The Safety Sandwich – Setting Boundaries

It is common to worry that setting boundaries will cause a relationship to suffer and hurt the feelings of the other person. Knowing the purpose of asserting your limits is essential: setting boundaries brings clarity and safety to relationships.

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While boundary setting can be uncomfortable and sometimes incite conflicts, it can help your relationships grow and will help you stand up for what matters to you. Nothing kills a relationship like resentment; without boundaries, resentment thrives like a weed. What brings couples closer together is the ability of each person to take responsibility for his or her own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The Safety Sandwich is a great tool for setting boundaries.


Safety Sandwiches

If you can “sandwich” your boundary between two positive safety statements, you can provide an assurance of connection while articulating your needs. You need to make it clear that this boundary is important to you as well as the person with whom you are setting boundaries. Think of the safety statements as the 2 slices of bread, and the boundary as the filling or the meat of the issue. Here are a few examples to get started:



“I love sharing what’s going on with you…” (safety statement)

“…but I really need to process this by myself right now…” (boundary)

“…Thank you for supporting me.” (safety statement)



“I appreciate getting to hear your point of view…” (safety statement)

“…  I have different thoughts on the topic. I think we’ll just go in circles trying to convince each other. Let’s put a pin in it…” (boundary)

“…Thank you for sharing with me and giving me another perspective.” (safety statement)



“I really love talking on the phone with you…” (safety statement)

“…but I’m not able to talk every day…” (boundary)

“…maybe we can set up a time every Wednesday to talk instead.” (safety statement)


While you cannot control the reaction of another person, your efforts to maintain connection while protecting your needs are your responsibility.  If their response is inflammatory, try to hear where the pain is coming from. Perhaps they need a little more assurance that the relationship and your connection are okay. Otherwise, they may need their own time and space to process. It is a great idea to process both successful and unsuccessful attempts at boundaries with your therapist.


Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)

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Sarah O'Leary

I am captivated most by the importance of relationships and emotions and how they impact our everyday lives. Both relationships and our emotions help shape who we are as a person. "Relationship" doesn't just mean partner, but rather connections of all kinds. This means everything from strangers, to friends, to partners, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. Emotions are what underlies our thoughts and behaviors, they are the key to understanding ourselves.