Two colourful friendship bracelets with lettered beads that spell: friendship boundary

How to Set Boundaries With Friends (Without Being Rude)

Setting boundaries with friends is crucial for maintaining healthy, balanced relationships and ensuring your own well-being. It allows you to communicate your needs and limits clearly, fostering mutual respect and understanding that can sustain and nurture a friendship. 


However, many people struggle with setting boundaries for fear of seeming rude. Read on to learn how to set boundaries effectively with friends, including practical examples and tips for doing so with kindness and confidence.


Understanding boundaries


Boundaries are essential guidelines we set for ourselves – not for others – to maintain a healthy balance between different aspects of our lives. They establish limits on our own behaviour, protect our emotional well-being, and ensure respectful, mutually beneficial relationships. Boundaries are particularly important for anyone prone to stress, anxiety, or who has experienced emotional exhaustion or burnout.


Examples of setting boundaries with friends


Boundaries in friendships define the behaviour, emotional support, time spent together, and personal space that nurture the relationship between friends. They clearly define what and how much we’re able to give to the friendship without sacrificing our own well-being.


Here are some examples of common boundaries with friends:


Time boundaries: Let’s say a friend often calls late at night to chat, but this interferes with your sleep. Setting a boundary might look like saying, “I love our late-night chats, but I need to get to bed earlier for my health. Can we catch up before 9 p.m. instead?”


Emotional support boundaries: If a friend consistently relies on you as their sole emotional support, it might become overwhelming. Without a boundary you might find your own mood affected by theirs or your schedule upended every time they face an emotional challenge and require support. 


You could set a boundary by expressing, “I care about you deeply, but I don’t think I’m providing the kind of support you need. It might be helpful to talk to a professional who can offer you the support you deserve.”


Personal space boundaries: If a friend has a habit of showing up unannounced, and you dislike it, you might need to set a boundary for your personal space. 


A gentle way to address this could be, “I really appreciate our time together, but I need some heads-up before you come over. Could you please call or text me first?”


Tips for setting boundaries with friends (without being rude)


Many people fear setting boundaries. They worry they will seem rude or hurt their friends’ feelings. But boundaries are important and healthy in a friendship; they protect each person’s well-being, promote better communication, and foster security in the friendship. 


That said, boundaries can be difficult to set with friends, especially with long-time friends who may be more like family. The following tips can help you do so without feeling rude or mean.


Use “I” statements: Frame your boundaries from your perspective to avoid sounding accusatory. This helps in expressing your needs while minimizing defensiveness from your friend. 


For example: “I know you’re going through financial difficulties, but I can’t afford to keep covering your rent. It’s affecting my own bank balance – I’m not saving very much each month, and I’m starting to worry about my future.”


Explain: Setting boundaries without explaining why you need them or how you’re affected without them makes it more likely your efforts will be seen as rude or uncaring. You may not need to go into great detail, depending on the degree of friendship, but explaining why you’re limiting your behaviour in regard to a friend can help them understand, appreciate, and respect the new boundaries.


For example: “I can be a better friend when you give me a head’s up before you come over. I can be more present for you. I get so frazzled by spontaneous drop-in that it takes me a while to calm down, relax, and focus my attention on you. I hate being with you while my mind is caught up in something else like that.”


Be direct but kind: Clarity is key in setting boundaries. Be straightforward about what you need, but do so with empathy and kindness to maintain the friendship’s positive aspects.


For example: “I want to share all of my life experiences with you; you’re my first call after something funny or upsetting happens. But I really struggle with sharing my belongings, because I’ve worked so hard to afford nice things. I can’t let you borrow my clothes anymore. I just get too stressed about it.” 


Reaffirm the relationship: Emphasize the value of your friendship and your desire to maintain it. This reassures your friend that setting boundaries isn’t a rejection but a way to enhance the relationship.


For example: “Bro, you know I love hanging out with you. But I’m trying to drink a little less and be more responsible. I don’t want to go to work hungover the next day anymore. Maybe we can do something besides happy hours?”


Practice self-compassion: Remind yourself that setting boundaries is an important form of self-care and not selfishness.  For example: Say to yourself, “I have the right to protect my well-being, and doing so enables me to be a better friend in the long run.”


Expect some resistance: Change can be challenging, and even well-meaning and supportive friends may initially resist your new boundaries. Remain firm and compassionate in your stance, though be open to alternative ways to achieve your needs. With time, a true friend will respect and adapt to your boundaries.


Respect your friends’ boundaries in turn: Everyone has the right to set boundaries on friendships, and when you set yours, you may open the door to a friend recognising their needs and setting their own boundary in turn. As long as this isn’t about tit-for-tat, it’s healthier for both of you to reflect on your needs and how best to meet them.





Vidula V Sawant (M.A., M.Phil., CRR No. A80980) is a clinical psychologist with 4+ years of experience and a passion for understanding the complexities of our minds and behaviours.

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