how to say no

How to Set Boundaries Without Being Mean

Boundaries Without Being Mean | Uncommon Love Counseling in Portland

Most of us never learn to say no. We worry that saying no will seem rude, inconsiderate, or mean. We think if we say no we risk belonging, community, friendship, and love.

The truth is, healthy boundaries actually increase trust in relationships. Being able to speak, hear, and respect boundaries creates a deeper level of intimacy in relationships, whether friends, coworkers, or family members.

Worrying about and avoiding setting boundaries causes undue stress on most relationships. Try the tips below to start setting boundaries in caring ways to deepen intimacy and increase trust in your relationships.

It is possible to set boundaries without being mean.

Here are seven ways to assert some boundaries with love:

No is a complete sentence

Practice saying no without explaining or justifying yourself. Allow yourself to say no more often and increase your capacity to sit with the discomfort that might arise. Your discomfort will pass- and so will anyone else’s.

All you have to say is “No.”

Say yes

Part of setting boundaries is getting really clear about the things you want to say yes to. Prioritize the things that really matter to you. What gets you excited and makes you happy? Say more yeses to those and taking the risk to ask for those starting now.

Try asking for what you want this week and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Redirect them

Once you are clear about what you want to say yes to, redirect attention to the things you want. Boundaries are all about negotiation, so start the conversation with what you want, listen to your partner, and meet somewhere in the middle when possible.

Try something like, “I am really not interested in pizza tonight, could we make something at home instead?”

No apologies

Don’t apologize if your answer has to be no. Instead, start off with appreciation and then end the conversation with saying no. Remember, you have every right to say no, and you have nothing to apologize for- you haven’t done anything wrong.

All you have to say is, “No, thank you.”

Set timelines

Boundaries change with time. Be sure to set boundaries with timelines in mind.

You can say, “I don’t want to talk about that right now, but we can check in tomorrow” or “I can’t join you for group this month, but I would like to see if it's possible in a few weeks- can we talk more about it then?”

Allow yourself to change your mind

 Because boundaries change over time, be patient with yourself when they change. For starters, your interests, physical abilities, and emotional responses all change with time and age, so of course the boundaries you choose will change with them. You are allowed to change your mind.

Try saying something like, “Some things have changed for me, I would like to talk about (insert your topic here) again if you’re interested.” Or you can say, “I thought that was what I really wanted, but I guess I have changed my mind. Now I would like it better if…”

Ask for consent

When we talk about boundaries we most often focus on our own, but it is just as important we consider the boundaries of those around us. Notice when people set boundaries with you, and be respectful of their requests and needs.

Because boundary setting is difficult for so may of us, you can also choose to say something like, “Can I talk to you about (insert topic here) this afternoon?” or “I am curious if there is anything I can do to help you feel safer right now.”

Let me know if you want help implementing any of these.


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Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).