Setting Boundaries With Love

by Kahlia Meeuwsen, Relationships Columnist

Published in Relationships on 24th October, 2018

With the holidays on the way, we can often be reminded of family members who seem to have no boundaries. Maybe they get nosy about your personal life, or decide to give your children extra treats when you've already cut them off. No matter what they do, setting boundaries can be immensely helpful in creating respect for your needs. We're here to tell you how to set them with love.

setting boundaries in a relationship

What Are Boundaries?

Think about when you're teaching a child how to behave appropriately. Children may not always understand when to use an indoor voice, or how to respond politely. Consequently, we often need to have consequences in place to remind them what behaviors are okay at a given time.

Sometimes, adults need to be reminded as well. Setting boundaries means deciding what kinds of behaviors or conversational topics are okay for you, and creating consequences for those that aren't. For most, this just reminds other family members that they need to behave in appropriate ways. Even adults can need a little reminding sometimes!

Why Are They Important?

We all have at least one family member who likes to create drama, get into the private business of others, try to embarrass you or undermine your rules as a parent. There are really a lot of reasons out there for creating some healthy boundaries.


Having boundaries in place can show others that behaving in these ways won't be tolerated. Depending on the family member, it can be a gentle reminder or escalate into something firmer. In most cases, you can set them lovingly, and family members will know to avoid certain topics or actions.

How Can You Set Them Lovingly?

For the most part, we don't want to create an argument or fight, nor do we want to be on the offensive. After all, these family members often have good intentions, but just need to be told when you don't like something. Here are some ways that you can set loving boundaries for those family members.

Plan Them Out Well

Start by sitting down and thinking about the kinds of behaviors you know are likely to happen with your family. Then, think about the ones you don't like. Making a list can often help in this endeavor, so that you have a clear vision of what boundaries you want to set.

If you don't want to talk about why you're single, how the job hunt is going or any other topic that makes you uncomfortable, make sure to write those down too. You may also want to create a scale to rank the behaviors from least to most troublesome.

Keep Them Clear

It's important to have clear parameters for your boundaries. Some of your boundaries might be quite clear, like that you don't want to talk about a certain topic, or that other family members should not give your children candy after you've told them no.

However, come others might not be as clear or you may need to work on a case-by-case basis. It can also help if you let them know when something is acceptable. For example, if you don't want them to call you at work, but they are welcome to call you on the weekends.

Avoid Ultimatums

You can have problems with boundaries that are absolute, as they can sometimes turn into toxic ultimatums. While you're forming your boundaries, it's a good idea to keep a close leash on "never" or "always" in your wording.


There are absolutely times when you want the other person to never do something, but it isn't really required that you use the word never. For example, you can simply say "please don't do X". It's also important to make sure they aren't vague, as then there won't actually be boundaries to follow. These can include "don't spend too much money today".

Keep Them Direct

Direct boundaries make them harder to avoid, and clearer for the person they are directed to. For example, you can ask a family member not to call you when they've had too much to drink. Make sure to let them know under exactly what circumstances something is not okay.

Another common example would be "that's not a topic I'm interested in talking about". It's simple, clear, and lets the other person know that you don't want to discuss it, and therefore won't. If they press the matter, having clear consequences prepared is a good way to go.

Stick To "I" Phrases

Using these phrases can help you to state your boundaries in a way that doesn't attack or blame them. Rather than saying "you need to stop bringing up my relationship", saying "I don't want to talk about that" shares your boundary without being abrasive.

As a result, it's a good way to diffuse the situation as well as make it clear that you aren't tolerating the behavior. When you phrase the statement this way, you also aren't ordering the other person to do something or not do something, just that you won't be involved in it.

Wrap Them In Love

This can be a difficult one. When a behavior or topic really irritates you, it can be easy to come off like you're on the offensive. This just creates a scene, causes more drama and makes the whole situation more of an annoyance for you.


However, if you calmly and firmly diffuse the situation, you can often avoid a scene. Of course, this also depends on the person you're setting boundaries with. In some cases, they may try to walk right over your boundaries or create a scene themselves when they don't get their way. Keep in mind that if you stay calm, they are the ones who end up looking like a dramatic fool, not you.

How To Ensure Boundaries Work

Some family members won't be difficult to set boundaries with, but may just not be used to them. Meanwhile, others may push back. Because of that, it's wise to make sure you have strategies for allowing them to work.

Decide And Stick To Consequences

Varying consequences can help with different people you need to set consequences with. For most, stating the boundary once or twice is enough, but others can be more difficult. As such, making sure there are consequences can help with maintaining the boundary can be very useful.

Different consequences will be needed in different situations. For example, if there is a topic you don't want to discuss and the person is pushing your boundary, you can warn them that you'll walk away and then do so if they continue to push. You do not owe them your conversation if they refuse to respect your boundaries.

Consequences can escalate, or get more serious for other situations. For example, family members who don't respect your parental rules for your children can receive "time outs", where you and your children do not visit for a set period of time. In other cases, you may choose to not have your children spend time with that family member without you present.

Use Your Actions

In many of these cases, the actions you take will speak louder than the words. The words you use are made to impart knowledge of the boundary and warn them about the consequences.

relationship goals

When it comes to laying down the law, actions are going to be far more effective. These actions actually show family members that you're serious. It's very similar to telling a misbehaving child you'll take a toy away. They may not believe it at first, but they'll get the picture once you've done it.

Set Them With Logic Rather Than Emotions

The best way to keep control of the situation as a whole is to remain calm and logical. Don't worry about trying to get the best of the family member, put them in their place or otherwise use words to upset them. The consequences will show them enough, all you have to do is make use of them.

When a family member is becoming difficult, it can be so hard to keep your cool. However, it's a much more effective way to handle the situation, that keeps you from expending emotions you don't need to. So state your boundaries and stick to them, calmly but firmly.

Don't Be Afraid To Cut Contact

Some family members have a history of difficulty, and will get even more difficult when you place boundaries in front of them. Through these actions, family members can show that they don't have respect for you as a person, and it's time to reconsider the relationship.

If a family member is consistently trying to walk over your boundaries, they aren't a healthy person to keep around in your life. In these times, it's helpful to remember that you don't owe anyone a permanent place in your life, even if they are related to you. Spend your time on those who love, respect and appreciate you, and who are understanding of your boundaries.

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