How to Set Boundaries
You’ll find boundaries in every kind of relationship — from friends and family to colleagues and brief acquaintances. You can’t see them, but these lines help you stay “you” and provide a sense of mutual respect, protection, expectations, and support.
While they’re important in all areas, boundaries come up a lot when it comes to romantic partnerships.
Spending so much time with — and investing significant amounts of emotional energy in — one person can sometimes cause those lines to blur, especially in those heady early days where excitement and aiming-to-please levels are high.
So what do boundaries in this type of relationship involve, and are there organic ways to re-seed them?
When it comes to your life as a couple, consider that there are actually three entities involved: yourself, your partner, and the relationship itself — and boundaries need to be defined for each
Good relationship boundaries.
While there are some basic rules to consider when building and maintaining healthy boundaries (as noted above), what works for one person might not be so ideal for someone else.
Everyone’s got their own space and comfort levels when it comes to boundaries.
Texting is a very common one, when one partner constantly checks in “because they’re worried the other person is going to lose interest in them.” Yet research from 2017 shows frequent texting can lead to lower perceived relationship quality, so this is an important area in which to set some boundaries.
The amount of time you spend together is another key one to consider, and this is likely to change throughout the relationship. Whereas you might set a boundary early on in the relationship around how many days you see each other, later on, you have to ask: “When do you become the priority? Are they always seeing their friends over seeing you?”
Money is another notable relationship boundary, as are sex and relationship agreements.
Boundaries that don’t work
While it’s a good idea to set some boundaries, some don’t work and can ultimately have a negative effect on one or both partners. These tend to be founded in control, when one person tries to restrict or command the actions of the other — and there are some definite red flags to look out for.
Anything that limits a person’s options is an unhealthy boundary. It could be around time, the way they act, even the way they dress. Crossing these lines can be dangerous.
We shouldn’t confuse boundaries and control —– they’re not the same thing!
If someone feels a partner is putting up boundaries in a controlling way — ‘These are my boundaries, and this is what you must do’ — then there’s a problem with communication around boundaries being established.
Boundaries also shouldn’t be implemented to try and change a partner.
How to set boundaries in a relationship
There are a variety of different ways you can go about setting boundaries. Here are four approaches to get you started:
Begin early: It’s much easier to introduce boundaries at the start of or earlier on in a relationship, rather than years down the road — especially once habits and routines have been established and both partners are more emotionally invested.
But if it’s a little late for that tip, don’t worry. Installing boundaries at any point is still better than imposing upon each other until it frays your bond completely.
Conversation is key: No matter how awkward you might feel talking about your emotions or bringing up trickier subjects, a two-way discussion is vital in boundary setting.
Communication is key to relationships, you do need to have conversations, even if they’re really difficult things to talk about, like sex or money.
Not only do these discussions help both partners understand the extent and rules of the boundary, but they provide an opportunity to explain why you value a particular boundary.
They don’t need to happen every week. The important thing is that you’re communicating with each other and recognizing when you need to have that conversation.
Use ‘I’ statements: As the old saying goes, it’s not what you say but how you say it — and this definitely applies to boundaries.
Treat others how you like to be treated, so aim to set boundaries with kindness.
It’s OK to ask for space: Whether you’re just starting out with a partner or have been with them for a while, it’s totally acceptable to desire —and ask for — some me time.
It might be that you have a really demanding job, and you need half an hour of debrief time when you come home where you don’t talk. It’s about ‘This is what I need, how can we make it happen?'
There’s a chance your partner might see this request as a form of rejection, so it’s important to take their feelings into account and explain this isn’t the case.
Talk about why you need it and why it’s meaningful to you. Recognize how the other person may feel, and work with them through that.
Having boundaries is an expected and healthy aspect of good relationships — so don’t be afraid to determine where they lie for yourself, for your partner, and as a couple.
Think of them as a framework rather than rigid guidelines.
It’s always important to remember you should never do anything just to please someone else. Only do things you want to when you’re ready.
Subscribe to our Newsletter here.
Please consider making a donation to Silent Rights to enable us to keep helping victims of abuse and violence. You can make a donation through payfast here.