Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
How To Set Boundaries With Friends
Published Nov 9th, 2020 & updated on May 28th, 2021
Setting boundaries can sound like a scary concept, especially when it comes to you family, friends and partners. Do you just tell them no? Do you write out a paragraph-long text?? Yell out your boundaries on Facebook in ALL CAPSSS?? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s start with a definition. Natalie Asayag (our in-house mental health professional here at DiveThru) says “a boundary is a clear line or limit you draw with those in your life to maintain healthy relationships with the intent that you don’t feel overextended or taken advantage of.” It’s a valuable practice to protect your peace and respect yourself. Let’s get to it and teach you how to set boundaries with friends!
While it can be challenging to set healthy boundaries, it does get easier to recognize them once you get the hang of it. Think of a situation you’ve been in with a friend that really bothered you. Maybe they keep coming to you for relationship advice that they never actually take. They might borrow your stuff and give it back in less-than-ideal condition (ummm, that stain wasn’t there before…). Or maybe they’re guilty of constantly flaking on your plans last-minute. Sound familiar?
No matter what type of boundary-crossing you’re dealing with, it’s never too late to set boundaries with friends. Just because you haven’t put them in place yet, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard and R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ed!
Types of Boundaries
One of the ways you can build healthy, strong friendships that last is through setting boundaries! Without them in place, we can feel disrespected, uncomfortable or violated by our friends. If these feelings are pushed aside, eventually they’ll build up resentment and lead to blow-ups, fights, or even the end of the friendship altogether. Hmm, not ideal.
According to PsychCentral, 5 different types exist! Will you get tested on these? No. Will we ask your mom if you’ve been practicing these on your own time? Also no.
But knowing the different types of boundaries is super important. It will help you navigate your feelings in different scenarios and how you can address things that make you go yikes please don’t ever do that again. Let’s get into it!
1. Physical Boundaries
These boundaries are your comfort level with touch and personal space. When physical boundaries aren’t respected, you might feel uncomfortable or violated. Like when you’re picking up red peppers at the grocery store and someone reaches right beside your head to grab the zucchini they needed…no, sir.
Always speak up about your physical boundaries, even if it’s a teensy bit awk. Never feel like you have to set them aside to avoid potentially hurting someone’s feelings. If it’s a friend who gets too close or boldly breaks your personal bubble, you’ve gotta have a convo with them. Physical needs like sleeping, eating, and drinking water (super important, obvs) are also part of physical boundaries.
We went ahead and brainstormed some examples to help you better visualize physical boundaries. Feel free to use these! We won’t get mad.
“I appreciate the sentiment but I’m really not a hugger.”
“Thanks for the invite, but I’m actually pretty tired. I’ll come out with you guys next time.”
“My room is my private space. Please don’t come in without asking.”
“I’m super hungry. I’m gonna grab a bite to eat before we hang out.”
“Could you not touch my arm like that? I don’t like it.”
2. Emotional Boundaries
Setting emotional boundaries with friends can be tough. Part of being a friend means being there for each other, right? Trueee. But it’s also okay to admit when you’re not in the right headspace to be there for someone else. You’re not helping anyone if you’ve got nothing in your tank. Emotional boundaries are also about recognizing emotional needs and validating feelings. Not only that, but emotional boundaries are also about communication. If your feelings are being put down or ignored altogether — not cool.
Here we go again, with some examples to help our bbfs out. That’s you, you’re the bff.
“My date was the worst! Are you okay with hearing about it right now?”
“This isn’t a great time for me to talk.”
“It really sucks when I share things with you and my feelings are criticized or judged.”
“I’m sorry you’re going through this. Honestly, I’m not in a good place to be there for you right now. Could we talk about it later?”
“I don’t really feel comfortable talking about this topic. Can we change the subject?”
3. Material Boundaries
This one is probably a little more obvious. Material boundaries include the possessions you have, how you share them and how you want them to be treated. They can be violated if someone loses or wrecks your stuff. If you’ve got friends who just expect that you’ll say yes when they ask to borrow your things, we feel for you. It feels almost like you’re being taken advantage of, which you are. Lending money is another situation that can turn suuuuper awk if a friend doesn’t respect the boundaries you’ve put in place, like when you expect to be paid back. We tend to easily dismiss these boundaries, especially if your personality is non-confrontational. Be firm in the material boundaries you ask of your friends.
Here are 5 ways to do that!
“Sure, you can borrow my boots! But I need them back by Friday.”
“I can’t lend you any money. But is there another way I can help you out?”
“Actually, I don’t let people drive my car. It’s just a rule I have.”
“I know you want to try a sip, but I don’t share my drinks.”
“If you wear my jumpsuit to that wedding, please wash it before you give it back.”
4. Intellectual Boundaries
Don’t worry, it’s not as deep as it sounds. Intellectual boundaries means respecting your thoughts and ideas without them being dismissed or shut down. It’s okay to disagree with friends or have different opinions! But if a conversation is taking a turn for the worst and could potentially hurt feelings, it’s okay to shut it down. You get to choose where to draw a line.
If your intellectual boundaries get crossed, you can always whip out one of these statements.
“I get what you’re saying. I think we just have different opinions on this.”
“We can talk about this more later, if you want? I don’t think a friend’s birthday party is the best time or place for this conversation.”
“We don’t seem to be agreeing on this, maybe it’s best for us to just drop it.”
“It’s okay for you to disagree with me, but it’s not okay to put me down.”
“This type of discussion never seems to work between us. Let’s avoid this topic and move on.”
5. Time Boundaries
Time boundaries can really put strain on a friendship if both sides aren’t on the same page. Violating your time boundaries might include your friend constantly showing up late to your plans. Do they tend to cancel literally an hour before you’re supposed to meet? Not cool. Do they get mad when you tell them you’re busy? Also not cool. Your time is valuable and it’s a good idea to make sure your friends understand that too if you want to maintain a healthy friendship!
So how do you set time boundaries with your friends? Like this!
“I can come, but only for an hour.”
“Actually, I’ve already made plans. Does another day work for you?”
“I don’t have time to talk right now. How about this time instead?”
“It looks like I can’t today, but I really want to help. Can we figure something out?”
“Things have been so busy lately, I need to have some me-time. But I’ll let you know when I’m feeling back on track?”
We know that setting boundaries can feel awkward or scary. As you’re thinking about them now, you might even be worried that your friends will feel bad or lash out at you. The last thing you want is to have to work through a fight with your friend. But here’s the thing…you can’t control how they react — that’s up to them. All you can control is your actions and you deserve to be respected in every single relationship you have. So go ahead. Ask for your boundaries. We’ll be here, regardless of the outcome.