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

By Sparklle Rainne (They/Them)|Updated July 7, 2022

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 they enhance our lives in many ways. It can be tough to set a boundary with a friend, especially if it isn't something you're used to. If you're at a place where you want to improve your boundary-setting skills, you might wonder, "How do I set boundaries with a friend, and when should I do it?" Let's discuss how boundary setting can support you and your friendships, how to do it and what to do if you need help.

Why Boundaries Are Important In Friendships

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

  • Boundaries Can Change Patterns.

Sometimes, we get into patterns that we want to change. This is relevant in friendships as well as other parts of life. 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 can 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, it may be that the opposite is true in many cases. Boundaries prevent resentment, meaning they might improve the relationship and support a healthier friendship with no underlying negative feelings.

  • Boundaries Can Promote Self-Care.

Boundaries are 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 irritable, don't feel well, and don't perform optimally at work. If your boundary is, "I need to leave at 9 PM," because that's what allows you to complete your bedtime routine and get enough sleep, that is a way to ensure that this need is met.

  • Boundaries Can Increase Confidence.

Setting boundaries is a practice of understanding what you need and asserting what you need. It's a way to show yourself that your needs matter and deserve to be met. A boundary setting is a way to practice direct communication. This significant skill can boost confidence and self-esteem and aid you in many areas of life, including not just in social situations but also in the workplace, school, and so on.

  • Boundaries Can Make You A Better Friend.

We talked a little bit about how this can prevent resentment, but boundaries can make you a better friend in other ways, too. When your needs are met and your cup is full, you're not just being good to yourself, but it also means that you're more likely to have the threshold to be the best person you can be to other people. If you set boundaries, your friends may realize that they can do the same in their own lives, and you will be able to be there for your friends as your best, most taken-care-of self.

As for when to set boundaries, some potential clues can 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's likely time to set a boundary. Additionally, if you feel that you're giving information about yourself and others that you don't want to give, or if you're giving tangible items or money that you can't give and find that you feel discomfort or regret later on, it is likely time to set a boundary. Understanding the different types of boundaries can help you acknowledge a potential need to set a boundary.

Types Of Boundaries And Examples

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

Time Boundaries: Time boundaries are just what they sound like and relate to the time you have or how you spend your time. An example of a time boundary might be, "I will need to leave in two hours" or "I don't have time that day. Do you happen to be free on Wednesday or Friday instead?"

Material Boundaries: Material boundaries relate to your items, such as money and personal belongings. an example of a temporal boundary might be, "I can't keep you on my phone plan if you aren't able to make payments on time," "I'm not able to let people borrow my car right now," or "you can borrow that shirt, as long as you can give it back by Friday."

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 the protection of 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. If someone crosses an intellectual boundary, it might look like someone who gives you unsolicited advice while putting your choices down or someone who belittles you and puts you down for your ideas and thoughts, 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, this can also look like saying, "I'm not comfortable talking about my sex life" or "that story could reveal someone else's personal information and cross a boundary, so I prefer not to answer that question about my sex life."

This isn't necessarily an extensive list. Some other types of boundaries could include workplace boundaries or spiritual and religious boundaries. But what can you do if you're having trouble setting boundaries with friends?

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're concerned that you'll hurt their feelings, or you find that your boundary isn't respected when you try to set one. Although some of the examples above might be helpful and could even be used as potential starting scripts, what can you do if you are having trouble setting a boundary and are looking for additional thoughts on how to go about it? Here are some tips:

  • Be clear and firm. Though boundaries can be set kindly, your request must be clear and firm. Sometimes, someone may try to push back on your boundaries, which can be challenging. In this case, reiterate the boundary and enforce it. This could look like saying something like, "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 might be noteworthy for you if you are someone who worries about potentially upsetting a friend with your boundary. Use "I" statements and focus on what you need. So, for example, "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/for takeout coffee/etc., instead?" Boundaries aren't an attack; there are 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 setting the boundary you need to set. This is a common activity that people might try in therapy with their therapist.

Learning to set boundaries is a process for many people, and it's okay if you need support and practice. Be gentle with yourself as you learn. A therapist can help with boundary setting in more ways than one in many cases and could be a helpful addition to your support system in this process.

Online Therapy

Online therapy through BetterHelp is a convenient way to get quality mental health support from a licensed professional. BetterHelp is often more affordable than traditional; in-person therapy; without health insurance, financial aid may be available for those who need it. Research shows that online therapy effectively improves symptoms seen in a range of mental health conditions. Just like in-person therapy, it's a confidential place to talk about anything else on your mind, including friendships and other parts of life. Over 20,000 licensed, independent providers with varying specialties offer therapy on the BetterHelp platform. If you want to change therapists or cancel your plan at any point in time, we make it easy to do it.

Ready to get started? Sign up for BetterHelp or read our FAQs and therapist reviews to learn more.

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