Like any relationship, friendships need physical and emotional boundaries. Ideally, boundaries develop and self adjust organically and gradually in a friendship. Things such as when to call or hang out can be determined just by spending some time together. Boundaries are healthy for a friendship and can provide strength and security. Boundaries can help increase and emphasize positive communication and sense of respect. They give us an opportunity for clarity as to what is “ok” among people in terms of their daily interactions, and can be construed as intentional acts of honor for one another.
Without agreeable boundaries, most relationships cannot function well. The expression, “Good fences make good neighbors,” is true. Here are some thoughts on setting boundaries in a friendship. Whether you are creating boundaries from scratch or simply polishing them up, having boundaries is a loving way to reconnect with your inner voice and to stand up for your needs.
What friends commonly make you experience stress and negative emotions? If it feels that a friend is constantly “walking all over you", not respecting you for the person you are and what you value, then you know your boundaries are being crossed. Even though you may not be in active conflict, you just feel that certain people take too much of your time, bring up topics that are of low interest or offensive to you, or talk too much about themselves, not knowing how to “share the floor” in conversations. Reflect on the relationships you have with your friends. Notice these “red flags”, which may suggest that interacting with these people is toxic or you may have some “poisonous pals.” It is time to take some action.
”Poisonous pals” are the the type of friends that are consistently negative, show no respect toward you or your values and boundaries. They frequently seem to be critical of you or others and hostile in their outlook on life. Process this negative dynamic and consider if you want that type of negative energy in your life? Life is difficult enough, with work and life responsibilities and pressures. We all experience hardships and suffer at times. It is ok to support your friends in stressful times. However, the chronic pattern of “It is all about me!” and “Let me tell you what else is wrong with the world and people,” is toxic and draining. Everyone should do their best to surround themselves with people that bring them love and laughter, not a chronic stream of stress and negativity.
Comfort is different to everyone, let yours be known. Some of your friends may be better than others at communicating, and some may be a bit more defensive. Either way, don’t be afraid to have some "critical conversations": if you are feeling stressed about how things are going for a long time, it is time to bring it up. Make sure your intention is expressed in a positive tone, because you do not want to come off to your friend as being “rude” or cause tension with no resolve. If you feel that your boundary is pushing your friend away, perhaps a compromise should be considered, if it is indeed a true and valid friendship. Be diplomatic, yet, encourage open, honest and respectful communication, by bringing up your concern and making a couple of specific requests as to how to resolve the problem.
Once you have a clear concept of what this particular friend means to you and the role s/he plays in your life, it is time to enforce some boundaries. Decide first on what you feel are some specific problems in your relationship: Is your friend is being negative and gossiping and criticizing you or others too much?; Is this person talks a lot about self, not sharing time and the emotional space to include you and your problems?; Is your friend expecting lots of time and energy from you with long talks and favors, crowding your personal space and making you feel overwhelmed? There are many examples, and they are individual. Be clear on what bothers you, as the type of a problem you are having with your friend directly and logically relates to the solutions you can discuss together to rescue your friendship.
For example, you may have a friend who calls you late at night during the work week. You feel physically tired, and it drains you emotionally. Instead of getting angry but saying nothing about it, start by giving a gentle but clear clue. Explain, “I am so tired after work, I really need to rest after 8pm. I can’t talk late at night or spend more than 10-15 minutes on the phone. Can we chat next time before dinner time?” Talk about specific circumstances, making some concrete, time and behavior related, requests. It is important for you to be your own personal advocate and stick up for yourself. It is ok to speak up. Better do it sooner, as over time the problem is unlikely to resolve on its own, only building more tension within you and lead to more of relational awkwardness.
If you speak up honestly and clearly about the communication problems, but a particular friend still cannot respect your boundaries, then consider spending less time together. Get yourself busy doing others things, surrounding yourself with friends you enjoy more. Detach physically and emotionally from the poisonous pals, so that they no longer have the power to make you feel bad, by draining your time and emotional energy. Surround yourself with people who bring the best in you. Remember that you need and deserve to be treated well and feel recharged and supported after interactions with others.