How To Set Boundaries With Friends—And When To Do It

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Unlike other connections in our lives, such as those we have with relatives and co-workers, we get to choose our friends. These social connections matter, and research shows they can enhance our lives in many ways. It can be challenging to set a boundary with a friend, especially if it isn’t something you’re used to. 

Below, we’ll discuss how boundary setting might support you and your friendships, how to set boundaries, and what to do if you need help.

Want to learn more about the role of boundaries in relationships?

How to set boundaries with friends

Let's say that you identify a need to set a boundary with a friend, but you're nervous about how it could impact the relationship. You might be concerned that you'll hurt their feelings or find that your boundary isn't respected when you try to set one. If you are having trouble setting a boundary, you might consider the following tips: 

  • Be clear and firm. Although boundaries can be set kindly, you may find more success if your request is also clear and firm. Sometimes, someone may try to push back against your boundaries, which can be challenging. In this case, you can reiterate the boundary and enforce it by saying, "I let you know that I did not want advice on that topic. If it comes up again, I will have to hang up the phone for now and talk to you later."
  • Be mindful of your language. This step might help if you are someone who worries about potentially upsetting a friend with your boundaries. Consider using "I" statements and focusing on what you need. For example, you might state, "I'm uncomfortable dining in restaurants right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. I understand that everyone is in a different spot with that. Can we meet in the park or order some takeout together?” Boundaries don’t have to sound like an attack; there are often ways to set them kindly.
  • Plan ahead. It can be helpful to plan what to say before you say it. Sometimes, role-playing can be valuable, especially if you feel nervous about a boundary you need to set. This is a common activity that people might try with a therapist.

Learning to set boundaries can be a process for many people, and it's okay if you need support and practice. Try to be gentle with yourself as you learn. A therapist may be able to help with boundary setting and serve as a helpful addition to your support system during this process.

When to set a boundary

Some potential clues may help you know when a boundary needs to be set with a friend. If you feel resentful, irritated, or hurt by what someone else is doing or saying and haven't brought it up, it may be time to set a boundary. Additionally, if you feel that you're giving up information about yourself that you don't want to provide, or if you're giving away items or money that you can't give at this time, it may be time to set a boundary. 

Understanding different types of boundaries may help you acknowledge a potential need to set one.

Why boundaries are important in friendships

Why are boundaries so important in friendships? Here are some potential benefits of setting boundaries:

Boundaries can change patterns

Sometimes, we get into patterns that we want to change. When we want to change a pattern, our needs might also change. For example, maybe you are in a pattern where you are used to allowing friends to borrow money from you. Setting boundaries may help you change that pattern.

Boundaries can prevent resentment

One of the challenges many people face when setting boundaries is that they feel it'll hurt a person or their relationship with that person. However, the opposite may be true in many cases. Boundaries may prevent resentment and support a healthier friendship with no underlying negative feelings.

Boundaries can promote self-care

Boundaries can be a way to take care of yourself. For example, maybe your friends pressure you to stay out later than you want. You're an early riser with a job requiring you to wake at a certain time, and when you don't get enough sleep, you find yourself not feeling well. If your boundary is that you need to leave at 9 PM because that's what allows you to complete your bedtime routine and get enough sleep, your boundary could be a way to take better care of both your mind and body.

Boundaries can increase confidence

Setting boundaries is a practice of understanding and asserting what you need. It can serve as a way to show yourself that your needs matter and deserve to be met. Boundary setting can help you practice direct communication. This significant skill can boost confidence and self-esteem and aid you in many areas of life, including in social situations, school, the workplace, and so on.

Boundaries can make you a better friend

When your needs are met, you may have the capacity to be the best version of yourself with other people. If you set boundaries, your friends may realize that they can do the same in their own lives, and you can be there for them as your healthiest self.

Types of boundaries and examples

At varying times in your life, you may need to learn how to set boundaries with a mix of different people, including your friends. Here are six common types of boundaries you might encounter with friends:

  • Material boundaries: Material boundaries relate to the tangible items you own, such as money and personal belongings. An example of a material boundary might be, "I'm not able to let people borrow my car right now."
  • Physical boundaries: Physical boundaries relate to your personal space, physical touch, and physical needs. An example of a physical boundary might be, "I have a peanut allergy, so please do not bring food with peanuts to the potluck," or "Can we opt for a handshake instead of a hug?"
  • Emotional boundaries: Emotional boundaries relate to your emotional well-being. An example of an emotional boundary might be, "Movies on this topic are tough for me to watch. Is there another you've been wanting to see?" or, "I don't feel good when people use that nickname. Please call me by my first name instead."
  • Intellectual boundaries: Intellectual boundaries relate to your thoughts and ideas. Crossing an intellectual boundary might look like someone who gives you unsolicited advice while putting your choices down, or someone who belittles you for your ideas, whether overtly or covertly. An example of an intellectual boundary might be, "I respect that we have different thoughts on this, but I know that this is the right choice for me," or "It seems like this topic often results in an argument. I am willing to agree to disagree. Can we change the subject?"
  • Sexual boundaries: Sexual boundaries relate to both sex and topics related to sex. In sexual relationships, a sexual boundary could sound like, "I don't feel like having sex tonight. Would you want to cuddle and watch a movie?" In friendships, however, sexual boundaries can also look like saying, "I'm not comfortable talking about my sex life," or, "That story could reveal someone else's information and cross a boundary, so I prefer not to answer that question about my sex life."

The above isn't necessarily an exhaustive list. Some other types of boundaries could include workplace boundaries, spiritual and religious boundaries, and digital boundaries related to texting and phone calls.

Want to learn more about the role of boundaries in relationships?

Talk to a counselor about setting boundaries

If you’ve tried to set boundaries with your friends and aren’t finding success, it may be beneficial to speak with a mental health professional. Online therapy can be a convenient way to receive quality mental health support from a licensed counselor without the traditional barriers associated with mental health care. BetterHelp can provide a safe place to talk about anything on your mind, including friendships and boundaries, just like with in-person therapy. 

Thousands of qualified, independent providers with varying specialties offer therapy on the BetterHelp platform, which means you can connect with someone who has experience with whatever you might be facing. With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist through live chat, phone, or videoconferencing. Also, you can contact your therapist at any time in between sessions via in-app messaging. This capability may be helpful if you want to message your therapist about conversations you’ve had about boundaries in between sessions.

The effectiveness of online therapy

Research shows that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of challenges. One literature review found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) is effective for various psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common therapeutic framework that aims to teach people how to replace their unhelpful thoughts with more positive ones.


Setting boundaries may help preserve your physical and mental health, but sometimes it can be difficult to know how to set boundaries with friends. If you’re used to saying “yes” to everyone, it may feel challenging to begin saying “no” when you need to. Working with a therapist may help you build your self-confidence and understand your needs on a deeper level. From the comfort of your home, you can meet with an online therapist who may be able to equip you with the tools you need to set boundaries with your friends and stick to them. Take the first step toward learning to set boundaries with friends and reach out for support from BetterHelp.
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