How to Set Healthy Boundaries Within Friendships

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Friendships are typically established when three elements align — proximity, time, and shared experiences. In childhood, your neighborhood crew spent summer nights together, while in adulthood, a crazy weekend can create lifelong friendships. While friendships can develop in many ways, they don’t often come with a set of ground rules.

Communicating your boundaries may not come to mind until you’ve realized they’ve been crossed and doing so may feel awkward. However, healthy friendships have healthy boundaries, and learning how to establish yours is key to maintaining lifelong relationships.

1. Establish Personal Time and Space

The time you spend apart is supportive of the time you spend together. When you show up to brunch refreshed and ready to catch up, you have a great time with your friends. If you’ve been berated with texts, direct messages, and emails since your last meetup, you’re probably already drained. Protect your space and mental health by establishing boundaries for your time. 

Let your besties know how you like to communicate and ask them what they prefer, too. If texting stresses you out, centralize your chats in direct messages and turn off app alerts. Update your digital settings to support your preferences and silence notifications after hours or set social media time limits. Give yourself permission to respond when you’re ready, too, as you’re under no obligation to be constantly available. 

If you’re the one who needs more contact and your friends need less, think of ways to connect that respect their needs. Go analog and send a postcard from vacation or send a letter just because. Send friends on the mend get well soon gifts to brighten their day while giving them space to heal. Pay attention to your friends’ preferences and honor them, even if they differ from yours. When you do, friends will know that you respect them and how they like to interact or receive attention. 

2. Know and Share Your Mental Bandwidth

Spending time with friends is something you should look forward to, not dread. However, it’s easy to drain your social battery if you’re in the routine of being constantly available to others. Take time to reflect on when you’re at your best and when you need some space. Consider how you feel during and after engaging with others, too. Do you need extra time to recharge or find yourself distracted by certain conversations? 

Aim to clarify your needs and limits among friends, which are sure to vary across groups. Work friends may express interest in engaging outside of the breakroom but you might not be ready for that. Graciously accept their invitation while establishing your boundary for off-hours communication. Let them know you’re offline after work and look forward to catching up when you’re back in the office.

Some friends may be an open book, but you may not be comfortable with what’s inside. Open communication is great, but oversharing can cross boundaries. Talk about where your limits are regarding tricky topics like politics, religion, and sex. You and your friend may connect on a lot, but some things may present issues if you don’t know where your boundaries are. Focus instead on what brings you together instead of apart and your friendship will flourish. 

3. Commit to Open, Honest Communication

Opening up to another person is scary, and letting your guard down can expose you to getting hurt. However, if you want to have healthy friendships, you have to agree to be honest with one another. This may sound awkward initially, but level-setting a mutual expectation of honesty can make a world of difference. 

Let your friends know that you want them to be honest with you, even if it may hurt your feelings. When you ask for feedback on a new outfit, tell them that you need to know what they really think. Although you may still go for your avant-garde getup, you still want their candid feedback. After you offer up this request, your friends will typically ask for the same in return. 

Give each other examples of things that you have in mind, to encourage constructive conversations. If one person in your group often goes with the flow, they may need this encouragement and clarity. Highlight hot topics like discussing one another’s romantic partners and whether that’s OK or not. Give each other permission to speak up with the reassurance that honesty is the best policy. 

4. Level-Set on Financials

Money is a tricky subject in many circles, but not communicating baseline financial bandwidth can breed resentment and damage friendships. Lively conversations about a potential group trip can quickly evolve into booking a rental before the check arrives. If you don’t speak up or already have financial awareness among the group, it can alienate those whose budget differs. 

Be proactive and make open communication about finances part of your conversations. While you don’t have to swap W-2s, sharing what you’re comfortable with regarding money makes sense. Protect your budget and stress levels by suggesting a more affordable option for lunch. If a gift-giving occasion arises, offer up a spending cap or propose spending time together instead. 

Your friends won’t be deterred by your financial disclosure, rather they’ll respect you for speaking up. No matter your reasoning, good friends want you to be happy and comfortable, not financially stressed for their sake. Ask others in your circle or within different friend groups for their preferences, too. They may have the same thing on their minds and by asking, you can help create healthier, stronger friendships.  

Cultivate Healthy Friendships for Life

Although your friendships will ebb and flow as life changes, the relationships you build play a part in your story. Be open to creating new friendships, as they can help you learn and grow through each life stage. Honor yourself by sharing your boundaries and learning from your friends too. By establishing a standard of respect, you’ll build meaningful, supportive, and healthy friendships for life.