay you back but then decline to do so or take a long time to do it. This makes your friend's disorganization with money turn into your problem, too.
How to set boundaries in friendships with your finances
You can start by refusing to let your friend borrow money anymore. Be sure to specify at the beginning of meals or events that you want separate checks.
If they ask, you can tell them that you no longer let people borrow money. If this friend gives you a hard time about that, you can explain further or distance yourself a bit from the relationship to see if that helps.
You get unsolicited advice
You know that person that thinks they know better than everyone? That's this friend. They often impose their opinions and ideas when it isn't necessary.
Know that if you're both sharing your thoughts on some matter, it's customary to offer advice to an extent. But if you're getting someone else's opinions on every single thing and find it draining, it's time to put your foot down.
How to set boundaries in friendships for unwanted advice
You can first decide to be more selective about what you tell your friend. Don't give too many details if you're concerned about getting unsolicited advice. Remember that someone telling you their opinion doesn't mean you have to do what they want.
Next, you can try statements like, "That's an interesting thought, but I'm thinking of going with this approach." If this doesn't help, you can explain that although there are times for advice, it isn't required on every occasion.
Your friend is untrustworthy
You may have a friend who lies or is in some other way untrustworthy. This can be anything from suspicion to something undeniable. Untrustworthiness is terrible for any relationship and you should take action.
How to set boundaries in friendships for those you can't trust
Have an honest conversation. Let your friend know you feel this way and explain your reasons for thinking what you do. Do this only if you feel comfortable and want to try to save the friendship. If things don't go well or you still think you can't trust your friend after talking, it may be time for some distance.
Lack of reciprocity
Do you feel like your friendship is one-sided? Maybe your friend is always too busy to hang out. Or perhaps they are willing to, but only if you contact them first. You feel that you're always the one giving in the relationship, and you don't feel equal.
How to set boundaries in friendships that are one-sided
Something needs to change if your friendship doesn't feel like a two-way street. You can try a couple of things. First, give the friend some space and see if they contact you after a while. It could be that they're busy and didn't realize the friendship was one-sided, and will soon ask to get together again.
Another route is to explain. Tell them what's troubling you in a non-confrontational way, describing how you feel. See how they respond and what can be done to fix the friendship. But it's perfectly okay to move on to other friendships if it feels like this one isn't working well anymore.
Disrespect in a friendship can happen in a variety of ways. Perhaps they ignore you, say unkind things, or show in some other way that they aren't placing a priority on your feelings. This can be hurtful, and it definitely isn't the foundation for a good relationship.
How to set boundaries in friendships with disrespectful people
Tell your friend about how this disrespect is affecting you, and bring up examples, so they understand what you mean. Communicate clearly to let them know this behavior needs to change. If you talk and the situation stays the same, you may need to distance yourself from them.
Constant stress overload from always hearing about your friend's problems
Sharing your feelings and things you're going through is normal in a friendship. But there can be a point where you feel that all you do is listen to your friend's problems, while they have little regard for your own. This can become overwhelming fast. Here's what to do.
How to set boundaries in friendships that are overwhelming
There are several ways, the first being to stop the flood of emotions that is constantly being thrown at you. Suppose a friend begins to share all their problems with you with no indication of change on their part.
In that case, you can set a boundary by saying, "I understand you're upset, but I can't talk about that right now.
I don't have the (energy, time, whatever applies)." Or say anything similar that feels right. You might also be careful about how often you talk with this friend to preserve your peace of mind.
What do healthy boundaries in friendships look like?
Healthy boundaries can do wonders for any type of relationship. It's important to know where you stand and what you expect from others.
Boundaries keep things from being vague and allow your friends to see what you need from them. It protects you and can help your friendships be better and stronger.
Here's an example of an interaction among friends with boundaries:
1st Friend: Are you going to that concert this weekend?
2nd Friend: Yeah, I've been planning to for a while now.
3rd Friend: We could carpool if you want. Would you drive?
Friend #2: I don't mind driving there, but I have to leave an hour early. You can ride there with me if you chip in for gas and then get a ride home with someone else.
Friend #1: Is it alright if I leave when you do? You can drop me off at home on your way.
Friend #2: Actually, I'll be going straight home because I have a networking event in the morning.
Friend #1: Okay, no problem. I'll chip in for gas on the way there and ask someone if I can get a ride back with them after.
It's subtle, but you can see how Friend #1 pushed to have their own way on this when Friend #2 already had plans. But fortunately, Friend #2 made those plans clear and set up a boundary so that Friend #1 could understand. This is healthy, and because there is respect on both sides, the friendship can prevail.
Setting boundaries with old friends
Boundaries in friendships can be tricky initially, especially if you are setting them up with old friends who are used to things being a certain way.
But that doesn't mean everything should stay the same! If you notice an area of friendship that needs better boundaries, it's essential to do something about it.
Setting boundaries with new friends
This can be a lot easier because there is no precedent. Even if it feels awkward, establish good boundaries from the beginning of your friendship, and it will be much better later. As situations come up, you'll find ways to do what's best to keep the friendship strong.
Boundaries with co-workers
It isn't thought about as often, maybe, but boundaries also need to be set with your co-workers and manager. You can remain professional while also setting boundaries in friendships at work.
This may often come in the form of time management, being asked to take on extra work, or getting contacted during non-work hours.
It's healthy to let people know upfront when you're available and have clear work expectations with yourself and others. While you might think this could make you seem unprofessional, it's actually the opposite.
How to start setting boundaries in friendships
Healthy friendship boundaries are a challenge sometimes, but your friendships will be much better because of them. Here are some ways how to set boundaries with friends:
1. Decide what your boundaries are
Determine what you don't want to continue with and what makes you feel unappreciated or irritated. Observe what is working well and what isn't, and then make a plan about how you'll handle situations in the future that need new boundaries. This can be things like how often you talk with someone to what type of behavior is tolerated.
2. Have an honest conversation
A good approach is to talk to your friend honestly. There's a chance this person doesn't realize how you feel, and they may change their behavior if they're made aware.
And if you talk and things still don't change, it tells you that the friendship isn't what you thought. Having an honest conversation is a healthy way how to set boundaries with friends.
3. Use consistency
You can't set a boundary and then change it all the time. That is confusing and will leave you frustrated. So be prepared to fight for your boundaries and keep your friendships healthy. Know what you want and what healthy friendship boundaries look like to you.
4. Be able to say no
One of the most essential things with boundaries in friendships is saying no. Even if it's uncomfortable, saying no should always be accepted without needing to explain or defend your answer. So get comfortable with this word, and know that your relationships will be better because of it.
5. Limit the friendship
If boundaries are not respected, or you feel like things aren't going well, limiting your interactions with your friend is okay. You can choose to be not as close or to stop being friends altogether when necessary. Check out our article "How To Navigate The Emotions of Letting A Friend Go" for help.
It is important to know that if your friend is in any way abusive, you can and should stop being friends with that person and seek safety. There's no excuse for bad behavior, and you don't need to tolerate it.
Why boundaries in friendships benefit everyone
Boundaries are good for you, but they're good for your friendships, too. Everyone benefits from having a relationship with clear expectations and the ability to say no when necessary.
Friendships should be built on trust and kindness, not one person doing what the other wants all the time.
Boundaries in friendships are good for you
Setting boundaries in friendships is healthy for you, and your well-being will benefit. Sharon Martin of Live Well with Sharon Martin claims that boundaries can make you more compassionate and help you feel less resentful.
When you feel better, it gives you the chance to be there for others in a meaningful way. You won't feel drained and can instead healthily live your life.
Boundaries are good for your friends
Healthy friendship boundaries also help your friends. It can help them be accountable for themselves, understanding that their actions affect other people. And it may make your friendship stronger and better over time.
Start setting healthy boundaries in friendships
Now you know how to set boundaries with friends that are healthy. While it isn't the easiest thing to realize you need better boundaries or to change, it will benefit you and your friendships so much.
Boundaries in friendships ensure that one person doesn't feel hurt or resentful, while the other isn't oblivious to their feelings or continuing with bad behavior. Honest conversation and being willing to say no are great ways to start.
You will get better at setting up boundaries the more practice you have with it, so keep working at it. Know that it is healthy and good for everyone in the long run. So make it a goal to set healthy friendship boundaries!