The New Magic Word: No. And Other Tips for Setting Boundaries

If you’re anything like me, you might have a very difficult time setting boundaries for yourself in both your personal life and your love life. For me and many other people, this stems from the need to be a people pleaser, constantly wanting other people to feel happy and supported by you. And while this may seem like a good thing at face value, it often means that you prioritize the needs of other people over your own needs and/or that you don’t have healthy boundaries set up in your life. Boundaries are an important part of any relationship, whether it’s a friendship, relationships with your family members or a romantic relationship. Boundaries help ensure that you are comfortable and respected in the relationship, and that your needs are valued as much as the other persons. Setting boundaries can often mean saying “no” to things that make you uncomfortable, things that are emotionally taxing, or things that create unnecessary stress in your life. Saying “no” can be really hard for some people, but it’s a crucial skill to have when setting boundaries.

When you are setting boundaries for yourself, it’s important to ask why you typically say “yes”, and what the risk is of saying “no”. Do you say yes because you are worried about disappointing someone? Or not being supportive enough to them? Or do you think that it’s easier to inconvenience yourself than it is to inconvenience someone else? If you recognize an unhealthy pattern of saying yes to things that you do not want to do or are uncomfortable doing, you should challenge yourself to assess the risk of saying “no” in these same situations. Most of the time, there is really no risk in saying “no”. People don’t expect you to bend over backwards for them, and a lot of people are half expecting the answer “no” when they ask you for something in the first place. If you do find the courage to say “no” when you usually do not, and the other person has a problem with that, you should consider having a discussion about boundaries with that person.

After all, we cannot and should not be accommodating to other people at all times, even if they are your romantic partner! If they respect you, they should respect your boundaries and your ability to make decisions and say “no”. Sometimes it can be very difficult to set boundaries on your own, especially if you are not used to doing so. Here are some tips for how to set boundaries in your relationship:

Have a discussion

Sometimes setting boundaries in a relationship can be as easy as having a discussion about boundaries and your comfort level relating to different things. You may assume that you and your partner are on the same page about certain things, when you are actually in totally different spots and are crossing a line that you didn’t know existed. It’s important to have discussions about things like sharing/borrowing material possessions, boundaries related to the time you spend together and boundaries about physical and sexual touch to name just a few. If you and your partner are good at communicating (big caveat here), you should have a conversation about different boundaries that are important to you and your relationship. It’s important to have these conversations periodically, because sometimes boundaries change as you become closer and more comfortable with one another. In these types of conversations it’s very important to be direct and honest, so that you are honoring your own boundaries and not just telling your partner what they want to hear.

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Follow through

If you have already established boundaries in your relationship, or are working on creating boundaries, it’s important that you follow through on what these boundaries are. If you hypothetically discuss boundaries, but don’t actively work to uphold them in your relationships, then those awkward/difficult conversations were all for nothing. Communicating and creating boundaries is only half the battle, and it’s important to continually stick up for yourself and your boundaries if they are being challenged. If you allow your partner to overstep your boundaries, or let certain things slide, you are compromising the amount of respect you command in the relationship. While it is your partner’s job to respect your boundaries, it’s also your job to stick to them and be vocal if they are being overstepped. If you feel like your boundaries have changed since the last discussion with your partner, you should have a new discussion so that the boundaries are clear to everyone. Be accountable to yourself and the boundaries that you have created for your relationship. If you don’t respect your own boundaries, your partner might feel like they can follow suit.

Focus on self care

It’s important to maintain self care even when you are in a relationship with another person. You may think that you don’t have to focus on self care when you have another person that deeply cares about you, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is so important to check-in with yourself and focus on your well being no matter if you are single or in a happy relationship. A huge part of self care is taking the space that you need for yourself to check-in and process your emotions. Doing this will require you to set up boundaries for yourself in an organic way. And doing this will often require you to say “no”. Framing boundaries as a way to practice self care often makes it easier to take the space we need in a relationship. Needing space and time to focus on yourself has nothing to do with your partner, and everything to do with your mental health and relationship to yourself.


Learning how to say no and set boundaries is not something that will happen overnight, especially if you are not in the practice of prioritizing yourself and your own needs. Once you set the intention to create more boundaries in your life, start off small! Decline a work call after business hours. Say no to a colleague who wants to grab coffee if you’re having a stressful day. Don’t let your friend borrow your favorite sweater if you know they’re a slob. Adding “no” to your vocabulary will take time, but standing up for yourself in small ways will help you get into the practice of saying “no”. You will also come to realize that people really don’t take the word no that personally, which will allow you to build on these small successes and take on bigger, more important boundaries with confidence.

Just like being in a relationship, learning how to set boundaries and say “no'' takes patience and practice. Let Relish help you navigate tough conversations and build confidence with unlimited one-on-one coaching, personalized advice and more. Try our award winning app free for 7 days.

Couples Worksheets

Couples often have a very difficult time establishing boundaries and reevaluating boundaries over the course of a relationship. But, it’s important to recognize that boundaries are an important part of any healthy relationship. If you feel like you and your partner need to discuss the boundaries in your relationship, but you are not sure how to go about it, you should consider using a couple’s worksheet that focuses on setting boundaries. Worksheets like this provide a framework for how to have meaningful conversations about your needs and comfort levels with different things. Boundary worksheets not only help you outline what your comfort levels are about things like the frequency of communication, spending time apart, intimacy, etc., but they also provide examples of language you can use to help you say “no”. Examples include things like “I am not comfortable with that”, “I draw the line here” and “this is not acceptable” so that you can clearly articulate your boundaries to your partner.

Find Support

Know that setting boundaries is difficult for a lot of people, and that boundaries are super important for all types of relationships, both romantic and platonic. If you are having a hard time setting boundaries in your romantic relationship, you should consider turning to close friends and family for support. With your friends and family, you can practice discussing and setting boundaries in all your relationships. Not only will this improve your relationships with these people, but it will also help you establish and assert boundaries in your romantic relationship. If you do not feel comfortable turning to friends or family, you can seek support elsewhere, through relationship help books and online forums that can advise you on how to create boundaries in your relationships.

Use Relish

In some cases, setting boundaries is too difficult to do on your own, and you may need some professional backup. Relish is a relationship coaching app that you and your partner can use to help you achieve your relationship goals, including goals about healthy boundaries. You and your partner can make accounts, take personality quizzes, and meet with professional relationship coaches to assess the status of your relationship and make goals to improve your relationship. The relationship coaches have lots of experience helping couples that have difficulties discussing boundaries or are not on the same page about the boundaries in the relationship.

Relish is a super convenient and low-cost option for those who need help setting boundaries in their relationship. Work through interactive quizzes and expert coaching to gain a deeper understanding of your relationship, your partner and yourself. Click here to start your free trial.

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