Christian Singles & Dating

Do Friendships Need Boundaries?

Do Friendships Need Boundaries?

What thoughts come to mind when you hear the word "boundaries"? Is there anything about the word that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable? Do you automatically associate the word with a negative connotation or context?

There are all kinds of boundaries. Emotional boundaries. Time boundaries. Workplace boundaries. Physical boundaries. Communication boundaries. Intellectual boundaries. And the list goes on. From a relational aspect, boundaries are sometimes thought of as rules for the ultimate good of the relationship. In their book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain that having boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle because they help define who we are and who we are not. Given this framework, we can embrace boundaries as something good that must first begin with us individually before we can expect them in our friendships.

The short answer to the question, "Do friendships need boundaries?" is yes. However, boundaries should be offered with the right motives in order to yield the right results in our friendships. For Christians, everything we establish is founded in the truth of God's Holy Word.

So what exactly is a boundary? Dr. Cloud defines it as a property line. Property lines help identify ownership of property, and therefore, the responsible party. The key to understanding boundaries in friendship is accepting that the only person you can control is you. We must each take ownership of ourselves and be responsible for our actions. Celebrating the freedom we have and recognizing the freedom of others to behave as they choose is the first step in establishing healthy boundaries in friendships.

Psalm 74:16-17 teaches us, "The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter." We learn from this passage how God, even in creation, used boundaries to set things in place and create order. So should it be in our lives and friendships. Boundaries help us remember everything has its place.

Within friendship dynamics, boundaries serve as indicators of acceptable standards for the relationship. However, they should not be confused with walls. Walls are built to keep others out and also oneself in. People need people in an interdependent (not codependent) way. We are made to be relational and experience community. Friendship is one type of community God has designed for us to enjoy with many blessings. As we distinguish boundaries from walls in friendships, we mustn't use boundaries as a masquerade for walls. Sometimes, we hide behind boundaries when we have, in fact, created walls of separation in our friendships. Why do we do that? Because friendship can be messy and meaningful, all at the same time. But so is life, and that is the nature of humanity.

When we would rather not deal with real issues in our friendships, it is sometimes easier to say, "I'm protecting my personal space" or even refer to Scripture and say, "I'm guarding my heart." Yes, we should protect ourselves and guard our hearts. But we do so with the light of God shining on us to illuminate any place within us and our friendships that need His reflection. We must be willing to invite God in and ask Him to heal us and help us in our friendships. Heart work can be hard work, but it is worth doing because we love God and want to demonstrate His love in our relationships with others.

Boundaries are not meant to be a cover-up or escape route that prevents us from addressing our friendships. They offer a safe platform for us to experience just the opposite. Hebrews 11:30 says, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days." Let's ask God today, "What walls do I need to let fall in my friendships?" If we are serious about breaking down walls that divide us from one another, it will require faith. And remember, faith without works is dead.

To help us gain a clear picture of the differences between boundaries and walls, let's consider the following characteristics:

Characteristics of Boundaries in Friendships:

  • respects individuality expressed in friendships
  • promotes accountability in friendships
  • prevents injury of toxic behaviors in friendships
  • demonstrates freedom to disagree in friendships
  • communicates needs and expectations in friendships

Characteristics of Walls in Friendships:

  • used as a coping mechanism to justify avoidance in friendships
  • used as a defense mechanism to justify withdrawal and retreating from friendships
  • promotes distance and shallow interactions in friendships
  • encourages isolation in friendships
  • creates barriers to genuine connection in friendships

Ultimately, boundaries in friendships for believers should be rooted in truth we find confirmed in Scripture. God's Word is the final authority that draws every property line in our life. When we invite Him into our friendships, we will rejoice in grace-given boundaries prompted by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These types of boundaries will support our friendships and strengthen them to flourish.

Since boundaries are good for us, how can we establish healthy boundaries - what should they look like? Here are three practical tips we can practice to set healthy boundaries in our friendships.

1. Practice Communication

Healthy boundaries start and are maintained with open, honest, effective communication. We cannot expect our friends to read our minds. One of the ways we teach others how to treat us is by explicitly verbalizing our expectations. Of course, there is a right way to say everything that needs to be said. Pausing to ask ourselves, “Is it wise? Is it necessary?” may be fruitful in preventing further injury or offense to the friendship.

No matter how true, we want the delivery of our words to be laced with grace (Colossians 4:6). First and foremost, we should always allow the Holy Spirit to direct our conversations. Genuine friends are never intentionally wanting to bring harm to each other. Sometimes, the other party innocently may not know they have crossed a boundary because they are simply unaware. Boundaries can also be subjective depending upon our personal preferences, past experiences, and unique personalities. Communication is necessary and can be used as a positive means to support even stronger connections in friendships.

2. Practice Modeling

Another way we can practically set boundaries in our friendships is to model acceptable behaviors ourselves. We want to demonstrate mindfulness when we engage with our friends. This conveys respect for their feelings and needs. We should never project demands on our friends. Instead, we seek to experience mutual agreement where all parties can express their individuality while showing unity within the friendship.

We often teach others how to treat us by the manner in which we treat ourselves, what we allow as acceptable treatment from them, and how we initiate our treatment of them. The Golden Rule is still true: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mathew 7:12). Modeling godly behaviors helps to reinforce healthy boundaries that promote trust among friends.

3. Practice Accountability

The absence of conflict is not evidence of covenant friendship. It is possible to have confrontation in friendships and sustainable harmony when we practice accountability. Communication can be applied proactively to inform our friends of expectations and boundaries. It is also a tool to aid us when there needs to be accountability.

Proverbs 27:5-6 instructs us, “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” In other words, what may seem on the surface as wounds, when offered from a sincere friend, can be trusted because their motive is pure, always rooted in love.

Accountability has its place in our friendships. We are real people with real problems that must be addressed with a real yet productive approach. God does not expect us to act as if we never encounter conflict, nor should we think of confrontation strictly from a pessimistic perspective. Both are necessary so that the friendship continues to grow strong. Accountability should not be avoided or suppressed. It can serve the relationship well if we open our hearts and minds to practicing it with godly integrity in our friendships.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Vitezslav Vylicil

Crosswalk Writer Patrice BurrellChampioning women to live authentically and pursue God passionately, Patrice Burrell is called to lead others to the grace of God, rooted in the truth of scripture.  She is an author, life coach, and worship leader who loves practicing the presence of God through a lifestyle anchored in spiritual disciplines.  As a Bible teacher and preacher, she exhorts women to remember their true identity is defined in Christ, not culture.  When not serving at her local church with the small groups and singles' ministries, Patrice enjoys visiting local Orlando attractions, reading books while sitting along the beach, and finding unique ways to explore her writing creativity.  You can connect with Patrice on her blog, Warrior Woman Blog, on social media in her Facebook community, Warrior Women, and @patriceburrellministries on Facebook and Instagram.  Patrice is excited about her new book release, Living My Best Life: Embracing God’s Gift of Living Full and Single.  It is a six-session Bible study designed especially for single women.  You can also check out her debut book, Warrior Slay, a devotional book on the power of worship and prayer.