Areas of Life In Which to Set Healthy Interpersonal Boundaries

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Scott Brassart

In previous posts to this site, we’ve discussed why healthy interpersonal boundaries are so important and the various misconceptions some people have about interpersonal boundaries. This week, we are focused on the types of interpersonal boundaries that can be set and the areas of life in which we may need to set them.

To begin this discussion, let me first identify three primary categories of boundaries:

  • External Boundaries: Protect the body, control distance, control touch.
  • Internal Boundaries: Protect thinking, feelings, and behavior.
  • Spiritual Boundaries: Facilitate connection with self, others, and a Higher Power.

Each of us needs to set our boundaries in all three of these categories, and to respect the boundaries of others in all three categories. Without that mutual respect, there will be a lack of trust, a lack of vulnerability, and a lack of emotional intimacy.

Areas of life in which we (and others) need to set boundaries include:

  • Physical: Physical boundaries involve the proximity of your body or things to another person’s body or things. Physical boundaries include the sexual aspects of a relationship (if there is a sexual aspect). As we set physical boundaries, we should consider:
    • Living Area: Whether you will stay in the same household, rules for in-house or out-of-house separation, responsibilities of family life, etc.
    • Personal Privacy: Privacy issues around personal journals, workbooks, therapy, phones, social media, and the like.
    • Physical and Emotional Safety: Areas in which you or the other person feel physically or emotionally unsafe.
    • Non-Sexual Touch: The level of touch and physical affection to which you and the other person are open.
    • Sexual Contact: The level of sexual touch and interaction (if any) to which you and the other person are open.
  • Emotional: Emotional boundaries help us manage and regulate our emotions. They also help us engage in self-care – healthy eating, getting enough sleep, picking our battles, etc. – when we are emotionally triggered.
  • Financial: Money is a common area of relationship conflict, regardless of the nature of the relationship. In a family, one partner may want to control the purse strings with no restrictions or consultation. If the other partner objects, boundaries may need to be agreed upon. Even in friendships, financial inequities can cause strife, necessitating the setting of boundaries.
  • Communication: Communication boundaries typically focus on three things: What you feel safe to talk about with the other person; the ways in which you and the other person can respectfully resolve conflicts; and what you will (and will not) tell others about the relationship conflict you are currently experiencing. Finding safe friends and family members with whom you can share your story of relationship strife is a vital part of healing. It is important, however, that you rely on individuals who can hear your story without gossiping or judging.
  • People, Places, and Things: Many relationships, especially romantic partnerships, need boundaries around people, places, and things outside the relationship. Communicating with an ex, for example, may require some mutually agreed-upon boundaries. And, of course, what constitutes cheating/infidelity should always be discussed and agreed upon. Is looking at pornography OK? What about chatting with strangers on webcams? How about having lunch with an attractive colleague? Etc. In all of these areas, mutually agreed upon boundaries can prevent a significant amount of strife.

If you are struggling with boundaries, there are all sorts of free resources on that you may find helpful, including more than 20 free behavior and relationship-focused webinars and discussion groups each week.