Some families are good at living with boundaries. They naturally give others space. But other families can’t understand limits. They need some gentle but firm boundaries. How do you know you must set some ground rules with your family?

What is a relationship boundary?

Everyone lives with boundaries. Whether at work or school, you understand why limitations exist with other people. But family can be more complicated. So it’s easy to ignore the signs that indicate you need to set some limits with them.

Someone has described a boundary as an imaginary line you establish with other people regarding how you expect them to speak and act around you, your kids, and your house.

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Signs you need to set firm boundaries with your family

Here is a list of the seven signs indicating it’s time for some family boundaries.

1 – Nonstop or frequent unannounced visits

If your sister stops by your house unannounced every day of the week, it’s time to set a boundary. Frequent, unannounced visits are disruptive to your family life. You may need to change your plans if she shows up at the wrong time. Perhaps your sister is lonely or looking for your support but hasn’t expressed it.


Studies show that sibling relationships are often the longest-lasting family relationships a person will have. A good relationship with a sibling is essential for your well-being.

You may want to ask your sister why she’s coming over so often. It’s essential to be clear about your need for a boundary yet remain kind towards her. Being kind but firm, will help your sister feel like you care about her, but help her understand your limits.

2 – Unwanted advice about your life, your partner, or your job

Family members often feel like they’re helping you when they give unsolicited advice. Their suggestions about your work, where you live, or your partner can feel very intrusive. It’s easy to put up with them, but you may start to feel angry at them if you let it go on. Anger is harmful to your mind and body. Don’t allow their comments to fester. It would be best if you spoke up.


No one else is going to set your boundaries. It’s something you must do yourself. So, when your aunt says something belittling about your partner, you must speak up and tell her to stop. If she continues, you need to say firmly and calmly,

“Aunt Elma, I know you’re concerned for me, but I don’t like the way you’re talking about Joe. If you keep talking like that, I’ll need to leave.”

While you acknowledge her concern for you, you also set a boundary for how she talks about someone you care for.

3 – Opinions shared about how you raise your kids

Being a parent is like having a target on your back. People seem very comfortable giving unsolicited parenting advice. It may be your mother-in-law giving you the side-eye for allowing your daughter one more show on your iPhone or a sarcastic comment by your sister about how strict your bedtime routine is compared to hers. At some point, you’ll become fed up with their unsolicited opinions.


For relatives whom you know are genuinely trying to be helpful, you can say, “Thanks, but we’re going to stick with what we’re doing.” They’ll get the message to stop interfering.

But you need to be more direct with family members like your sister, who uses sarcasm to correct you. Tell your sister that her sarcastic comments make it clear she disagrees with your bedtime routine, but it’s what you think is best for your kids.

Your kids need to see how you work out disagreements with family members. It teaches them how to adapt to different people’s opinions without getting angry. It’s also helpful for your kids to understand that family members may parent differently.

4 – Buying things you don’t want without asking you

Do you have relatives who constantly buy stuff for you or your kids? Some relatives are extraordinarily generous, and gift-giving is how they express their love. But you may not appreciate your great aunt sending five stuffed animals in 30 days to your one-year-old. It’s probably time to set a firm boundary with your dear great-aunt.


Tell your sweet relative how much you appreciate her generosity, but you’ve put a moratorium on all gifts unless they are for a birthday or a holiday. If she wants to buy something for your kids, she can keep them at her house. Please don’t bring them to your house.

If she keeps giving unsolicited gifts, the best way to discourage her is to say, “My, this is cute. I’ll drop it off at the thrift store tomorrow. I’m sure someone will want it, but we’re maxed out at my house.” Hearing that her gifts are going to the thrift store will quickly stop her overly zealous gift-giving.


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5 – Comments about your diet or body

Families sometimes cross the line on comments about diet, weight loss, and weight gain. Everyone has advice on how you should look, how much exercise you need or what diet you should be on. If you’ve recently gained weight, it’s hurtful when your relatives make comments. You know you want to lose weight, but having them tell you that you should lose weight feels rude. It’s challenging to navigate through these comments. It would be best if you told them to stop.


The fact that your relatives are so free with their opinions reveals their rudeness towards you. These relatives may not be as “safe” as you thought. You don’t owe them an explanation about your weight gain. Set a boundary by not replying to their rude comment. Or you can say, “It’s none of your business.” That should shut them down. If not, walk away from the conversation.

6 – Asking intrusive questions about your personal life

Well-meaning family members sometimes ask too many questions about friends, dating, or your significant other. Perhaps you’ve shared a little about your partner, and now they feel free to delve into the nitty-gritty details of your relationship. At this point, your comfort meter goes off, and you realize it’s time to set some strict boundaries about your personal life with your family.


When your relatives ask questions about your personal life, reply, “Thanks for asking, but I don’t want to comment on that.” If they pry for more information, keep pushing back with the same comment, then change the subject to another topic you are comfortable talking about.

7 – Snooping around your house

There are those family members who come into your house and start looking through your entire home without regard for your privacy. This behavior is insulting and shouldn’t be tolerated. Even if it’s your sweet grandma doing it. You need to tell her to stop.


The first time you find a family member snooping around your house, say something like, “Oh, you must be lost. Let me show you where the living room is.” If they do it again, you need to address their behavior with something like, “Grandma, I caught you snooping through my stuff again. Please stop. If you don’t, you can’t come over to my house.

Why is it hard to set firm boundaries with family?

There are many reasons why you may feel hesitant to set boundaries with your family. Here are a few of them.

  • You love your family and worry that setting boundaries will ruin your relationships with them. It’s easy to assume that a limit will hurt your relationship with a family member, but the opposite is true. Even if they don’t like the boundary, they will respect that you can stand up for yourself.
  • Kids don’t stand up to the older family members in your family: This may have been true when you were little, but you’re an adult now. It’s okay to disagree with an older relative as long as you’re respectful. If they get belligerent and angry at you, it’s wonderful to tell them to stop or walk away from the conversation.
  • It’s the first time you’ve said anything: If you let things go for too long when you finally set up a boundary, it feels weird. Your family member may be surprised because “it never bothered you before.” You need to explain to them that it has bothered you, but you were afraid to tell them. This could open up a conversation about your relationship.
  • The living situation makes it more complicated: If you live with your parents or with you, setting up boundaries can be challenging. Don’t assume you can live with the annoying things they’re saying. You’ll eventually get irritated, which could result in you making angry comments. Your parents may be surprised at your reaction because they thought everything was okay. Speak up while you’re calm and express the need for a boundary.

Could setting firm boundaries improve your family relationships?

It’s not easy setting boundaries with your family, but ultimately they can strengthen your family relationships. Here are some reasons why limits can be helpful.

  1. Boundaries draw a clear line so family members feel comfortable knowing what is expected of them around you and your family.
  2. When you set up boundaries for your younger family members, you inspire them to stand up for themselves in a kind but firm way.
  3. Setting up healthy boundaries shows respect for your family and yourself.
  4. Your family will understand that you want an open, honest relationship with them.
  5. Instead of feeling resentful or avoiding your relatives, you feel comfortable around your relatives.
  6. Healthy boundaries make family relationships stronger

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Final thoughts on knowing that it’s time to establish some firm boundaries

Getting together with your family can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, family get-togethers sometimes involve gossip, unsolicited advice about your personal life, or unhelpful comments about your kids. At some point, you know it’s time to set some firm boundaries with a family member. It’s challenging to do but important for the sake of the relationship with that person and for your own heart. Take the bold step of telling that family member to stop saying or doing something. Be kind but firm with them. Setting a boundary is worth the hard work and produces good results for you and your family.