Helping Your Loved One With Mental Illness Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships. Many people struggle to set, maintain, and respect them for many reasons, from low self-esteem to a desire to avoid conflict. Maintaining boundaries is a two-way street. Everyone is responsible for setting their own limitations, but their loved ones must respect them. Partners and family members can work together to set reasonable boundaries.

Setting boundaries for yourself can be difficult. It means making changes and potentially creating some conflicts. It’s often easier to stick with the status quo. But boundaries are important. They determine how you will be treated by others, ensure your needs are met, and form the basis of healthy relationships.

If you have a loved one struggling in a particular relationship or in general, help them learn to set more rigid boundaries. Support them as they strive to make positive changes for their relationships and improve their mental health.

Start a Conversation

Helping a loved one set boundaries begins with recognizing the need. They may not be able to see that they have weak boundaries. It’s almost always to see these issues in others rather than oneself, so they need your help identifying the problem.

Start a conversation about the issues you see. Approach the subject with respect. Help them see where they aren’t getting the respect or autonomy they deserve in their relationships. Work with them to reflect on how their boundaries could be improved.

Start With Small Goals

Going from having no boundaries to definite boundaries may be asking too much. Change isn’t easy, so take it slowly. Help your loved one set small goals to make gradual changes. With each one they achieve, they will see how setting boundaries makes them happier.

For example, if your loved one struggles with boundaries at work, set time limits on checking or responding to work emails. Restricting it to one hour after work is perfectly reasonable and helps set a healthier limitation with coworkers who don’t respect their time.

Practice Saying No

One of the most important ways to enforce boundaries is by saying no. Many people are guilty of saying yes too often. People who struggle to say no want to be liked and please others. They want to avoid conflict or upsetting anyone.

Encourage your loved one to say no more often. Help them look at the underlying reasons they say yes. Did they agree to host that party because someone pushed them to do it or because they really wanted to do it? Do they really want to take that extra work project, or did they feel pressured into it?

Be Supportive When it Gets Tough

Setting boundaries requires practice. Your loved one will initially resist doing it because it can feel scary and uncomfortable. They may fear rejection for setting limits or feel awkward about speaking up for what they need and don’t want.

Be there for your loved one as a support system. They’ll need you to help them stay strong in setting and maintaining their boundaries. Fear of rejection or abandonment is huge when setting boundaries, so make it very clear that you will always be there for them, even if someone else rejects them.

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Take Inspiration from Others

A little inspiration goes a long way. Listen to these stories from people who went through mental health counseling and learned to improve their lives and relationships by setting boundaries:

Partner Boundaries

“For a long time, I struggled with boundaries in my romantic relationships. At work, this was rarely an issue, so for years, I wrote off my bad relationships as the fault of my partners. The truth was that I failed to set boundaries with them. I would keep my mouth shut about things that made me unhappy until I seethed with resentment for them, and then the relationship ended.

It wasn’t until I went through therapy that I realized my failed relationships came down to my inability to speak up. I let partners run the show and failed to set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated. My therapist helped me see this and gave me useful advice on how to have healthier relationships. I told my current partner what I wanted and how some of his actions made me feel. Instead of running away, he listened. It was empowering for me and led to a lasting, satisfying relationship, finally.” –Tara A.

Work Boundaries

“I ended up in treatment for burnout, which I ultimately learned came from failing to set healthy boundaries. I started a small pet sitting business because I love animals and wanted to love my work. For a while, I did. I walked dogs and played with cats. They were always happy to see me. It was great.

My business was successful. Word got around that I was reliable and good with pets. I got a lot of clients. It all happened very fast, and before long I found myself doing visits from six in the morning until ten at night most days. I rarely had a break. I couldn’t say no to new clients who needed my services.

After having a breakdown and getting therapy, I wanted to go back to work but I knew I had to do it differently. I said no to the clients who wanted their dog walked at night. I only took on new clients that fit into my schedule and area. Setting those professional boundaries made a huge difference to my wellness and mental health. I started enjoying my work again.” –Kylie O.

Family Boundaries

“I love my family, but they can be overbearing at times. I’m an adult, but as the baby of the family, they often still treat me like a child. They offer unwanted advice and assume I’ll attend gatherings or even go on trips with them that I never agreed to.

In counseling I learned that I was supporting these unhealthy patterns by letting my family treat me as the baby, as if I were still 12 years old. It was really hard to do, because changing family patterns is so difficult, but I finally set boundaries with my parents especially. Saying no was one of the biggest challenges, but once I started doing it with insistence, they started to listen. We now have better relationships than ever, and they treat me like the independent adult I am.” –Justin M.

Setting Boundaries in Your Relationship

Maybe you have come to the realization that you don’t always respect a partner’s or other loved one’s boundaries. This can be a positive change you make for yourself and your relationship . To help your loved one set and maintain their boundaries with you, do the following:

  • Listen to them when they tell you what they need.
  • Be honest in return and share your needs.
  • Consider their feelings and preferences when making decisions that affect you both.
  • Ask permission more often.
  • Respect their autonomy in the relationship.
  • Be respectful when you have differences of opinion and when you argue.
  • Tell them how grateful you are for them and your relationship.

Setting boundaries is a skill. It requires practice and conscious effort. It should be a priority for everyone. If your loved one has a hard time doing this, provide practical support. Let them know that you value them and want to see them happy. Work together on setting and maintaining boundaries and you will both be happier and healthier.