Things To Say When You Need To Set Boundaries With Someone

Things To Say When You Need To Set Boundaries With Someone Shutterstock

People-pleasers, this is for you! Saying “no” and prioritizing your well-being is self-care, not selfishness. Learning to communicate your limits firmly builds stronger bonds based on genuine respect, not resentment. It might feel awkward at first, but with practice, these phrases become tools for creating healthier, happier relationships in all areas of your life.

1. “My time and energy are limited, so I have to say no.”

This is a gentle opener, framing your refusal as a practical matter rather than a personal rejection. It acknowledges their request has some merit, but you simply can’t fulfill it right now. It helps over-askers understand you’re not saying no to THEM, but to the overload.

2. “I’m willing to help, BUT…” (Then Offer a Modified Option)

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This demonstrates you value the relationship, but won’t sacrifice your own needs entirely. Example: “I can’t stay late at work tonight, but I could tackle that first thing tomorrow.” This turns a flat refusal into a collaborative solution-finding conversation. You’re compromising but not putting yourself in a bad position or letting your boundaries slip.

3. “I don’t feel comfortable discussing that topic.”

guy freaking out on girlfriend during argument

This is good for intrusive questions or topics that make you uneasy. You don’t owe anyone justification for your privacy, the American Psychological Association points out. Be firm and change the subject. If they push, a simple repeat of “I’m not comfortable discussing this” will get the message across.

4. “I need some ‘me time’ right now.”

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This is useful with partners, kids, or clingy friends. It acknowledges their desire to connect, while asserting your need for space is equally valid. Follow up with a specific timeframe (when you’re free next) so they don’t feel completely shut out.

5. “I hear what you’re saying, and…” (Then Reassert Your Need)

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This is great because it starts by validating the other person’s perspective, which softens the blow. But the “AND” signals don’t expect them to change your mind. Useful for those who try to guilt or argue you out of your boundaries. Example: “I hear you’re stressed, AND I can’t drop everything when you call”

6. “I value our relationship, and that’s why I need to be honest…”

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Prefacing a tough boundary conversation with this shows a bit of goodwill. It shows them you’re not trying to be hurtful, but that maintaining this bond requires addressing an issue that’s causing harm. Softens the blow for sensitive people.

7. “Let me think about that and get back to you.”

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When caught off guard by a request, this buys you time. It prevents a knee-jerk “yes” you regret, or blurting out a harsher “no” than necessary. Allows you to consider if you CAN do it, want to do it, and negotiate the terms if needed.

8. “I’m not in a position to give advice on that.”

This is for those who view you as their unpaid therapist. Be kind but firm. You can still offer empathy (“That sounds tough”) without feeling obligated to solve their problems. Suggesting actual resources (therapy, etc.), IF you know them, shows support without getting sucked into emotional labor you can’t handle.

9. “Thanks for thinking of me, but it’s not a good fit.”

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This is a polite brush-off for unwanted opportunities, dates, etc. It avoids listing specific reasons, preventing them from trying to argue against your objections. Keeps things simple while protecting your right to decline without drama.

10. “I’m not available at that time. Would [alternative date/time] work?”

This is useful for rescheduling with people who don’t respect your time. Don’t just let it drop; proactively offer a solution that DOES work for you. This maintains a helpful tone, while making it clear you won’t rearrange your life to accommodate them.

11. “I’m going to step away from this conversation for now.”

When arguments escalate and nothing productive happens, you can use this statement. This removes you from the situation with dignity. It indicates you’re not willing to engage in an unhealthy way, but leaves the door open to TALK later when everyone’s calmer.

12. “Please don’t speak to me like that.”

This is direct and powerful for rude comments, dismissive behavior, or insults. You don’t need to tolerate disrespect. Calmly state this boundary, and if they persist, remove yourself – this consequence reinforces that their behavior is unacceptable.

13. “I trust you to handle that on your own.”

Here’s one for micromanagers, be it a partner, coworker, or overbearing parent. Communicates your faith in their competence while subtly shutting down their need to control your every move. Can also be applied to overprotective loved ones to gain a bit more autonomy.

14. “My decision is final.”

Use as a last resort after repeated boundary violations. It sends a clear message that further discussion is futile. Say it firmly, without anger, then disengage. People used to getting their way may need this jolt to finally accept you mean business.

15. “I understand you’re frustrated, however…”

They might react to your boundary with anger or disappointment. Acknowledge their feelings without backing down. Example: “I understand you’re upset I can’t babysit tonight, however, I had previous plans.” Keeps the focus on YOUR needs, not managing their emotional outburst.

16. “I need you to respect my privacy regarding…”

This is good for those who think they’re entitled to every detail of your life – finances, dating drama, etc. Be specific about what’s off-limits. If they continue prying, politely end the conversation or change the subject each time, making ignoring your boundary an unpleasant experience.

17. Silence can be a powerful tool, as well.

After stating your boundary, you don’t owe further explanation or debate. Let expecting looks or awkward pauses hang in the air. People-pleasers struggle with this, but silence makes them take your boundary seriously, as waiting for concessions becomes uncomfortable for them.

18. “It’s not my responsibility to…”

Finish the sentence to match the situation: “…manage your emotions”, “…fix this problem for you”, “…always be the one to reach out first”. Separates healthy support from being used as a crutch by those unwilling to take accountability for themselves.

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Harper Stanley graduated from Eugene Lang College at The New School in NYC in 2006 with a degree in Media Studies and Literature and Critical Analysis. After graduating, she worked as an editorial assistant at The Atlantic before moving to the UK to work for the London Review of Books.

When she's not waxing poetic about literature, she's writing articles about dating, relationships, and other women's lifestyle topics to help make their lives better. While shocking, she really has somehow managed to avoid joining any social media apps — a fact she's slightly smug about.