How to Set Healthy Boundaries for Every Type of Friendship

It's simple.

Three Stylish Female Friends Walking Together
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Like any relationship, friendships need physical and emotional boundaries. Without them, friends can feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. Usually, boundaries happen naturally in a friendship. Things such as when to call or hang out can be determined just by spending some time together. Other things, like physical closeness, might need to be communicated in some way. Here are some thoughts on setting boundaries in a friendship. 

Boundaries That Exist for All Friendships

While every friendship is different, there are certain things you must never do or say when you are friends with someone. These include: 

  • No physically abusive behavior
  • No emotional game playing
  • No verbally abusive behavior
  • Being gently honest with a friend versus bluntly hurting their feelings
  • No gossiping behind your friend's back
  • No backstabbing or using a friend for your own gain

When you get past some of the universal boundaries, then it's time to decide what you personally feel comfortable with. For example, do you like to talk on the phone every day? Get an email occasionally? What if you get too many calls or emails? These are things that you need to work out with your friend.

How to Subtly Set Boundaries

It's possible to simply tell your friend when you don't appreciate a boundary being crossed. But giving out a verbal list of likes and dislikes is presumptuous and can set a negative tone right from the start in a relationship. A better option is to subtly give clues to what's acceptable to you.

For example, if you don't like to get a lot of emails (say, more than once a day), you could simply choose not to respond right away. Take longer to get back to your pal, and if she asks where you've been, you could say something like, "Oh, I usually can't get to my email more than once every day." That way your friend will have the subtle hint followed by a verbal instruction.

Let's say you don't enjoy phone calls at night after you get home from work. If your phone rings, you have the option to let it go to voicemail. The next time you talk to your friend, you could mention something like, "I'm so tired after work I just veg out and don't even answer the phone. Can you try me before dinner?" This will let your friend know where you stand with phone calls.

What if your friend just pops by? Some people believe that friends should be able to come over any time of the night or day, while others prefer to be called first. If your friend does just show up, invite your friend in but say something like, "What a surprise! I didn't realize we had plans" or "I was just about to go to the store. Give me a call before you come over next time so I'll make sure to be here."

Enforcing Boundaries

Setting boundaries with friends is one thing, but making sure your friends respect them is something else. While some boundaries might be easy to enforce (such as zero-tolerance for physical or emotional abuse), others may fall into a gray area. Everyone has a different idea of what's comfortable to them, so while one friend may enjoy daily phone calls, another might think that's too clingy.

Pay attention to see if your friend is trying to give you some subtle clues about their comfort level. If they don't seem happy to see you when you pop in, or act funny when you call, ask them what's going on. Some friends are better at communicating preferences than others.

If you have a pal who repeatedly pushes your boundaries, you need to take away one level of subtlety for each "offense." For example, if you have dropped hints that you don't enjoy daily phone calls, ask them instead if you can call them when you feel like talking. Keep in mind that your friend may not even realize they have crossed a boundary.

How to Forgive After Friendship Boundaries Are Crossed

Boundaries take time to develop and are fluid. You may not appreciate daily phone calls now, but if your life changes at some point you might. So if a friend crosses the boundary, forgive them and go back to giving out subtle hints. If you need to talk through some boundaries with your friend, do it in a kind and patient manner.

Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are meant to keep both friends feeling safe and comfortable in a relationship. They are not meant to be rigid or cause tension, so if you're feeling that the boundaries you set are pushing your friend away, then it's time to consider a compromise. The main benefit of boundaries is that you can relax in the friendship and be yourself.

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