Friends are important. They’re the people outside of our families who we share mutually beneficial, rewarding, trusting bonds. Our friendships provide us with the support, love, and nurturing we need to navigate life. They keep us grounded, real, and in touch with our life goals and motivations. No doubt about it: friends can be everything.
However, those special relationships can actually become strained over time without definitive friendship boundaries. When boundaries lack or wane, it can cause a disruption in the necessary balance of your relationships.
Setting healthy relationship boundaries with your friends might feel awkward at first, but the process is integral for any friendship that’s going to withstand the test of time. Here, we’ll walk you through how to set mutually beneficial boundaries in your friendships, so that they can endure a lifetime of rewards without faltering during the challenging times.
When Should You Set Boundaries in Your Friendship
Knowing how to set boundaries with friends means you can establish healthy, long-lasting, meaningful relationships in your life. Keep in mind, boundaries are fluid and can be modified as you and your friendships evolve.
The following are some common examples of times when setting friendship boundaries can be appropriate and helpful:
Your friend is in your business
Some friends mean well, but they just don’t know when to stay out of your business. It’s up to you to determine when you need a friend’s support. Also, your choice is what, when, and how you choose to have aspects of your life shared. Don’t be afraid to be vocal about how much of your personal affairs anyone is invited to share with others.
You’re feeling overwhelmed
You have to remember to love and take care of yourself first. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and your true friend(s) need your support, then you may need to set a temporary boundary. Saying you’re unavailable for as long as you need is perfectly OK.
“You can only give what you already have accumulated for yourself. So, if you’re not well rested, it can make it challenging to give your energy to others, even if you deeply want to. Setting boundaries can be a win-win: if you’re able to assert your needs (like saying no to something you don’t have time for), it can later allow you to give to others from your resources because you have the time and energy to do so.”
If you find that your friendship is out of balance and that you’re always the one giving your time and energy while receiving next-to-nothing in return, then speak up for yourself. Tell your friend how you’re feeling and suggest what they can do to help balance the equation.
The global political scene is straining many friendships these days. If you have a dear friend with different political, religious, or other views than you, some boundaries about what is (and what is not) appropriate to discuss may be necessary. Get together and lay out what the two of you will agree to disagree on. Then, moving forward it should be understood that those topics should not be discussed.
Some people like to talk in person. Others like texting better. Video chats can be fun too. If your friend is constantly initiating a form of communication that you’re not comfortable with or that you simply don’t have time for, just let them know. Setting a personal boundary about communication styles will allow you to have less stressful interactions in the future.
Your friend is too needy
Adult partnerships are not like childhood friendships. They can’t be. Adults have families, responsibilities, and personal goals that children don’t. If your friend treats you like a “therapist friend” or needs your support more than you can or want to sustain, you need to set a boundary about what’s appropriate and acceptable for them to ask for help with.
Types of Boundaries
There are 5 different types of appropriate boundaries you can set in your friendships and other relationships. Setting boundaries with friends can seem stressful at first, especially if the friendship has already lasted a long time. Still, it’s often needed and a very beneficial way to nurture a healthy relationship on a deeper level.
Be sure to let your friend know that the appropriate boundaries you’re setting are in an attempt to better the friendship, not weaken it. In fact, it will benefit your friendship and mental health. The 5 types of boundaries are:
You may need to set some time boundaries for friends who:
- Always show up late for planned events
- Get angry when you tell them you’re busy
- Cancel at the last minute, leaving you hanging
Set boundaries for the time you have available. Let your friend know that time is precious for both of you and that you don’t like wasting yours.
If you have a friend who uses your things without asking first, or if they use them in a disrespectful, careless way that could or often does damage them, you need to set some firm material boundaries. You can accomplish this by simply saying something like:
- “Sure, you can use my camera, but I need it back tomorrow, please.”
- “I’m sorry, but I can’t lend you any cash right now. Is there another way I can help?”
- “Sorry, but I just don’t let anyone drive my truck. It’s a personal thing.”
- “I’m sorry, but I don’t share my drinks/food.”
Whatever the case is, you need to represent your wishes with assertiveness. It’s OK to insist that your boundaries are respected.
We’re all entitled to our own bubble. If a friend is touchy-feely and you’re not OK with it, you shouldn’t hesitate to set a physical boundary that you’re more comfortable with. It can also be about your personal space like your bedroom. To set a physical boundary, you can say:
- “I’m not a hugger or toucher. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it makes me uncomfortable when you XYZ.”
- “This room is my personal space. Please knock before just walking in.”
Any time someone invades your personal space, let them know and ask them to be aware of and change their behavior.
If you’re overwhelmed with your own emotions and life challenges, then it can be difficult to recognize a friend’s emotional needs and validate their feelings. If you’re unable to respond to someone else’s needs at any given moment, you can say:
- “Sorry, and please know I love you, but this is not a good time for me to talk.”
- “This is a very tough topic for me. Can we talk about something else?”
- “I’m sorry you’re going through a tough time, but I just can’t be there for you the way you need me to be right now.”
Yes, friends are supposed to “be there” for each other. However, sometimes it’s not possible. And that’s OK.
Friends need to have mutual respect for each other’s ideas and thoughts without being dismissive. That said, you have every right to shut down a conversation if you realize it’s heading south and ultimately won’t be healthy for you or your headspace. You could say something along the lines of:
- “I understand what you’re saying. I just don’t agree with you.”
- “Maybe let’s just drop this conversation? We don’t seem to be agreeing.”
- “I don’t mind if you disagree with me, but please don’t insult me.”
Let your friends know that you’re fine with having differences of opinions and that you’ll continue to appreciate their uniqueness.
5 Tips for Setting Boundaries with a Friend
Without boundaries, friendships can become stressed, fractured, or even broken. Although it may seem awkward at first, setting healthy friendship boundaries is very important for the endurance of any relationship. Here are 5 smart tips for setting boundaries with friends that can ensure your relationships remain healthy and rewarding.
Talking to an online therapist about how to set boundaries with friends can be a good idea. You can explore things in your life or from your past that might be contributing to current relationship issues. You can also focus on discovering what types of boundaries you should set moving forward.
“Early trauma can make setting boundaries difficult and may need therapeutic intervention in order to guide you through the process.”
Express your value of the friendship
Knowing how to set boundaries with friends isn’t about hurting feelings. It’s actually quite the opposite. Be sure to let friends know how much you value your relationship before you start discussing any boundaries. This can help you get through the conversation in as non-confrontational a manner as possible.
Talk to your friend
Discuss why you’re setting boundaries with friends before making them active. Show respect and let them know what’s bothering you. Explain why you feel the boundaries are necessary and ask them what they think.
You need to be explicit in your demands when setting healthy friendship boundaries. Don’t be vague. For instance, instead of saying, “I wish you would listen to me,” you could say, “I need you to be a better listener and not talk over me during a conversation.” Instead of “Please knock.” you could say, “I want you to stop walking in without knocking first. I feel like you’re invading my privacy.” Being direct removes any potential for gray areas that may cause issues to resurface in the future.
Be willing to compromise
In some cases, you and a friend may need to admit your differences and meet in the middle. Your friend could have a personal boundary that’s opposite yours. For instance, if you prefer to communicate via video chats and your friend prefers texting, then you’ll both have to be willing to compromise.
What to Do if Your Boundaries Aren’t Respected
Even though it can be a scary, intimidating concept, knowing how to set boundaries with friends is important for your long-term happiness. Any relationship that’s good for you will likely flourish and grow after you set healthy boundaries. Establishing how you’ll allow others to treat you is an important step in becoming a stronger, confident part of any relationship. A friend worth keeping will understand your need to have appropriate boundaries.
You are responsible for protecting yourself. If you have a friend who continuously disrespects you or who forgets (or ignores!) your boundaries, have a sincere conversation and express yourself. If the boundary crossing continues, it may be time to step away from the platonic relationship or the toxic relationship. Just be sure that you have put ample work into the friendship before giving up, so you don’t have regrets.
1. Katherine A. How To Create Healthy Boundaries. Lexington: University of Kentucky; 2022:1-3. https://www.uky.edu/hr/sites/www.uky.edu.hr/files/wellness/images/Conf14_Boundaries.pdf. Accessed January 1, 2022.