By Christine Murray, Healthy Relationships Initiative Director

Although you can’t control another person’s actions, that doesn’t mean that you should simply allow other people to continue to treat you in ways that are damaging to you, your relationship, and other people involved.

It’s important to communicate your boundaries to the other person. Only they can decide if they’ll honor or violate your boundaries, but it’ll be easier for you to determine if they’ve crossed your boundaries if you are certain you’ve communicated the boundaries to them.

Try the following affirmation as you’re in the process of discovering, communicating, and maintaining your boundaries: “I have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.”

With this background of you acknowledging that you are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, I suggest the following steps for boundary setting in a chaotic relationship situation.

  1. Engaging in self-reflection: Identify your needs for how you want to be treated within the context of that relationship.
  2. Turning insight into boundaries: Translate the needs you identified in Step 1 into boundaries for your relationship. Identify which behaviors will and will not be acceptable to you in the relationship.
  3. Determining how to communicate your boundaries: Take time to think through the most positive way you can communicate your boundaries to the other person. Consider how you can convey these in a non-threatening manner, so that the other person will be least defensive and most receptive to your needs.
  4. Communicating your boundaries: Find a good time that feels relatively calm and stable. Be calm and clear. If you’re confident in your needs, communicate them firmly but in a caring manner. To the extent you feel it’s necessary, share the rationale for your boundaries. However, if you’re certain about them, avoid getting into a debate them with the other person. You can say, “I’ve told you what I would like to see in our relationship. This is important to me. It’s your choice if you’ll choose to honor this request, but I hope you will consider it and my needs.”
  5. Responding to boundary violations: If the other person violates a boundary you’ve communicated clearly to them, consider the best way to respond. You can remind them of your request through another conversation. You may choose not to respond, such as if they call you at an hour that you asked them not to call you. Take time to determine the best course of action.
  6. Observing the other person’s response to your boundaries: Notice the extent to which the other person honors your boundaries. If the other person frequently violates your boundaries, it may be a sign of their lack of respect for you. On the other hand, when someone respects your boundaries, this can help to re-establish trust and respect in the relationship.
  7. Choosing your next steps: As you begin to be more comfortable with understanding and communicating your boundaries, you may identify new boundary issues to address. You may notice other boundary violations in other areas of your life. Stay mindful of your boundaries and how other people respond to them over time, and repeat the steps above as needed.
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