How To Set Boundaries With Family

Updated January 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It can be difficult to set boundaries with our family and those we care about deeply. However, there can be many benefits to setting boundaries, such as improved relationships, increased confidence, and more effective communication. You may set many types of boundaries, such as those regarding time, physical touch, arguments, emotions, intellect, social media, diet, finances, and communication. To set an effective boundary, you might plan it out ahead of time, prepare for pushback, maintain boundaries with yourself, follow through on your words, and reward yourself after the fact. If you have a hard time setting boundaries, working with a therapist online or in person can help you develop this valuable skill.

Learn To Set Healthy Boundaries.

Mental Health Benefits Of Setting Boundaries

Although it can be challenging to set boundaries, doing so can result in a multitude of benefits, such as better relationships, improved personal health and well-being, increased confidence and assertiveness, and more effective communication. Setting boundaries can also help you learn to respect others’ boundaries.

Types Of Boundaries

There can be many types of boundaries that you may put in place.

  1. Time boundaries can help you manage your time. 

A time boundary might be, “We can’t be there before 11:00 a.m.”

  1. Physical boundaries usually relate to physical space and touch. 

A physical boundary might be a limit you set on how close family can stand next to you or how you’re touched (“I’m not comfortable with giving X a kiss on the cheek. Can we fist bump instead?”)

  1. Fight boundaries can defend you emotionally and physically.

It can be normal to argue with families at times, but setting boundaries as to what can and cannot be said and done during a fight can serve to defend all parties.

  1. Emotional boundaries generally relate to your feelings and emotions. 

An example of an emotional boundary might be, “I understand that you don’t mean anything by it, but it hurts my feelings when you use that nickname. Please call me by my first name instead.” You may even have to take it a step further and say, “I know that I stated that I am not comfortable with being called that/with that topic being brought up. If you do say it again, I will have to leave.”

  1. Intellectual boundaries often include thinking processes or perceptions about knowledge.

For example, “I know I asked you to please not comment negatively about my spouse not having a degree. If you put my spouse down while we are on the phone again, I will need to hang up.”

  1. Social media boundaries may include what can and cannot be posted on social media platforms. 

Perhaps you prefer for photos of your children not to be posted on social media, or maybe you’d like families to ask you before posting content that includes or involves you.

  1. Food boundaries can be established to place limitations on what you eat. 

If you’re a vegetarian, but your family pressures you to eat meat, for example, you might clearly inform them that you will not eat meals with them if they continue to disrespect your dietary preferences.

  1. Material boundaries usually relate to finances and personal possessions. 

A material boundary might be, “I can’t loan you money” or “No, you cannot borrow the new shirt I just bought.”

  1. Communication boundaries can set protocol for conversations. 

Having a set cut-off time for talking on the phone can be one way to draw the line for communicating. By doing so, you may prioritize your need to do other things. Your communication boundaries could include the language and device used for communication as well.

As you can see, many of the boundary types can overlap, which may make it important that you determine in advance what course of action you will take with your loved ones. Healthy boundary setting often requires set expectations and the discipline to maintain them consistently. Many people appreciate clearly set limitations and may be willing to abide by them to preserve their relationship with you. 

Setting Boundaries With Family

Imagine you’re invited to a family gathering for dinner. Everyone has been invited to arrive at 4:00 p.m. to include time for conversation. You are an adult, and you live 90 minutes away. You have decided you’d like to leave by 8:00 p.m., but you are receiving pushback from some families . 

You may not be able to control how other people act, but you can accept responsibility for yourself, especially when your desire for respect is strong. Here are five steps you might take to establish clear boundaries with your family in this situation:

1. Think About What You’ll Say In Advance

It can be helpful to make sure that your boundary is clear and think of how you will verbalize it. For those who are new to setting limits, role-playing may be helpful. It can be common for therapists to role-play boundary setting with their clients, and if you work with a therapist, you may be able to ask your therapist to work with you in this way.

2. Prepare For Pushback

Consider what you could do to stick with your decision if there’s pushback. For example, you might say, “I know you like having the family together on holidays, but I have a long drive ahead. I appreciate getting to spend time with everyone, but to get home safely, I must leave here by 8:00 p.m.”  The host may respond by saying, “Oh, dinner won’t be ready until 9:00 p.m.” or, “It’s okay if you stay just a bit later. We haven’t even had dessert yet!”

3. Establish A Healthy Boundary With Yourself 

There may be times like the one in our example when people, including families, may not immediately respect your boundaries. At this point, their behavior may require that you set a line of demarcation for yourself. This can be similar to setting a parameter with another person, but this time, you set it with yourself. 

Let’s say that you set a boundary with a family by asking them to honor your time boundaries. Although you said you would have to leave by 8:00 p.m., you may need to be prepared to leave at that time, even if dinner isn’t ready yet. You might say something like, “I know you planned a wonderful dinner, and the best part has been getting to visit with everyone. However, I really must leave by 8:00 p.m. I’m asking you to respect my time.”

  1. Follow Through On Your Words 

If you told your family you would leave by a certain time, you may simply leave. You can walk away knowing that you are living up to the standard you set for yourself. You are being accountable to the person who matters most: yourself. It can be tough, but this can enforce your boundary. Making yourself a priority can be imperative in these situations. 

  1. Reward Yourself After The Fact

Even when you know that it’s the healthiest thing for you to do, setting boundaries with family can be tough, especially when you must walk away. Taking time for yourself can be helpful, and self-care might look like speaking with your support system, doing something kind for yourself (listening to a favorite podcast, making art, taking a bath, and so on), or using outlets and coping skills you know are helpful for you, like physical activity or breathing exercises.

Learn To Set Healthy Boundaries.

Online Therapy Can Help You Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries can be challenging, especially if you’ve never tried to do so before. A licensed therapist can be a valuable resource who may teach you how to set boundaries and utilize different exercises, such as role-playing, to help you practice the process of setting a boundary. However, it may not always be convenient to attend therapy in person, and that’s where online therapy can be a helpful alternative.

Online therapy can be a safe space to discuss setting clear boundaries with family and learn to navigate familial relationships in general. Research shows that online therapy can be an effective way to improve self-esteem and self-compassion, both of which can be essential for those who are learning to set boundaries with families and others.


Setting boundaries with the people you care about can be challenging. Still, boundaries can be beneficial in many ways. They may increase your confidence, help you communicate more effectively, and improve your relationships. Several of the boundary types you may set can include those having to do with finances, emotions, arguments, social media, intellect, diet, communication, physical touch, and time. You might plan out your boundaries ahead of time, get ready to experience pushback, maintain your own personal boundaries, follow through on what you say, and give yourself a reward after setting a boundary. Working with a licensed mental health professional can be an effective way to learn how to set boundaries in an effective and healthy way.

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