In the classic TV sitcom “Seinfeld,” border-breaching friendships are played for laughs. When the entire hall neighbor Kramer, the patron saint of practically exaggerated borders, borrows the uninvited clothes or barrels at Jerry’s apartment, for the fridge, it’s comedy gold. However, in real life, setting boundaries with friends is no laughing matter.
It has a lot to do with the less rigid, more free-form nature of non-marital, non-family friend relationships. Bright-line no-fly zones are hard to set and maintain when expectations and boundaries vary wildly from friendship to friendship, and doubly so when they shift over time within the same friendship. (This is what many of us have learned during the past two years of polarizing politics and the COVID-19 pandemic.)
As hard as it may sound, learning to successfully set clear boundaries with your friends is important for two big reasons. First – and it may seem counterintuitive – it makes you a better friend.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, a limit means I’m setting boundaries, keeping distance,'” says Beverly Grove-based psychotherapist Alison Perks. “In fact, boundaries are the best way to build closeness and connection. When you communicate clearly and directly with friends about what’s okay and what’s not, you know the ground situation with them so you can stay that way. Be able to behave in a way that creates trust in friendship. [and] So that you can feel confident in them in the relationship.”
Second, as James Gue, a West Hollywood therapist, points out, these low-impact, more casual bonds also serve as training wheels for some of those big, high-stakes relationships. ,[Friendships] Sometimes we have the most consistent relationships of our lives, and they’re fertile ground for learning how to be in more sexual, romantic relationships,” he says. “They’re good practices.”
Armed with the knowledge that mastering these boundary-setting skills will make you a better friend now and a better partner later, your next step may seem obvious: hand-hold that boundary-violating bestie and Book an hour with a couples counselor, ok?
The reality is that the Jerry-and-Kramer-share-a-shrink is likely in the form of a “Seinfeld” plotline (though judging by the series finale, it might fit perfectly into the 10th season, could I? am right?). So, we’ve asked for concrete, actionable boundary-setting advice from Perks, Gue, and therapist Reshana Watson, whose LA-area practice relationships are focused on counseling. His takeaway? The path to better boundaries — and better friendships — begins with three simple steps: communication, compromise, and reassessment.
1. Communication (early)
Good communication is a no-brainer in any relationship, and Perks says the best approach is to start the boundary-setting conversation as early as possible—and certainly before things start to turn pear-shaped. . She presents the scenario of an upcoming dinner party.
“You’ve told your friend that you’re going out to dinner with some friends and family, and they say, ‘Oh, I’d love to come. What time is it?’ You can say, ‘You know, for this gathering, I’ve already decided on a mix of people who’re going to be here. I care about you as a friend, but this isn’t an event like that. not to which you have been invited.’ Be clear and direct about what you need. You are not responsible for how they feel and how they react.”
Responsibility aside, Perks says there is always room in a dynamic friend for empathy. “If you think your friend’s feelings will be hurt, you can say, ‘This might sound hurtful to you, but I want to explain that you are a friend that I enjoy and you are my friend. But this is what I need for this one event.'”
Watson says it’s important to start a conversation, even if you don’t have the right words on your tongue right away. “One of the most important things is the delivery and the way you talk to your friend,” she says. “near you your own special language [between you] – That’s why you are friends – so use it. … it’s okay to say, ‘You know, that was really weird. Can we talk about it?’ or ‘I really don’t know what I was feeling, but that was different, right?'”
If you’re looking for a practical DIY guide to healthy boundary-setting, Watson recommends Nedra Glover Tawab’s book “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself.”
It’s also helpful, Gue says, if the boundary-setting request is framed as non-conflict. “We have to ask for what we want, not demand,” he says. “It’s based on the concept of nonviolent communication — NVC — and it’s about telling facts and not interpreting facts. Rather than labeling someone else’s behavior by saying, ‘You’re too needy,’ or ‘You’re very are away,’ you tell the facts and what feelings [those facts] Wake up in you You are taking personal responsibility for your reaction.”
2. Compromise (Sometimes)
Sometimes, maintaining a friendship after setting a boundary means compromising, even after the lines of communication are completely open and completely stagnant-free. Gu gives the example of two friends whose bases are very different when they touch.
“The problem may be as simple as how quickly — or how well — someone responds to a text or email,” he says. “On the one hand, there is someone who wants to be friends with daily texts, phone calls or conversations. On the other hand there is someone who thinks that once a week or even every other week works better. Too often it’s out of necessity. It is about naming, in which one person says, ‘This is what I want,’ and then another person says, ‘And this is what I want.’ So it’s, ‘How do we bridge the gap?’ and ‘Is this even possible?’
Sometimes each of us has to give up exactly what we want to bridge the gap and get closer to the middle – if that’s possible.
— Physician James Guiu
“Sometimes each of us has to leave exactly what it takes to bridge the gap and get closer to the middle—if that’s possible,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Compromise is a big area of growth for people where all of our needs for you to give to a friendship don’t get met all the time.”
In addressing the above scenario, Gu again insists on sticking to the facts. “Start the conversation with something like, ‘Hey, I notice you contact me three times a day. This may seem relatively unimportant to you because it’s just a text, but I see that for me. what works better is to have more quality conversations once a week [instead], Then you are not labeling the behavior. you’re just [noting that] What each of you wants is simply not lining up. And you can negotiate from there.”
3. Revaluation (Always)
Because the scope and strength of our friendships change as we move forward in life, Watson says we shouldn’t expect the boundaries we hold to be immutable like the borders between countries. “There are different levels of friendship,” she says. “And between those tiers there’s an opportunity for promotion or demotion. For example, there’s a friend you can depend on to drive you to the airport and a friend who drinks. There will be times when the airport friend drinks. Will get demoted to the friend level. That’s not necessarily a negative thing. It’s just that things don’t align anymore.”
Watson says it’s during times of transition—for example, a friend entering a long-term relationship—that it’s important to revisit set boundaries and manage expectations. “We want to stay within our limits, but if you’ve gone beyond that limit or the reason you put it in the first place doesn’t exist anymore, you can change the limit,” she says. “You just have to tell the people around you. The biggest thing with boundaries is consistency and telling what your limits are, because even though you’ve been friends for a long time, they can’t read your mind. “
With that in mind, what advice would Watson have for two longtime friends who are on opposite ends of the spectrum, reuniting in person after the pandemic only to find their opinions on politics or vaccination?
You can’t hold things too tightly like before because we’re evolving forever.
— therapist Reshma Watson
“I think you have to be open to meeting your own expectations,” she says. “People are moving in different ways than they were before the pandemic. You can’t hold things too tightly like before because we’re evolving forever. ,
Perks says border issues arise when we discuss hot-button issues like politics or vaccine mandates because of how we view the conversation. “What we’re trying to do is to explain to other people what they should be thinking or how they should feel about something,” she says, “instead of just recognizing that you’re their political Can’t control the attitude. You can only control how you react and react to the conversation. We need to focus on ourselves because that’s what we really have the power to.”
If you really want to have friendships, but not new politically divisive ones, Perks suggests — you guessed it — communication. “Can you have a conversation with this dude and say, ‘We have to agree to disagree because we go around in circles when we talk about politics? Can we hang out and talk about politics? Can’t discuss because it doesn’t serve us? Because otherwise I think we have a great time with each other.’
“If they say, ‘No, for me to be your friend, I have to be able to talk politics with you,’ then you have a choice,” she says. “Is this someone you want to spend time with or not? The choice always comes to us.”
The story is part of a limited series exploring friendship in Los Angeles, from the superficial to the absolute.