Cultivating Healthy Relationships: Setting Boundaries with Friends and Roommates

Time to read: 5.5 minutes

Date: November 1, 2023

Moving into a campus dorm or sharing off-campus accommodation is both exciting and challenging for college students. Living with people from diverse backgrounds and with different personalities can lead to enriching experiences and lasting friendships. However, maintaining amicable relationships with friends and roommates requires the careful setting of boundaries. 

Striking a balance between the individual space that every person requires and the shared space necessary for cohabitation and friendships to flourish is crucial. This article delves into the importance of setting boundaries and provides practical steps to achieve this balance successfully.

Understanding the Importance of Boundaries

Boundaries define the mental, emotional, and physical spaces between you and another person. They delineate where one person ends and another begins. Boundaries help individuals protect their self-worth and maintain self-respect. They ensure that each person’s needs are met and prevent the likelihood of feeling used or disrespected.

In the context of friendships and cohabitation, healthy boundaries foster mutual respect, understanding, and hence, more robust and more rewarding relationships. They prevent scenarios where one person’s actions infringe on another’s comfort or personal space, which can lead to resentment, misunderstanding, and conflicts.

Techniques for Setting Boundaries with Friends

1. Clarity in communication

The first step in setting boundaries in friendships involves clear and concise communication. Effectively articulate your needs and limitations in a respectful manner. This transparent dialogue allows friends to comprehend the expectations of the relationship.

2. Emphasis on honesty

Honesty is vital when initiating the process of setting boundaries. There's a risk of miscommunication if we suppress our true emotions to make others comfortable. It's necessary to maintain an open line of truthful conversation, even if the discussions may be challenging.

3. Assertiveness in boundary-setting

Alongside honesty, assertiveness is a significant component in establishing boundaries with friends. It's crucial to express our needs without feeling guilty. Though it's important to value your friends' feelings, they should not infringe upon your genuine needs and limits.

4. Conflict resolution strategies   

While establishing boundaries, conflicts are a common occurrence. How you manage these disagreements defines the resilience of your friendships. Ensure you're equipped with efficient conflict resolution strategies, including finding a compromise, seeking an impartial external perspective, or taking a temporary break from the friendship.

5. Last resort option

At times, the healthy establishment of boundaries with certain friends may seem unattainable. In such cases, it's vital to prioritize your well-being, even if it means potentially ending the friendship. Remember that every friendship should enhance your life experience, not detract from it. If you find that your friend consistently oversteps your boundaries, it may be time to reassess the relationship.

Balancing Boundaries and Friendship

1. Striking balance

Establishing boundaries requires a delicate equilibrium. Too relaxed, you risk encroachment on your personal space; too rigid, you might come off as distant or inaccessible. It's important to respect the boundaries of others as much as you demand respect for yours, forming the bedrock of a healthy relationship.

2. Significance of compromise

Compromise plays a pivotal role in setting boundaries. A readiness to adapt and a flexible approach helps in preserving friendships and maintaining tranquility in shared environments. At times, reminders of our boundaries are necessary even post their establishment.

3. Sample conversation: setting the boundary

Consider you have a friend who texts you late, disrupting your sleep. Boundary setting can be done softly but clearly, such as:

"Hey [friend's name], our chats are always enjoyable, but I've been trying to follow a stricter sleep schedule. Can we conclude our calls before 10 PM? A good night's sleep is vital for me. Thank you for understanding."

4. Sample conversation: assertive reinforcement

If this friend continues to call late, reinforce the boundary assertively yet respectfully:

"[Friend's name], I noticed you're still calling after 10 PM, which is my wind-down time. I cherish our friendship and our chats, but I need to stick to my sleep schedule. Can we ensure our calls occur within the discussed timeframe? I would truly appreciate it."

5. Continued dialogue

Reiterate the boundary conveying your needs and concerns. Show that boundary setting is an evolving conversation. It's beneficial to check in on the friend to understand their perspective and the reason they disregard the boundary.

Practical Steps for Setting Boundaries with Roommates

1. Setting ground rules

Immediately upon moving in, initiate a candid discussion about expectations and rules. Early conversations about chores, quiet hours, guests, privacy, and shared expenses can preempt potential conflicts.

2. Privacy first

Privacy is crucial when sharing living spaces. From knocking before entering a room to not meddling with someone's belongings, such unalterable boundaries ensure everyone's comfort.

3. Managing Conflicts

Resolving conflicts is important when differences arise between roommates. Address the issue calmly, explain your viewpoint, listen to theirs, and find a resolution that respects both parties' boundaries.

4. Regular check-ins

Routine check-ins ensure all roommates are content with the established boundaries. They also provide an opportunity for any necessary changes.

5. Sample conversation: setting the boundary

For instance, if your roommate plays loud music late at night and you prefer to sleep early, you could assertively but politely express your concern. Try:

"Hey [roommate's name], I thoroughly enjoy sharing this space and respect your love for music. However, as I have early classes, good sleep is vital for my focus and academic performance. I struggle to sleep with loud music being played after 11 PM. Can we agree on a 'quiet hours' policy, keeping the volume low after this time? I believe it would uphold our shared living environment."

This approach clearly expresses your concern, its impact on you, proposes a solution, and emphasizes mutual benefits, incorporating essential elements of healthy boundary setting.

Overcoming Challenges in Setting Boundaries

Feeling guilty or receiving resistance while setting boundaries is common. It's important to remember that prioritizing your needs and comfort does not make you selfish. If your boundaries are met with consistent disregard or hostility, it might be time to evaluate the relationship.

If conflicts regarding boundaries persist and become detrimental to your emotional wellbeing, consider seeking professional help, such as a counselor or mediator. Many universities offer free counseling services that can provide valuable guidance in these situations.


Navigating the world of shared spaces and friendships during college is a journey paved with countless learning opportunities. Setting boundaries forms a crucial part of this journey, contributing significantly to the quality of relationships and overall emotional wellbeing of students. 

Through open communication, mutual respect, and reasonable compromise, students can maintain healthy friendships and a positive living environment. As students venture into adulthood, the skill of setting boundaries will continue to be an invaluable tool in forging successful relationships in their personal and professional realms.

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