Archives for September 22, 2021

Boundaries are Key to a Healthy Relationship

Romantic or not, setting boundaries is a vital way to communicate your needs, values and expectations in a relationship.

Discussing and setting boundaries with a partner, friend or family member might sound like a recipe for friction and conflict. But boundaries are a vital way to communicate your needs, values and expectations in a relationship. Equally, you should respect and honour the boundaries set by others if you want a healthy relationship based on trust and empathy.

I’m Ruairí Stewart, a relationship and self-esteem therapist. Today, I’ll discuss why boundaries are so important and how to introduce them successfully into your relationship. 

What are boundaries?

Like the outer lines on a sports field, relationship boundaries define the limits of what you want and expect from a relationship. Boundaries can be emotional, physical, sexual and even time-based. I’m sure we’ve all had that moment when a visitor to your home has outstayed their welcome! When your partner, friend, or family respects your boundaries, they avoid overstepping that ‘line’. 

Boundaries are not just ‘rules of play’; they’re the core values that define what is important to you. Setting self-boundaries is an excellent way to develop your value system. Sara Kuburic has some great suggestions for self-boundaries, such as:

  • I will ask for help when I need it 
  • I will limit spending time on people that drain my energy 
  • I will give myself time to rest 
  • I will not check my ex-partner’s social media 
  • I will be honest with myself 

Once you have a good sense of how you want to live your life, you can incorporate these values into your relationships.

Why relationships need boundaries

Ironically, social media apps give us an easy set of tools to manage boundaries—we can mute, restrict, unfollow or even block other users. Sometimes we need to apply these same boundary-setting tools in the real world to manage our relationships and regain control.

Boundaries protect your well-being and demonstrate that your needs matter and deserve to be honoured. By setting boundaries in relationships, you separate the appropriate from the inappropriate. Some signs that your relationship may need some boundaries include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or burnt out
  • Having no time for your own activities
  • Feeling resentment toward your partner


Setting limits around the safety and trust element of a relationship is essential. Knowing who to share with and the level of disclosure is a vital part of your boundary setting, while also respecting their needs if they want to keep information private.

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries help you take care of your own emotions and your well-being. They set limits on what energy you allow into your space. Boundaries can help stop people blindly dumping their emotions and problems on you, expecting solutions to their problems or wanting you to take responsibility for how they feel.

Material Boundaries

Material boundaries are about the things you share with someone, including your possessions, living spaces and finances. 

Everyday domestic chores are a common trigger point, where typically one person is not pulling their weight or is leeching off you financially. In these cases, you may need to send a clear message by no longer giving them access to you, your resources, your energy or your space.

Physical and Sexual Boundaries

Physical and sexual boundaries are about safety and respect, period. It’s about defining what is and isn’t ok, and communicating that freely without shame or judgment. You need to set limits on what is or isn’t appropriate. 

Time boundaries

We all need time to ourselves as well as spending time with our partners. This is a normal part of taking care of yourself—time alone is essential. 

Spending time away from your partner with your friends and family is good for you and good for them. Your time boundaries essentially communicate the level of contact and time you are willing to spend with someone. This includes time with friends and family—some people will demand more than you are ready to give, so protect your time and energy by setting boundaries.

When to hold, when to fold.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, discussing and setting boundaries with a relationship partner can be tricky—they may feel hurt or get defensive. The key is to express the issue in terms of how you feel, rather than blaming them. Don’t issue ultimatums – give them time to understand your needs and adjust accordingly. If your relationship is based on trust and honesty, it can handle a little frank discussion, and you’ll probably learn a bit more about their needs and boundaries too. 

Timing is important when you want to initiate a discussion about boundaries—make sure you choose a time when you’re both relaxed and open to chat. Avoid language that can quickly escalate a chat into an argument and stay on-topic.

When someone holds a different viewpoint or a judgement on how you feel, that’s their problem, not yours. If they can’t respect your lifestyle, opinions, or have respectful conversations around differences, don’t make space for them in your circle, or agree not to discuss these issues with them.

In some cases, despite your best efforts, the relationship may break down. Your partner, friend or family member refuses to accept there is an issue or is unwilling to change. In these situations, you may need to call on the services of a trained relationship therapist to help you resolve the impasse. Sometimes a friendship just wasn’t meant to be, and the best option is to walk away. 

Invest in yourself

Have you noticed the relationship pattern playing out over and over again in your relationships? Setting boundaries is one way to ‘invest’ in yourself and help break this cycle. Dysfunctional patterns can also indicate unresolved past traumas that you need to work on. Building self-awareness of unhealed triggers and your personal history is an empowering way to make changes in your life and build better, more fulfilling relationships.


Join me next time, where we look at one-sided relationships and ask the question, “Are you a people pleaser?”

The Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship

Finding yourself constantly trying to people-please or being mistreated in your relationship? Red flags aren’t always easy to see, but must be addressed for…

Sometimes you find yourself putting up with a lot of shit from someone, in fear of losing them. As time goes on, you realize you’ve lost yourself in the process. People will keep treating you the way they always have if you prioritize not losing them over losing yourself.

I’m Ruairí Stewart, a relationship and self-esteem therapist. And I’m going to help you identify the warning signs of a bad relationship, whether friend, family, or lover. We’ll look at the impacts an unhealthy relationship can have on your mental health and physical wellbeing. We’ll also explore ways to change the relationship dynamic, so you can both feel accepted and respected. Are you ready to make some changes for the better? Let’s go.

Some people are trapped in toxic relationships for so long—they can’t even see the red flags: people-pleasing, exploitation, mistreatment. So what are the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Telltale Signs Of A Toxic Relationship

Unhealthy relationships can take many forms, but there are common themes that center around safety, respect, and identity.


Do you feel unsafe or threatened in your relationship? For some people, it’s constant putdowns, insults, and demeaning behavior. For others, the arguments in the relationship become physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive. You don’t feel safe expressing yourself because of how your partner reacts and responds. They may get angry, shut you down, blame or intimidate you. It seems like you are constantly walking on eggshells. Issues around safety can also occur when your partner or friend struggles with destructive behaviors or addictions. 


“There will always be someone who can’t see your worth. Don’t let it be you.”

Your opinions are met with intense criticism or judgment or ridicule. Your partner doesn’t meet your needs, despite your efforts to communicate with them. They make no effort to make you believe your needs matter to them. They may even reject, ridicule, or belittle you for wanting these needs met. A partner or friend who doesn’t seek help or make any changes also demonstrates a lack of respect for your relationship.


You don’t feel you have your own identity or a sense of self separate from the relationship. Your partner denies you the freedom to make your own choices. You’ve effectively become their ‘caretaker.’

It is a heavily one-sided relationship, where they might exploit you to meet their needs, with no consideration to how you feel or what you want from the relationship. 

‘Gaslighting’ is a term used to describe a situation where someone is attacking your grasp on reality and making you doubt yourself, to the point you have no context of what feels real or not without that person’s input.

How do you deal with a toxic relationship?

Healthy relationships allow both people to have boundaries in place. A partner who consciously chooses to ignore or violate your boundaries is not respecting you or your needs. This is a red flag you can’t ignore. 

Remember, you are not bound to any person that’s keeping you feeling trapped and unhappy. Life-altering decisions can be hard to make but trust yourself to know what is best for you. You need to decide—can this relationship be rescued, or is it time to walk away?


Staying in an unhealthy relationship can make you feel exhausted, frustrated, and emotionally drained. Long term, these relationships can impact your mental health and self-esteem. 

With help from a trained professional therapist, you can identify the true nature of your relationship and find the path to a better outcome.

Toxic Friendship Signs

Friendships may not demand the same level of commitment as a primary relationship, but a toxic friendship can still make you feel bad. Toxic friendship signs tend to be a bit more subtle and don’t necessarily extend to full-blown abusive behavior. We do see the same general themes, including:

  • Unsafe behaviors
  • Lack of respect 
  • Attacks on your identity.


With toxic friends – there is no trust. It’s not safe for you to be yourself when you’re around them. You’re always on-guard, which loads on the stress. Their behavior might be passive-aggressive and resentful.


They exploit you when it suits them, and your needs are never met.

They expect your energy and time but provide little in return. In a toxic friendship, you don’t feel valued or respected. They might ridicule you to others, slander you, share your intimate secrets or put you down for putting yourself first.


Often you can’t say how you really feel around them—it’s their way or the highway. They might demand that you include them in your circle but actively exclude you from theirs.

How do you deal with a toxic friendship?

Having a friendship doesn’t mean you have to tolerate poor behavior just to stay ‘good friends.’ Being a good friend doesn’t mean their needs always come before yours. It doesn’t mean putting up with deception or dishonesty. Healthy friendships are built on a foundation of mutual respect—respect for each other’s boundaries, needs, and feelings.


Coping with toxic friends can make you feel drained. You’re giving a lot more than you are receiving. This quote from Maryam Hasnaa sums it up nicely:

“One of the biggest misconceptions about being a kind loving person is believing that you need to stick around and put up with anything.”

Can you work through the issues with your friend, or is it time to cut them loose? 

A professional therapist can help you explore the true nature of this dysfunctional relationship and guide you to a better outcome.

Serious Red Flags

In some cases, a relationship moves beyond emotional abuse and becomes physically threatening. There may be sexually abusive behavior. You should never tolerate these situations and need to remove yourself from the relationship for your own safety.

The signs of a healthy relationship

Ok – let’s finish by looking at what a well-balanced and healthy relationship looks like.

A healthy relationship is rooted in honesty, truth, and respect. It’s a safe environment, where both people can communicate their true feelings freely and without fear. 

The key to achieving a happy, functional relationship is communication. Be true to yourself and learn to communicate exactly what you think and feel. Don’t try to please others at the expense of your own happiness—that’s not your job.

Setting boundaries will help you prioritize your mental health and encourage positive changes. If your partner refuses to respect your needs, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship. Remember – you are under no obligation to fix someone else or be a martyr for the sake of the relationship.