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How to Set Boundaries Between Family Members

A couple arguing and pointing fingers at one another during conflict.

Learning how to set boundaries between family members is imperative.  From in-laws to siblings to second cousins, our familial relationships significantly impact our mental health status. Not only that, but the way we communicate with family lays the groundwork for how we communicate within other relationships. If navigating complex family dynamics becomes too much to bear, setting boundaries between family members can help.

Of course, we realize drawing boundaries is (wayyyy) easier said than done. That’s why our Fort Wellness Counseling team is here to help. In today’s blog post, we’re revealing eight helpful tips for setting boundaries with difficult family members. Keep reading to find some that work for you.

What Are Healthy Boundaries? Boundaries Definition

Before we dive right into drawing boundaries, what are they exactly? Healthy boundaries are necessary for any relationship to thrive. (This includes coworkers, friends, family, teachers, bosses, and pretty much everyone else in your life.) Your boundaries define what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct within your relationships. In other words, they state your limit. 

If you’re not sure where your boundaries should be, speaking with a counselor or therapist can help. When you make an appointment with our team, we’ll help you identify the behaviors, characteristics, and actions that make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Then, we’ll help you establish boundaries that reflect such.

6 Types of Boundaries

As human beings, we can set many kinds of boundaries. Different boundaries pertain to different people. However, they generally fall into these six categories

  • Physical boundaries 

Physical boundaries acknowledge your personal space (people touching you, for example) and physical needs.

  • Emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries relate to your emotional needs (like sharing feelings).

  • Time boundaries

Time boundaries prioritize your time and communicate time restraints.

  • Sexual boundaries

Sexual boundaries include your boundaries regarding consent and privacy.

  • Intellectual boundaries

Intellectual boundaries refer to the way others accept or validate your thoughts and ideas.

  • Material boundaries

Material boundaries include your personal belongings.

8 Ways to Set Boundaries Between Family Members

As experienced family and couple counselors, we understand that drawing boundaries between family members can be difficult. Here are eight strategies to make it easier:

Value Your Needs

When setting healthy boundaries, it’s important to remember that your needs are important. Oftentimes, people avoid setting boundaries because they’re afraid the other person will be hurt. And when you’re communicating with family members, this can be especially scary.  

However, your needs are no less important than anyone else’s. (In fact, believing the opposite is a kind of manipulation.) Therefore, make sure your boundaries reflect your desires and not someone else’s. 

Be Firm, Yet Kind

Creating boundaries can get a bad rap. However, it doesn’t have to be mean, defensive, or angry. (People usually respond better to kindness anyways.) When establishing your boundaries, be direct, assertive, and avoid beating around the bush. Remember that the only way to ensure your limit is understood is if you clearly and explicitly define it yourself. 

Talk to a Therapist Before You Talk to Them

Sometimes, tough conversations with family can feel overbearing. However, a counselor or therapist can ease those feelings. When you make an appointment with our team, we’ll help you identify the boundaries that you wish to set. Then, we’ll determine the best strategies to establish them. Finally, we’ll help you rehearse what you want to say and walk you step-by-step through the process.

Set Realistic Expectations

When drawing boundaries between family members, you need to view your relationships in a realistic light. People engaged in toxic behaviors are not quick to change. Therefore, expecting them to can lead to disappointment and resentment. When you create boundaries, consider what behaviors feel tolerable. Be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t comfortable and set your standards accordingly.   

Be Willing to Walk Away

When you’re in the middle of a toxic situation, it’s easy to forget that you can walk away. However, you always have the option to get up and leave an uncomfortable situation. If difficult family members are making you feel hurt (or like you need to defend yourself), you don’t have to continue engaging with them.  

Part of setting boundaries is knowing what you will and will not tolerate. If something reaches the latter (aka your limit), it’s perfectly acceptable to remove yourself. You don’t have to explain or apologize. 

Make a List

Anticipating a tough conversation with family can be overwhelming and/or anxiety-inducing. However, making a list can help. Writing out your points can help you remember what you want to say. Additionally, you can list coping strategies and responses to potential scenarios/outcomes.  You might even consider journaling about this.  

You Are in Charge of You

We are all responsible for our actions. Therefore, it is your job to establish your boundaries and stick by them. However, we understand that this can feel overwhelming. A self-care routine can help you recognize your worth and motivate you to stand up for what you deserve. If you’re not sure where to begin, our team can help you create one.

Know Your Triggers (And Anticipate Them!)

Every one of us has triggers, and all our triggers are different. Before entering a tough conversation, you should know the answers to the following questions:

  • What are your triggers? 
  • What emotions do they elicit?
  • How can you take care of them?
  • How should you respond once you are triggered?

If you anticipate your boundary conversation to be triggering, you can role-play with a friend or therapist beforehand. Additionally, if you’re not sure what your triggers are (or how to handle them), a licensed professional therapist can help you identify and cope with them. 

Top Relationship Therapist in Fort Worth, Texas

There’s no denying that relationships are tricky to navigate. If you need help drawing firm boundaries with your friends or family, the counselors at Fort Wellness Counseling can help you.  

We have extensive experience providing therapy and counseling services to individuals, couples, and families in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Thanks to our individualized approach, we can offer you personalized strategies to restore your relationships and alleviate your day-to-day stressors. 

Ready to see what we can do for you? Book your appointment with our team today.