How to Respect People’s Boundaries with Grace (Even When It Hurts)

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Let’s talk boundaries. The millennial buzz word has been infiltrating wellness media for a while now, and something about drawing the line in our relationships has stuck in our vocab, and our lifestyles. Defined by a Therapist Aid toolsheet as the “limits and rules we set for ourselves in relationships,” personal boundaries can take on a variety of meanings. We can all think back to a moment (or two) when we overcommitted our schedule, lent someone something we cherish, or even hugged a family member when we were simply *not in the mood.* Boundaries create space, encourage clear communication and alleviate resentment—like when our BFF loses our favorite sweater that we never wanted her to borrow in the first place.

Yet, as important as it is to know how and when to set boundaries, we must also know how and when to respect other people’s boundaries. “Boundaries can feel like an electric fence—and they don’t have to be like that,” says wellness expert and Almost 30 podcast host, Krista Williams, who discusses the importance of setting boundaries on her show. So how do we accept other people’s boundaries and still feel close to them?

1.  Ask Yourself: Is This a Boundary or a Wall?

Sometimes you can just feel a person pulling away. Maybe they’re less responsive to your messages. Or maybe they flat out tell you that they are working on boundaries around certain things—like their time or certain conversation topics. This doesn’t mean your relationship is donezo. As opposed to a wall being put up, “Boundaries are a process and a conversation we continue to navigate with others,” shares Williams. Sure, there are some new rules to play by, but if you can respect them, your relationship might just grow in a healthier direction. On the flip side, if you’re trying to scale a wall that’s been constructed to keep out visitors, the relationship isn’t inviting a two-way conversation, which means it’s probably not worth your efforts to infiltrate (especially because it’s being established that the relationship is entirely on one person’s terms).

2. Request an Honest (and Calm) Conversation

When someone places a boundary on you, it can feel hurtful. But it has less to do with you and more about them. If this is a relationship you care about—and if the boundaries are fair, of course—see if an open discussion about the boundary (with flexible minds) is on the table. An honest dialogue to help you understand the boundary can pave the way for a strong relationship that works for both of you in the future. “Boundaries help people get to know who you are, what triggers and wounds you have, and are a gesture towards connection and intimacy,” says Williams. In other words, this is an opportunity to respect each other’s unique growth and healing processes that can occur through boundaries being implemented. (The caveat being as long as you communicate within the parameters of each of your comfort levels.)

3. Avoid the Urge to Skip Town on the Relationship

Maybe your sister said she doesn’t want you asking about her fertility. Or maybe your new girlfriend requested you not go too deep into detail about your past lovers. When someone’s actions don’t match your expectations, it can feel shocking and hurtful. But avoid the instinct to full-on ghost the relationship. Instead, think of your relationships like your house plants. Some drink up the sun. Some need lots of water. And some thrive in a dark corner with a light sprinkle every so often. Nurturing a friendship with an honest conversation about each other’s needs—and how you can respect each other’s needs—can lead to a thriving garden.

5 Ways to Set Boundaries with Family Members (& 2 to Avoid), According to a Therapist

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Freelance PureWow Editor