Setting boundaries this Christmas: how to politely draw the line

The festive period can be demanding, but setting and communicating boundaries can help reduce stress and ensure you spend your time in a way that doesn’t impact your wellbeing.

Time boundaries

Learning to say no to invitations when you have too much to do or need some space can be difficult and leave you worrying that you’ve upset the host.

If you find declining difficult, or the host has put you on the spot, buy yourself some time by saying: ‘let me think about it/check my diary/ask my spouse and I’ll get back to you’ before saying no.

Try to do this as quickly as possible, otherwise it will cause you anxiety and the host may be waiting for replies so they can finalise their plans.

Politely decline invitations by:

  • Apologising so they are prepared for your answer to be a ‘no’
  • Thank them sincerely to reassure them you appreciate being asked
  • Say you’re unable to make it without going into too much detail
  • Say you hope they have a good time
  • If you would like to see the person or people at a later date, say that you will be in touch to arrange that

Don’t make excuses as they may respond with a workaround. For example, if you say you can’t go for a meal because you have nobody to babysit, they may say you can bring the children with you.

It will be easier to decline via text message, WhatsApp or email as if it is done in person or over the phone they may persuade you to change your mind.

You could also send the host a gift to enjoy at the event, such as a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates and ask the next day whether they had a nice time.

Physical boundaries

Some people love greeting others with hugs and kisses on the cheek, but others don’t. If a friend or family member invades your personal space, it can be hard to tell them their behaviour makes you uncomfortable. It may be embarrassing for you and them, but you are entitled to refuse physical contact with anyone.

It’s best to be proactive than reactive, so telling someone from the beginning is better than tolerating several hugs or kisses and losing your temper by the final one.

Try saying: ‘It’s lovely to see you, but I don’t like hugging/kissing. How about a handshake instead?’ Put out your hand at this point for them to take.

Emotional boundaries

Friends and families are supposed to support each other through tough times, but it’s OK to say you’re unable to help if you’re at breaking point. Remember, no matter how much advice you give someone you cannot solve their problems for them so don’t take them on as your own.

Try saying: ‘I wish I could help, but I can’t take on anyone else’s problems because my own are overwhelming me’

Intellectual boundaries

Just because you enjoy spending time with someone, doesn’t necessarily mean you agree on all matters. For example, your brother-in-law may support a different football team and dislikes yours, or your best friend may prefer one political party over another, and you think otherwise.

Even if light-hearted, conversations can escalate and become awkward, ruining the atmosphere of a party and making others feel uneasy.

It is acceptable to disagree but, if things are getting out of hand, politely suggest the conversation should end because you don’t agree and change the subject.

If the person you are speaking to is disrespectful or aggressive, tell them you feel offended as they may not be aware. It is OK for them to have an opinion, but not to force it on you.

Try saying: ‘This is a difficult subject; shall we talk about something else?’ They may need to have the last word, but after that find something you both enjoy talking about instead.

Our team’s top five tips for boundary setting

  1. Don’t feel guilty about setting boundaries. You have nothing to apologise for; it’s not selfish to recognise that your needs are valid. You need to feel content which may mean ensuring people no longer take advantage of you.
  2. Thank people who respect your boundaries, such as the person who gives you a fist bump rather than a hug.
  3. You own your time. Giving too much time to others can leave you burnt out. Set aside time to watch your favourite TV programme, have a bath, read a book or have a pamper session each week and it will soon become part of your self-care routine.
  4. Plan your time so you spend it with people who value you and give you energy. You may be obliged to see people who make you feel exhausted or miserable but try to limit how long you spend with them. Make it clear from the beginning that you have other commitments, so it can only be a short visit.
  5. Don’t move your boundaries for someone else’s benefit, for example, it’s important to say when you’ve had enough to eat and drink. People can sometimes go too far in encouraging you to continue when you’ve had enough. They see it as being generous and kind without realising that overdoing it can ruin your time with them. Instead, politely decline without apologising, explaining, or fearing you’ve caused offence.

The team at AGR Law would like to thank our clients for trusting us with their family law matters this year and wish everyone celebrating Christmas a happy and relaxing time.