When you think about the relationships in your life that most require boundaries, those with your friends might not immediately come to mind. You probably find yourself more frequently struggling to perfect the dynamic between you and your S.O. so you’re not spending all of your time together, or working on the kind of direct communication with family members that allows you to be an active part of each other’s lives without any simmering resentments or holiday meltdowns.

But the need for boundaries doesn’t stop there, and they’re healthy to set with your closest friends too. Shannon Thomas, therapist, relationship expert, and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse, tells us that boundary-setting can be a loving action to take when it comes to our pals. “Boundaries help to filter who loves us with conditions [versus] unconditionally,” she says. “When we speak up and our friends honor what is important to us — even if they don’t fully understand — they are showing us their willingness to truly invest in the relationship. We show our love within a friend group by allowing each person to fully be themselves.”

Friendships that aren’t handled with appropriate communication can lead to resentment since they put us in the uncomfortable position of constantly giving more than we receive. A little selflessness here and there is key to the success of any relationship, of course, but there’s a limit to how much you can give. Thomas offers nine tips that will help you identify when it’s time for boundaries — and how to implement them — so that your friendships will be more satisfying and enjoyable all around.

Friends talking at a cafe

1. Pay attention to your body’s signals. Your body may know long before your brain does that changes need to be made in the dynamic between you and a friend. Thomas notes that “our need to set limits often first shows up as stress,” so physical manifestations such as an upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, or a headache may be the first indicator that it’s time for some limits, particularly if those symptoms tend to present themselves whenever you’re around that person.

2. Consider the history. We’re not saying that people can’t evolve, learn from their previous mistakes, and become better friends over time, but if the pal you’re dealing with has a history of upsetting you, establishing parameters could be a good idea. While it might not initially seem so, it’s actually a positive step to take for both parties involved because it means that you’re invested in the relationship and have high hopes for it moving forward. “When we feel guilty for setting limits, we should remind ourselves that some people don’t know when they ask too much of others, so it’s our job to show them how to be a healthier friend,” Thomas says.

3. Check the fear factor. Do you feel nervous about sharing your honest opinion with your pal? Are you cautious with them whenever it comes time to discuss a topic that’s complicated or emotional? If your answer to either of these questions is “yes,” the relationship might not be as healthy as you think it is. Those underlying nerves are another signal that boundaries could be necessary.

4. Take care of yourself first. This simple, clear guideline is a great way for you to start seeing how it might feel to create different expectations with those in your circle. If you have a friend who is chronically late to meet you in a way that feels offensive or hurtful, it’s okay to let her know that her behavior isn’t working for you. Or if your friend asks you to use a white lie to cover for her at work or with other friends, be honest if it makes you uncomfortable. “We always want to make sure we are giving out of the excess we have after taking care of ourselves and our own lives first,” Thomas advises. “Sure, in emergencies, we will drop everything to be there for our friends, but not every event is an emergency.”

5. Pause and reflect. Before you start thinking about the best way to broach the subject, give yourself a little emotional cooling off period to make sure that the issue at hand is the rule, not the exception. “Wait and see if the bad behaviors are actually a pattern for a friend or just a weird one-off bad day or few days,” Thomas says. “We want to find the balance between jumping to say something and talking ourselves out of bringing it up and running the risk of becoming a doormat.”

6. Master the boundaries vocabulary. When you decide that it’s time to talk to your pal about expectations, Thomas recommends using phrases like “It makes me uncomfortable when…”, “I want to share with you how I’m feeling about…”, or “We need to come up with a different plan, because this isn’t working for me.”

7. Don’t set it up as a confrontation. There’s no need to send your friend a formal invitation to some sort of official Boundaries Talk, and the words “We need to talk” are going to shut her down from the beginning. Alternatively, Thomas suggests that you bring up the new boundary (in the language discussed above!) in the appropriate context. If your friend has just shown up late or called you in the middle of the night again, that’s your moment to share how you’ve been feeling about the behavior and lay out your expectations for it to change.

8. Keep your self-talk positive. As you begin to prioritize your own life ahead of your friends’ needs, you might find doubt and self-judgment creep in. Stop them in their tracks! In the early stages of establishing limits, remind yourself as often as needed that healthy friendships involve two people who equally respect the other’s needs for personal time and space. Practice communicating parameters with love and confidence so that you’re not constantly afraid that doing so will put your friendships at risk.

9. Don’t try to become someone’s therapist. If you find yourself constantly on call as an emotional support for one of your besties, quietly resigning from your role as her 24/7 therapist is an option worth pursuing. Be honest with your friend about what kinds of problems you actually feel able to handle and what times of day (or night!) might not be appropriate for a panicked email or text message. A friend who is constantly reaching out for your advice might even benefit from seeing a qualified therapist — after all, most likely you don’t have the proper training!

Do you find that you need to set boundaries, even with your besties? Tweet us @BritandCo!

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