Advice Friendship

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Friendships

The limits should exist.

We often treat our friendships as free-flowing relationships with no borders. The idea of instilling friendship boundaries might not even cross your mind. It’s practically drilled into us from the time we’re kids that true friends are there for each other, no matter what.

Then, this message gets repeated over and over again through TV shows and movies. For your best friend, you should drop everything. Make sacrifices. Borrow clothes and don’t return them. Show up to their doorstep unannounced and ask to stay the night.

To a certain extent, friendship is like that. If your bestie is going through a super rough break up, for example, you’re gonna show up with a pint of ice cream and your pajamas. But being there for your friends doesn’t equal putting yourself last.
Friendship Boundaries - women laughing


Why Do I Need Friendship Boundaries?

Without a personal code of what’s acceptable and what’s crossing a line in friendship, you could end up feeling resentful of and disrespected by your BFF.

Think about it like this: setting a boundary with a friend is really no different from asserting yourself at work by not answering emails after five. Your coworkers learn to expect that. It’s a sign of respect when they honor that limitation and don’t expect you to behave differently. OOO means OOO.

Rules and limitations are no different between friends. While it may feel awkward at first to establish a different dynamic, it’s worth it in the long run. Boundaries allow everyone in the relationship to feel good.
Friendship Boundaries - women in conversation


Examples of Friendship Boundaries

1. Be clear about what you do and don’t want to talk about.

With some friends, it probably feels like no topic is off-limits. Or maybe it makes you feel super uncomfy when your friend tries to gossip to you, or asks you again about a touchy subject.

Set a clear boundary the next time it comes up in conversation. Say something like, “I know you mean well when you ask about my ex, but I honestly just don’t want to talk about him anymore. Can we change the subject?”
Friendship Boundaries - women in conversation


2. Set deadlines.

Okay, we know you’re not their boss (hopefully – that would be crossing all sorts of boundaries). But sometimes deadlines are required with besties, too. Particularly if you have those friends who always want to borrow something, but never seem to remember to give it back.

Try communicating a clear deadline before you loan them your favorite pair of boots next time. Explain, “I don’t mind lending you the shoes, but I need them back by next Friday. When can you drop them back off at my place?”
Friendship Boundaries - women in conversation


3. Get real about your time constraints.

We’ve all had that lowkey codependent friend who seems to have all the time in the world to spend with just us. And that’s cool, but it’s also a lot of pressure. Especially if you’ve got sh*t to do.

Before hanging out with the time leech again, clarify the plans. Try saying, “I’m super excited for our lunch date tomorrow! I’m all ears about your new promotion until I have to head out at two to get to a fitness class.”
Friendship Boundaries - women getting brunch together


4. Put an end to teasing.

There’s teasing, there’s incessant teasing, and then there’s just plain bullying. When the joke is at your expense (or it goes on far too long), it stops being funny. It’s particularly hurtful if the punchline is something you’re actually insecure about.

Next time they make the same tired joke about your haircut, say, “I know you’re just kidding, but it’s actually starting to hurt my feelings.” Or, if that feels too direct, try: “That joke was way funnier the first twelve times you told it!”

Clear communication is always best, but a not-so-subtle hint can work in a pinch.
Friendship Boundaries - serious talk


5. Express your annoyance when they’re late.

Sure, it’s more comfortable to brush off tardiness, even when it’s constant. But how can you expect them to change their behavior if they don’t even know you’re pissed?

Next time she shows up to the brunch reservation 30 minutes late with all kinds of excuses, say “I’m glad you made it, but I’m sad that you were so late again. I have to leave at noon, and now our┬átime together will be super short.”

By framing the conversation from a place of care instead of blatant critique, your friend will reflect on what’s really lost when she’s late.
Friendship Boundaries - serious talk


6. Clarify your physical boundaries.

Is your BFF a hugger, and you prefer to have a three-foot radius of personal space at all time? Don’t be afraid to speak up!

You can say something simple like, “It’s not personal, I’m just not a hugger!” Anyone who respects you will respect that.
Friendship Boundaries - women hugging


7. Stop engaging in fiery conversations.

I have personal experience with getting into ideological debates over political differences with friends, and it always ruins the mood. The good news is, you don’t have to participate in these discussions if you don’t want to.

Shut down the argument before it starts by saying, “I respect your opinion, and we can just agree to disagree on this one.”
Friendship Boundaries - women arguing


What If My Friend Isn’t Respecting My Boundaries?

Even after you’ve respectfully asserted your limitations and boundaries, there is always a chance that your friend will ignore them. As easy as it may be to try and rationalize this behavior (“They don’t mean it,” or “We were just raised differently”), you’re only hurting yourself if you keep justifying it.

The bottom line is that boundary-setting is hard work. It takes a level of maturity and confidence in one’s own self to believe you are worthy of setting boundaries. And then it takes even more self-love to follow your gut and assert those feelings, especially to a beloved friend.

So if after all that hard work, your friend shrugs off your hard-won boundaries, it’s time to ask yourself if they are a true friend after all. It’s not easy to end a friendship, but it’s even harder to continuously disappoint yourself as you watch your boundaries getting stepped all over.

By Laura Davis

Laura is the co-founder of Adultescence, a podcast and blog for post grads, where she writes about friendship, dating, and career with the mission of helping guide twenty-somethings through early adulthood. She has written and edited for a variety of lifestyle publications, including Let's Eat Cake, Popular Science, and Flixed.

When she's not typing away on her laptop, you can find Laura working on her MBA at Boston College, listening to Taylor Swift, or sweating it out at an OrangeTheory class. Follow her on Instagram @LauraKristine21 and LinkedIn.

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