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Your Guide To Setting Healthy Boundaries With Friends

Here are the perfect scripts to follow.

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illustration of woman putting up shield between her friends
Esther Aarts
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As co-founder of the Whole30 (a nutrition plan that involves eliminating alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes and dairy for 30 days, then systematically re-introducing them to see how body and mind respond), Melissa Urban has fielded countless messages from followers seeking her advice on how to heal their relationship with food. Urban realized an overwhelming number of them were related to broken boundaries around eating and drinking with family, friends and coworkers:

“My mom makes comments about my weight that tear me down. How can I make her stop?”

My in-laws always serve whole wheat pasta for family dinners, even though they know I’m gluten-free. Do they just hate me?”

Our office manager brings donuts every Friday and puts them outside my desk, even though I’ve repeatedly asked her not to. WTF?”

And so, after writing several New York Times bestsellers to help readers transform their eating habits, Urban, now 49, pivoted into a slightly different, though still wellness-adjacent, territory. The Book of Boundaries: Set The Limits That Will Set You Free offers 100+ kind, clear scripts to use with friends, family, romantic partners, roommates, and the boss who keeps texting even though she 100 percent knows you’re on vaycay. Her message is simple and, like Urban herself, direct: “Boundaries aren’t mean or cold, and they're certainly not selfish — although the people who benefit from us having none might argue otherwise. Boundaries are designed to help you keep giving to those you love without sacrificing your own health and happiness in the process.”

The key, she says, sounds obvious but is intimidating for most people: “You have to actually set the boundary. Hinting, eye-rolling, passive-aggressive comments, or otherwise expecting your conversation partner to mind-read isn't an effective way to communicate your needs or limits. It’s not their job to guess your boundaries — it’s yours to clearly set and hold them.”

The self-described Gen X “boundary unicorn” shared three girlfriend-centric scripts with us, each with multiple levels of intensity:

Green boundary For introducing a boundary; when you want to be extra gentle; or if you assume the other person didn’t realize they were overstepping and truly wants to respect your needs.

Yellow boundary Firmer and more direct; helpful when reminding someone of a boundary and you need some extra oomph or if you’re dealing with a person who tends to need things spelled out a bit more.

Red boundary The clearest and most direct; often includes a consequence.

Use them to, as Urban says on her website, “navigate life with firm boundaries, a kind heart, and just the right amount of f***s.”

Script #1

My BFF is going through a rough patch. I’ve been a good listener, but she refuses to take responsibility for her feelings and is starting to feel like an energy vampire. Now I'm dreading our conversations. How can I protect my sanity the next time she starts venting?

Green: “I want you to know that I'm here for you, but I can't be your therapist — I can only be your friend. I don't have the capacity for another big emotional download this week, but can I take you to brunch and yoga or to see a movie on Saturday?”

Yellow: “I can't help you with this right now; I need to take some time and recharge myself. I’ll call you when I’ve got some energy back.”

Red: “I know you’re going through a difficult time, but I can’t be the only person you talk to, and this can’t be the only thing we talk about. If I can help you find a therapist or a support group, please let me know, but I either need some time off from this topic, or a break from the friendship." 

Script #2

A casual friend keeps sending me political articles and memes that I don’t appreciate or agree with. I’ve asked them not to; they reply, “I just want you to be informed.” Help me find nice words here because what I want to say is not nice.

Green: “Please stop sending these kinds of emails to me. You know I don’t share your views and I don’t want you forcing them on me, just as I'd never force mine on you.”

Yellow: “I haven’t opened your last two emails because you continue to send me things that I’ve specifically asked you not to. If you don’t respect this, this friendship won’t continue.”

Red: Block them and don't look back.

Script #3

A friend always gossips to me — sometimes about strangers, sometimes about people I know. I’ve asked her to stop because I don’t like the drama, but she just keeps going.

Green: “Ooh, nope. I don’t want to hear about this. Talking about Jess like this doesn’t feel right.”

Yellow: “Stop — I've already told you: I won't be a part of these kinds of conversations. Please change the subject or I'll head out."

Red: “I don’t want a friendship that’s based on talking about other people behind their backs. I wish you well.”

Have you tried to set boundaries with friends? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships