Two women stand against a wall with their arms crossed facing away from each other representing someone stepping over your boundaries.

As a therapist and a life coach, I know that being able to set healthy boundaries is an essential skill for having healthy relationships. But what happens when someone decides to take a leisurely stroll over the line you’ve so carefully drawn in the sand? That’s when setting boundaries gets challenging! Especially if you have some people pleasing tendencies, holding the line is easier said than done when someone steps over your boundaries. It can feel easier to just let it slide… but you know that sets a bad precedent for the relationship. 

In this article, we’ll explore why people step over boundaries, and more importantly, what you should do about it. 

Why do people step over boundaries?

People step over boundaries in relationships for a few reasons. The most common one is ignorance. They simply don’t know where your boundaries are! 

For example, if you are getting to know a new friend and they start asking you uncomfortable questions about your sex life, it may feel disrespectful to you, like they’re intentionally prying into something that you prefer to keep private. But another possibility is that they’re a bit socially awkward and they aren’t picking up on your discomfort. Or, they may have grown up in a culture or a family where talking about sex with new acquaintances wasn’t so taboo. Another possibility is that they may perceive your relationship as being closer than you do, and so they assume that you’re comfortable enough with them to discuss your sex life, when that’s not the case for you.

Stepping over boundaries usually isn’t malicious. It’s most often just a sign that the other person needs feedback from you to understand how you want to have a relationship with them. They need you to communicate your boundaries, calmly and clearly. 

This ties into the second reason that people step over boundaries — it’s possible you haven’t communicated your boundaries as clearly as you might think. Ask yourself, have you expressed directly to your new friend that you aren’t comfortable discussing your sex life and that you’d like to change the topic? Or, have you shut down, deflected, or gotten a little passive aggressive, hoping that they would take a hint? This is an excellent opportunity to practice assertive communication. If you can master that skill, it will make all of your relationships feel easier, not just this one.  

There’s a third possibility that’s less likely, but it does happen. To be blunt, sometimes people deliberately step over boundaries out of disrespect, selfishness, or some unhealthy personality trait that compels them to turn every interaction into a power struggle. If this becomes a pattern in the relationship, that’s a major red flag, and one that requires a different approach to reclaiming your space. 

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What to Do When Someone Steps Over Your Boundaries

Now, let’s talk about what you should do when someone steps over your boundaries:

  1. Reflect on Your Boundaries:

Before addressing the boundary breach, reflect on your own boundaries. Are they clear to you? Have you been crystal clear in communicating them to the other person? If not, start there. Calmly and assertively express how their actions made you feel. Explain the boundary that they crossed and what you would like instead. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory.

  1. Set Consequences:

Boundaries without consequences are more like suggestions. If the boundary is being stepped over repeatedly, it’s time to clearly define what you will do if it continues. For example, you could say, “I’ve said that I don’t want to discuss my sex life, but that topic keeps coming up. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m going to take some time apart if this continues to be a problem.”  

  1. Enforce Boundaries Consistently:

Being consistent with your boundaries is key. If you let one transgression slide and come down like a ton of bricks for another, it sends mixed signals. Enforce your boundaries consistently to create a clear expectation of respect. 

  1. Seek Support:

If you feel like your boundaries are constantly being stepped on, that’s a sign that you could benefit from working with a good therapist or life coach. The root cause may be a passive communication style, an attraction to unhealthy relationships, people pleasing tendencies, or other factors. These are all patterns that you can change with help with the right support. 

  1. Reevaluate the Relationship:

If the person continues to disrespect your boundaries when you’ve communicated them clearly, that’s a sign that it may be deliberate. Sometimes, stepping back is the best way to protect yourself from relationships that could be toxic

Support for Assertive Communication and Healthy Boundaries

Dealing with boundary breakers requires a combination of self-reflection, assertive communication, and consistency. Remember, standing up for your boundaries is not being unkind. It’s an act of self-love and self-respect that keeps relationships healthy and in balance. 

If you would like support from a relationship expert who can help you communicate assertively and stand firm in your boundaries, I invite you to schedule a free consultation with an expert on my team. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — For more advice on building healthy, satisfying relationships, check out my “Empowered Connections” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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