If we’re being honest, family relationships can be some of the most difficult. But healthy relationships with family members are a fundamental part of well-being. Although it can be challenging to communicate your needs clearly and respectfully, setting boundaries with family members is the best way to feel secure and respected. Of course, like most things, setting family boundaries is easier said than done. So, keep reading for tips and best practices about how to set boundaries with family.
What are Boundaries with Family Members?
Boundaries, in general, provide us with emotional, physical, moral, and financial safety and protection. Boundaries with family members look different, depending on the situation. In some cases, people choose to set boundaries with family members because of emotional, physical, or psychological harm. These boundaries might look like:
- Not attending holiday gatherings when a particular family member is present
- Not tolerating hitting, yelling, or cussing in arguments and removing yourself from a situation if that occurs
- Keeping your relationship status private and not discussing it with all or certain family members who harass you about it
However, boundaries aren’t always a result of harm. In fact, it’s beneficial to set boundaries within healthy relationships as well. These boundaries might look like:
- Allowing your child to stay out until 10:00 PM with her friends as long as she checks in with you every hour, on the hour
- Asking your spouse not to share your financial information or situation with other family members
- Keeping your visits with family members to two hours or less, two times per month, and no more than that
Setting boundaries with family members enables you to maintain healthy relationships while still taking care of yourself and your needs.
How to Set Boundaries with Family: 5 Tips and Best Practices
1. Define Your Boundaries for Yourself
Before you start setting boundaries with family members, you need to be clear on what the boundaries are and why they’re important. The more confident you are with your boundaries and the “why” behind them, the easier it will be to communicate them with family. Consider what you want and the boundaries that will help ensure you get what you need.
2. Clearly Communicate Your Boundaries with Confidence
When communicating your boundaries, be as direct, clear, and kind as possible. It’s common for people who don’t have boundaries in their life to get defensive when you share yours. A family member might even get angry or say incorrect things like you don’t love or care about them.
It might be hard to hear these things, but it’s important to remember your “why” behind your boundaries. In most cases, boundaries help create healthier, more positive relationships. While the other person might not see that initially, that could change with time. Either way, courageous self-advocacy is essential in setting family boundaries as it allows you to identify your values and desires without compromising the well-being of others.
3. Share the “Why” Behind the Boundaries
You don’t always have to explain why you’re setting certain boundaries with someone. However, you can share your “why” if you think it would help the other person understand where you’re coming from.
Once you do, actively listen to their perspective, validate it, and express appreciation for their understanding if they accept your boundaries. Showing patience and staying calm is also essential when communicating difficult topics.
4. Reassure the Family Member
It’s not your responsibility to make someone feel ok or better about your boundaries. This is especially true if you’re setting a boundary to protect yourself from physical or verbal harm. You don’t owe the person anything.
However, not all boundaries need to be set harshly. For example, if you’re setting boundaries with your spouse or child, you may reassure them that the boundary doesn’t mean you don’t want a relationship with them. But, on the contrary, you want the relationship to be even better.
5. Reinforce the Boundaries You Set
Setting boundaries with family members isn’t often a one-and-done deal. If your family isn’t used to respecting your boundaries, it may take a while for them to remember and be ok with respecting them. What’s most important is that you protect yourself and your boundaries.
For example, if you set a boundary not to share information about your relationship status with a particular family member, and they ask about it, here are ideas of ways to respond:
- “Thank you for caring. However, I don’t feel comfortable talking about my relationship status.”
- “As you might recall, I won’t be discussing my relationship status.”
- “I don’t have anything to share with you about my relationship status.”
Then you can change the subject or leave the room if they don’t like or respect your wishes.
What are Some Healthy Boundaries to Set with Family?
If you have nothing specific in mind but want to get familiar with setting family boundaries, here are four ways to begin protecting your well-being in relationships.
- Value your time and ask others to do the same; for example, let your mom know you only have 30 minutes to chat on the phone and get off once that time is up.
- Don’t participate in family gossip; for example, actively change the subject or remove your phone number from a group chat where gossip spreads.
- Practice saying “no” instead of always being a people-pleaser; for example, if you don’t want to attend a family gathering, don’t attend. (It’s that simple, even though learning to say “no” when you’re used to saying “yes” to appease everyone takes practice.)
- Learn to walk away from situations or conversations that make you uncomfortable; for example, if a conversation is getting heated and you’re not comfortable with someone’s tone or words, leave the room.
How Do You Set Boundaries with Family Members Without Feeling Guilty?
If you’re not used to setting family boundaries, you might feel bad or guilty at first. If those feelings arise, remember that it’s okay to ask for things such as respect, space, trust, and understanding without feeling guilty. Ultimately, your number one responsibility is to take care of yourself, so ensuring your needs are respected is crucial to establishing healthy boundaries. Any reluctance or guilt about setting family boundaries comes from a misunderstanding: boundaries aren’t meant to keep people out but rather encourage honest communication and mutual respect.