Setting boundaries with a friend is often hard!

A while ago, someone found my website by searching on what is now the title of this post. I learned this while reading a letter that a friend had written to another friend after being treated badly. So I decided it was time for me to share my thoughts on the subject.

Setting boundaries with friends can be difficult, especially when we’re feeling hurt. We may vacillate between wanting to tell them off in no uncertain terms and finding it easier to just ignore the whole thing. We don’t want to hurt our friends by saying the wrong thing, and we don’t want them to hurt us (again). What if they don’t understand? What if saying what we feel just leads to more rejection?

While there are no guarantees, I do have some suggestions for how to communicate with a friend when you feel wronged:

  1. Allow yourself some time to cool down. If you’re feeling very hurt or angry, consider putting off the conversation for a few minutes, hours or days. Give yourself whatever time you need to decide what to say and how to say it.
  2. Be specific.Tell your friend exactly what happened that you don’t like: “We were having an important conversation yesterday, and you answered your cell phone. I’m OK with that when we’re just chatting, but not when the conversation is important.” This lets your friend know what’s OK and what isn’t.
  3. Focus on yourself and your feelings rather than your friend. You may think that your friend was selfish and rude to answer the phone just then, but your conversation will be gentler, easier and more effective if you don’t say that. Talk about how you felt when he or she stopped paying attention to you during such an intimate moment. “It was really hard for me to get cut off in the middle of pouring out my feelings. I felt so rejected and hurt.” Sharing your feelings makes you more vulnerable, and that can be difficult. But it opens the door to understanding and compassion. Labels close those doors and make people defensive.
  4. Ask for what you want. Sometimes all we want is an apology, and sometimes we want more than that. Be clear about what you want before starting the conversation with your friend. If you just want to see that your friend feels sorry for hurting you, then you may not have to ask. But if you want something specific and it isn’t coming on its own, be prepared to ask for it. “I know how often your phone rings, and I thought that the next time I want to talk about something important I could ask you to put your phone on silent until we’re done. Would that be OK?”

Last Thoughts

When you’re feeling hurt, it’s easy to start attacking and blaming. But that just hurts you both. So think about what you want and the best way to get it. Clear, non-blaming communication will only strengthen your friendship.

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