Reimagine your Backyard - Boundaries

Abodu Unit


August 22, 2023Backyard Living

Setting boundaries with family creating space: A convo with a family therapist

What are healthy boundaries?

Whether it’s a boundary line between work and home, or maybe a space for friends and family to stay so everyone feels happy and relaxed, our backyard homes give people space.

But we wanted to know more about creating, setting and upholding healthy boundaries in our personal lives, so we asked a marriage and family therapist, Natalie Yates.

Below you’ll learn how to talk about boundaries, what to do when boundaries are compromised, how to talk about setting boundaries with extended family and more.

“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” - Prentis Hemphill

Healthy boundaries are like the guardrails we set up to keep us safe and comfortable in our relationships while protecting our emotional, physical, and mental health.

In practical terms, healthy boundaries might involve saying "no" to requests that don't align with our values, or setting limits around how much time we spend with certain people or in certain situations.

Some characteristics of healthy boundaries include being clear and specific, respectful of our own needs and the needs of others, flexible, consistent, self-protective, assertive, and sustainable.

Healthy boundaries are communicated in an assertive manner, which means that we express our needs and expectations clearly and respectfully. They are also flexible, meaning that we can adjust or revise our boundaries as needed, depending on the circumstances or our changing needs.

Ultimately, healthy boundaries allow us to maintain our sense of self and prioritize our well-being, while also fostering healthy and fulfilling relationships with others.

How do you have a conversation about boundaries with your significant other?

You may worry that you’ll be seen as needy or overly sensitive (side note: we are human and we have needs, and our sensitivities are some of the most beautiful parts of us). You may even worry about harming or losing the relationship by setting a boundary and making things uncomfortable.

However, setting healthy boundaries supports us in deepening and maintaining our relationships. For example, a healthy boundary might involve telling your partner that you need some alone time to recharge, but also acknowledging their feelings and reassuring them that you value the relationship.

This allows you to take care of yourself and your needs, while reassuring your partner that everything is okay in your relationship. Here are some ways to facilitate a conversation about boundaries with your partner:

  • Before talking with your partner, take some time to reflect on your own needs and limits. Consider what behaviors or situations make you uncomfortable, stressed, or overwhelmed, and think about the boundaries you need and want to set.
  • Pick a time and place where both you and your partner can have an open and honest conversation. Try to avoid talking about boundaries when you or your partner are feeling angry, stressed, or distracted. It can be helpful to choose a time when you both are calm, regulated and can really talk things through.
  • When talking with your partner, it's important to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. This helps to avoid making your partner feel attacked and instead focuses on your own feelings and needs.
  • Be specific and clear when communicating your boundaries. Use concrete examples and provide clear guidelines for what behaviors or actions you are comfortable with.
  • Make sure to listen actively to your partner's response without interrupting. Seek to understand their perspective and find a compromise that respects both of your needs and boundaries.
  • Once you've established your boundaries with your partner, make sure to follow through with them. Be consistent in enforcing your boundaries and communicate clearly if they are being violated.

In a healthy relationship, your partner should respect and honor your needs and boundaries.

How do I know when my space and boundaries are being compromised?

Boundaries start with you. Here are some questions to consider asking yourself to identify if your space and boundaries are being compromised:

  • Are you feeling resentful towards someone or something? Sometimes, we can start to feel resentful when our needs and limits aren't being respected, or when we are over-extending ourselves.
  • Are you experiencing anxiety or stress in a specific situation or relationship? Anxiety can be an alarm bell for a compromised boundary. When we feel overwhelmed or like things are out of our control, it can lead to anxiety and stress.
  • Do you often give more time, energy, or resources than you receive? This can lead to feelings of burnout and exhaustion, which can deeply impact our physical and mental health.
  • Are you struggling to be your authentic self in a situation or relationship? Feeling disconnected or dissatisfied within ourselves and our relationships can be isolating and painful, but taking steps to re-establish your boundaries can help.
  • Do you have physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue? Stress and emotional strain can deeply affect our physical health, so it's important to pay attention to how you're feeling.

If you notice any of these signs, it is time to slow things down, check in with yourself, and take steps to protect your well-being. This could look like having a conversation with someone, talking to a therapist, or making time for self-care.

How do I set boundaries without having "the conversation" about them?

While having a conversation about boundaries is often the most effective way to establish clear and respectful guidelines for behavior, it is possible to set boundaries without explicitly discussing them, particularly where a conversation may not be physically or emotionally safe for you to engage in. Your safety is paramount and should not be compromised.

In these situations, you may set boundaries by adjusting your behavior or actions to communicate your limits or preferences to others. This may include saying “no” to requests or invitations, prioritizing your own needs and interests, or creating some physical distance between yourself and others. In some cases, it may be necessary to cut off contact altogether.

It is important to note that while nonverbal communication can be the best option in certain situations to keep you safe, having clear and direct conversations about your boundaries can help ensure that everyone involved understands what is expected and can reduce misunderstandings, or conflicts.

How can I communicate with my partner that I need healthy boundaries from their family?

It’s not uncommon for in-laws or other family members to cause stress between you and your partner. Family is often where people struggle the most when it comes to setting boundaries, so I want to normalize how tough this can be.

Here are some tips for starting the conversation and communicating your need for healthy boundaries with your partner’s family without hindering your relationship:

  • The key is to be kind, gentle, and compassionate here.

  • Choose the right time and place: Pick a time and place where you and your partner can have a private conversation without distractions or interruptions.

  • Be clear and specific: Be clear about what boundaries you need and why you need them. Use "I" statements to express your feelings and needs rather than blaming or accusing language.

  • Express your love and commitment: Let your partner know that you love and care about them and that setting boundaries with their family is important for maintaining a healthy relationship.

  • Focus on your relationship with your partner: Frame your communication in a way that highlights your desire to strengthen your relationship with your partner. Let them know that setting boundaries with their family will help you both have a more satisfying and healthy relationship.

  • Listen to your partner and respect their boundaries too: Allow your partner to express their feelings and concerns about the situation. Be open to their perspective and work together to find a solution or compromise that works for both of you.

  • Offer alternative solutions: Rather than simply saying what you don't want, offer alternative solutions that would be more comfortable for you. Some examples could include suggesting limiting the amount of time you spend with their family or meeting with them in a neutral location.

  • Remember to be gentle with your partner as they navigate setting boundaries with their parents or family members.

How can I strengthen my relationship with my partner through boundaries?

Here are some ways setting boundaries can strengthen your relationship:

  • Promotes honesty: Setting boundaries requires open and honest communication between partners, which can strengthen your relationship and increase intimacy.

  • Creates safety: Boundaries provide a clear framework for how each partner can show up for themselves and each other.

  • Builds trust: When you set boundaries and your partner respects them, it builds trust in your relationship. Trust is an important foundation for any healthy relationship.

  • Establishes expectations: When partners know what is expected of them, they can feel more secure and less anxious in the relationship. This can foster trust and a sense of predictability.

  • Encourages mutual respect: When partners communicate their boundaries clearly, they are demonstrating that they respect themselves and their needs. This sets the tone for a relationship where each partner's boundaries are honored and valued.

  • Promotes communication: By discussing and negotiating boundaries, partners are encouraged to communicate more openly and honestly with each other.

While setting boundaries can be tough at times, there are usually compromises that both partners can make to find a solution that works for everyone. It's important to have an open and honest conversation about your needs and preferences, and to be willing to listen to your partner's perspective as well.

What are some tips and tricks that you recommend for protecting my space?

It's important to prioritize taking care of your mental health and well-being by setting boundaries and protecting your space. Here are some tips and tricks to help you navigate the feelings that arise around your space:

  • Identify your triggers: Take some time to identify what triggers and activates feelings about your space. Is it clutter, noise, or too many people? Once you know your triggers, you can take steps to manage them.

  • Set clear boundaries: Set clear boundaries around your space, whether it's your home, office, or personal space. Communicate your boundaries clearly with others and stick to them.

  • Create a calming space: Create a space that promotes relaxation and calmness, such as a designated meditation or yoga space, a reading nook, or a quiet corner in your home.

  • Declutter regularly: Regularly declutter your space to remove any unnecessary items that may be causing stress or taking up valuable physical or emotional space.

  • Take breaks: Take regular breaks throughout the day to step away from your space and recharge. This can help you avoid burnout and feel refreshed when you return to your space.

  • Practice self-care: Practice self-care regularly to help you feel grounded and centered. This can include meditation, exercise, journaling, or any other activity that helps you feel calm and relaxed.

Remember, setting boundaries and protecting your space is important for your mental health and well-being. By taking steps to create a calming space and prioritize self-care, you can feel more comfortable and at ease in your environment.

You deserve to feel safe, comfortable, and fulfilled in your life and your relationships. Setting healthy boundaries are essential.

Contact Natalie

Natalie Yates (she/hers) Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #139404 C: (415)-562-7072 | Natalie Yates Psychotherapy

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