How To Set A Boundary

Boundary setting

What is a boundary? A boundary is an expression of what I want, and what I don’t want.

One of the trickiest aspects of setting a boundary is figuring out what we, ourselves, want or don’t want. There are three habits that can make this difficult:

  1. Many of us have been conditioned to undervalue what we want or don’t want, and instead we try to please others.
  2. When we were younger, we may have been told that saying what we want is selfish and what we don’t want is uncooperative (this often occurs in families where there are addictions) so we become accustomed to repressing our wants.
  3. Saying what we want or don’t want is an expression of who we are, and it may feel vulnerable, and therefore scary, to reveal our wants.

Another tricky aspect of boundaries is that we cannot force anyone else to acknowledge, welcome, or respect our boundaries. Only we can acknowledge, welcome, and respect our own boundaries.

There is a difference between a setting a boundary and putting up a wall. Boundaries are actually fluid and flexible. A wall is not. A wall discourages communication about what each of you wants.

Here is a way to set a boundary with an intimate partner:

  1. Say what you want or don’t want
  2. Detach from the outcome and say, “How would that work for you?”
  3. Be open to hearing how it works for your partner.
  4. Listen to what your partner says they want
  5. Evaluate how that works for you.
  6. Propose something that works for you.
  7. Continue until you come to an agreement.

Sample Dialogue:

Partner A: “I don’t want to go to this party tonight. I don’t like some of the people and I’m tired. How would that work for you?”

Partner B: “Gosh, I’m disappointed because I was looking forward to going with you. I’d love it if you’d come for an hour. How would that work for you?”

Partner A: “I don’t think I could stand an hour, but I could drive you there and come in and say hello and then excuse myself and go home. How would that work for you?”

Partner B: “Well, I think I’ll feel lonely, but it would help if you came and picked me up again after a couple of hours. How would that work for you?”

Partner A: “Yes, ok, I’ll want to lie down for awhile, but I’ll come pick you up as long as it’s before 10 pm.

Partner B: “Great. Thanks.”

Notice that both partners got some of what they wanted, and some of what they didn’t want. This is the idea of a flexible boundary. Be prepared to grieve the loss of what you really wanted.

This approach works best if both partners are familiar with this style of setting boundaries.

Need help?

If you need some support in creating flexible boundaries, take advantage of a free, 15-minute appointment with me to get started. Or book a full session to practice with your partner. (Note that I offer flexible rates for clients who do not have extended health benefits.)


At Naturmend, your mental health is as important to us as your physical health. Doctors know that stress, addictions, marital problems, and challenges with your children can all have an effect on your physical health. The chemicals in your body that are activated by problems in your life can take their toll on you. Naturmend has two mental health clinicians to help you feel better emotionally, thus improving your physical health.


Our registered clinical counsellor Lucinda Flavelle specializes in parent consulting and coaching, individual psychotherapy, and couples counselling. As a result of therapy, you will find yourself relieved of the burdens you were carrying, confident in your new way of being, and with a renewed sense of optimism and purpose about your life.



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