Oh my Goddess I hate setting boundaries. It makes me anxious. But do you know what I hate more? Not setting boundaries.
I have begun a new relationship. She is wonderful, we are in love and so many of my needs are being met. It feels like this could be a secure relationship. Boundary setting with her is reasonably easy, as these things go, especially since she likes it when I set boundaries. Whew!
I have a new roommate. She’s a friend. She is moving from a much larger space into some rooms in my house. She is under stress from some other things in her life, which I feel compassion for, but is also pushing my boundaries a lot.
I’ll give you an example.
She has a large couch. My house already has furniture. I put that in the ad. The only space her couch could go is in the corner of my private office. I suggested the space, which I have been using to store my bicycle. I didn’t think it through. The office is a space that is my working home, and which she is allowed to use when I am not using it. USE is the operant word here. Not decorate. Not nest in. Not store things in.
Once the couch was placed she asked to put in her coffee table, and a few candle holders and some lamps. There were movers there. I was flummoxed. I need to learn to say “Let me think about it.”
My previous roommate had all her stuff in her four rooms, and seldom used any other spaces. She was quiet. The worst disruption from her working from home during covid was the smell of her kitchen wafting into my office (she is a food scientist). This was my experience and my expectation. I expected my friend to go upstairs, work quietly on her computer and leave me alone.
My friend is on zoom calls all day, and is working in my kitchen. I can hear her downstairs in my office. My peaceful break space is not peaceful any more.
I miss being alone all day, in the quiet, to work, to do some yoga on my breaks, to have a quiet cup of tea.
I have been doing a daily exercise, based on Brene Brown’s work, where I write down something that is okay, and something that is not okay each day in note in my phone. In it, I reassure myself that it is okay to have boundaries around my space. That I am just sticking to what I offered.
Why is it so much easier to set boundaries with my girlfriend than my friend? I’ve been pondering it. I think it is because my friend wants to get what she wants, and isn’t sensitive to my distress. She is going to ‘negotiate’, and she doesn’t take a soft no for an answer. 100% of what I want is for there to be nothing of hers in my office, except the couch I already agreed to, and for there to be a leave no trace policy in my office.
This all makes me really anxious. I feel like if I don’t set boundaries constantly, she will steam roller me by introducing conflict. And I don’t want to always be on guard.
In contrast, when I set a boundary with my girlfriend, we hear one another and I am left feeling that she accepts my point of view and finds it reasonable. Nobody’s voice gets an edge.
So what do I do? I don’t want to feel like this.
I struggle with setting boundaries. And I find that she has been making a lot of requests lately, some of which I am uncomfortable with. I feel put upon. This means that I’ve been anxious for days, figuring out how to say no without conflict. Having to deal with conflict is a big drain. It feels awful. I am not going to be able to live like this.
I looked up how to set boundaries with difficult people. Here’s what I found.
This part was especially helpful:
- “Tell the other person what you are going to do, not what they should do. You’re only in control of what you do, but what you do can limit the other person. Think ahead, troubleshooting in advance to anticipate predictable resistance/reactions — incorporating this information into your plan.
- Be firm but dispassionate, clear and concise both when boundaries are established and when enforcing. Introduce limits at neutral times and then calmly, without fanfare, in the relevant moment. No tone, no struggle, no explaining. Minimal effort. Effective consequences stand on their own.
- Make it about you and your limits — NOT about them or what’s best for them. Stay in your own lane. This works because it’s argument-proof and can’t be refuted.
- Offer up that you could be wrong. Being “objectively” correct isn’t related to success here. Making it about your opinion or simply what you’re comfortable with or not puts you in charge without imposing anything. Allowing the other person to hold onto their viewpoint prevents a control struggle and is respectful. Easy.”
Okay, so, how do I do this here:
“I’m going to need to think about that. If you need an answer now, the answer is no.”
“I don’t have any storage space and the laundry room is full. If you would like to displace my things, and I agree to that, you will need to store them off site.”
“Please do not leave anything in the laundry room except your laundry soap.”
“Please do not leave or store anything in my office.”
“If you would like to hang one or two coats in the rack and put one or two pairs of shoes there, that will be fine.”
“If you are going to be noisy, I would prefer you worked in the meditation room during that time.”
Is there anything else I need to say? Probably not.