Stop Running: Relationships and Boundaries

This is an article I wrote for The Stability Network.

Relationships, amiright? Just the word makes a lot of people run for the hills. What we run from is the thought of defining them. We’re running from the intimate conversations needed to maintain and acknowledge our relationships – and to manage our fears and insecurities in relationships.

Relationships come in many forms. Co-workers, friends, cousins, partners are all titles given to people in relationship with us. When we give people these titles, we then give them a level of access to us and our inner worlds. We regulate those levels by setting boundaries. I know. Another word to get you sprinting. Well, while you’re doing your quick sprint, we’ll be getting into everything related to boundaries.


What is a boundary?

According to Prentis Hemphill a boundary is “the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” People have shared so many definitions of boundaries with me, but Hemphill’s is my favorite. A boundary instructs those in relationship with you how to engage with you safely and respectfully. There are many types of boundaries, from physical boundaries like how close you allow people to sit or stand next to you, to intellectual, like whose critiques of your work you listen to. They help people know exactly how you want to be treated. They also help you get to know the people around you better.


Why do I need boundaries?

Without boundaries people in relationship with you are unaware of how you’d like to be treated in the relationship. For example, last week my friend sent me a meme with homophobic text. I let them know I did not want anything like that sent to me. They apologized and agreed to respect that boundary. Had I not set that boundary, I would have left someone I’m in relationship with to believe I accept that type of behavior. When we set boundaries we preserve the relationship, our own mental health and redefine “the distance.”


Who should I set boundaries with?

My quick answer is everyone. Everyone you come in contact with should be aware of your boundaries. Explicit boundaries may not always be possible, so I encourage all to communicate specific boundaries with people who need to hear them. For example, I share my communication boundaries with people before the start of any interview. While I don’t share other boundaries, those are the specific boundaries needed to be shared in the moment.


How do I start?

We all have boundaries, but many of us are not aware of ours. Setting boundaries with others starts when we identify our needs and the behavior we deem harmful. Once we have those identified, we can articulate them to ourselves and gradually start articulating them to others. Practice makes you confident. Practicing vocalizing your needs as simply as possible to yourself or a safe person.

Here is an example of how to think about setting a physical boundary:

  1. Recognize the harm – People touching my hair without permission.

  2. Recognize your need – I need people to ask for permission before touching me.

  3. State the boundary – Please don’t touch me without my permission.


What should I do when someone doesn’t respect my boundaries?

This is the defining portion of relationships that gets people lacing up their sneakers. Boundaries are a tool used to maintain relationships but when people continuously disrespect those boundaries they are defining the relationship without you.

It’s important to remember that you always have a choice to remain in or leave a relationship. Remember to communicate the continuous crossing of boundaries and to act accordingly with the data you receive. For example, I request agendas before meetings, especially last-minute meetings. If an agenda is not provided with an invitation, I decline the invitation. When I work with people, I am more than happy to remind them of this boundary. Sometimes people will try to convince me that this boundary is unnecessary or that it should not apply to them. The people that are persistent in dismissing my boundaries or in trying to manipulate me slowly prove to me how unimportant our relationship is to them.


Where can I learn more about boundaries?

There are a lot of great resources to help you along your journey into setting boundaries and developing healthier relationships. Here are some of my favorites:

If you didn’t run at the beginning, I hope you learned a little more about relationships and boundaries. Now that you have this information, I hope you’re able to see a clearer picture of what you want your relationships to look like. I hope you’ll be able to begin respecting your boundaries and the boundaries of others.

For anyone still running please stop and use this information to start building relationships that won’t have you running away.


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