How to Set Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship

A healthy, long-lasting relationship – who doesn’t want it? We all do, but a perfect union of hearts is a rare kind if you don’t know how to build one. The key ingredient in building a happy relationship is, unsurprisingly, two mature personalities that aren’t scared of setting personal boundaries to defend their individuality.

Many couples firmly believe that boundaries are an obstacle that only keeps loved ones apart. But in fact, what they do is protect us. If you’re approaching your partner too fast, breaking the boundaries, you risk losing some part of your true self. This can happen so quickly that you simply won’t notice the changes. Soon, you’ll cease to distinguish your desires from the partner’s desires and won’t be able to tell the difference between your feelings and their feelings. Even if your thoughts and emotions don't belong to you anymore. To make sure that you will always stay you, let's figure out how to set boundaries in a relationship without hurting anyone’s feelings and why you benefit from them.

how to set boundaries in a relationship

What are the boundaries in relationships?

First things first, let’s address the main question: what are healthy boundaries in a relationship? Each boundary is a line that a person puts between their lifestyle and other people. Some folks are OK with strangers invading their inner space, while others are pretty vulnerable to the slightest attempts to approach them. Personal boundaries help relationships with others stay harmonious and enjoyable for you and your loved ones.

A healthy understanding of personal boundaries implies that a person distinguishes what’s related to them and their partner. All desires, sensations, and thoughts associated with you belong to your personal boundaries. Setting boundaries in a relationship, you admit that you’re responsible only for your emotions and experiences and know what’s good and bad for you, as well as what values you’ll have, correctly identifying and understanding your feelings. If you don’t like something, you make it clear right away, without modeling your partner’s reaction. You don’t blame them for causing discomfort; you simply inform them about your reaction. How to understand where the personal boundaries are? If someone breaks them, you’ll feel resentment, embarrassment, anger, or irritation. To prevent further violations, you should find out what’s OK and what you can’t stand in relationships with your partner, friends, and relatives.

It’s crucial to clearly understand your boundaries in a relationship: you can’t discuss something if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Some people think that setting boundaries for self-defense is selfish, so they’re afraid to do what it takes to protect their identity, often due to insecurity and low self-esteem.

What boundaries should be in a relationship?

In relationships – friendly, romantic, or other, – the main trick is to be able to negotiate their terms with the partner before these relations begin to grow into something bigger. This allows both parties to save precious energy, time, and emotions in the future and avoid false expectations and illusions regarding this relationship.

That’s why boundaries are so important, and they may evolve together with your relationship. They aren’t a set of solid rules designed to stall your progress and ruin the romance. They tend to change over time, and it’s completely normal. Just make sure you discuss them regularly. Here are seven key examples of boundaries in a relationship that should give you an idea of how to stay away from conflicts with your partner.

examples of boundaries in a relationshipExpectations

The first step towards building a lasting relationship is to figure out what you expect to receive from each other and what you’re willing to give. Thousands of couples break up every day because people don’t want to realize that forming a healthy union is a two-player game. Relationships, where one partner expects their loved one to do all the “heavy lifting”, are doomed to fail. We’re not someone’s gods or saviors – we want to take an equal part in making an ideal relationship a reality. There should always be a balance between how much you take and how much you give. So don’t hesitate to talk about how both of you see each other’s involvement in your joint endeavor.

Sexual boundaries

These relate to the emotional, intellectual, or physical aspect of sexuality. Healthy sexual boundaries imply mutual understanding and respect for the limitations and desires between sexual partners. For instance, some folks prefer morning sex, while others feel comfortable only at night, with the lights off. Some need wild sex every day; some enjoy a slow and romantic experience. Sexual boundaries in relationships may be violated by unwanted sexual contact or even flirting. If you and your partner haven’t explored your sexual boundaries yet, you might stumble upon a few problems in the future. Let your loved one know about your preferences and desires.

Your past

There’s not much to say here – your past should stay yours. Even if your partner was a bank robber, and you used to spend hundreds of dollars a month, chatting with single ladies for dating – all this doesn’t matter now (unless one of you hasn’t changed). For some reason, a lot of people consider poking around their loved ones’ past a normal thing. You’re not a history book; you don’t have to share your memories with someone if you’re not comfortable doing it; you’re not a mystery that must be solved. Make sure your partner understands that it’s for you to decide whether you should tell them your secrets.

Friendship boundaries

We can tell this for sure – you’ll never be able to get along with all your partner’s friends, just like they’ll hate some of your buddies, and this may sooner or later lead to both of you trying to dictate who can influence your relationship and who can’t. Eventually, you’ll end up fighting because “Carl is a total jackass, and I don’t wanna see him in this house!” Setting boundaries in romantic relationships, you give yourself and your loved one freedom to decide who’s always welcome on joint parties and who should stay outside your mutual circle of friends.

Emotional boundaries

As you might’ve guessed, these relate to your feelings. Not every person can withstand too much emotional pressure. Setting emotional boundaries, you let your partner know what you’re not going to tolerate, like lies or mistrust. Emotional boundaries also help you figure out what’s OK to discuss and what you’d like to keep to yourself. Maybe you feel more comfortable sharing facts about yourself gradually in the process of developing a relationship and don’t want to reveal everything right away. You both should understand why it might be harmful to your relationship to go past these boundaries.

Finances

Healthy boundaries in relationships might go beyond emotions. When it comes to such a beautiful and tender feeling as love, money can become a poison. But like it or not, money is almost as important as air or water nowadays. Financial boundaries regulate what property you’re willing to share with your loved one. For instance, it’s normal for you to share your car with the partner, but you don’t want them to touch your precious collection of creepy porcelain dolls. Each couple chooses its own degree of freedom when managing finances: some prefer to keep their bank accounts separated, while others have a joint budget. Set your financial boundaries at the beginning to avoid conflicts in the future. Consider your financial borders violated if your partner takes something of yours without asking you or forces to give it to them.

Time boundaries

The first thing people try to get under control when they start building relationships is their partners’ free time. They begin arguing, and things get a bit chaotic. These boundaries bring some order to your constant quarrels over how both of you should spend time together and apart. With adequate time boundaries, you’ll always know when you can ask your partner out on a date or watch a movie together. You break the boundaries when demanding that your loved one devotes all their free time to you.

Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship: the main tips

Although it’s clear what boundaries are and how they work, setting them without destroying a relationship is a tricky task. Your partner may think that boundaries are unnecessary because you both already know each other’s strong suits, weaknesses, and tastes, and there’s no need in putting your relationship to the test with “stupid limits and regulations.” In reality, you need boundaries just as much as kisses, hugs, and sex!

A relationship can’t become totally safe until you and your loved one learn to speak freely about what bothers you without resentment and reproaches. Sure, solid boundaries never come easily, so here are a few tips on how to smoothen the process.

Be ready for a negative reaction

It’d be great if there were a magic place where you could meet real women that wouldn’t get pissed when you try to dictate how they should treat you. In reality, you always need to be prepared to face negativity towards you once you begin setting boundaries. The very moment you say to your partner that you’re not OK with something they say or do, expect resistance. Even if you manage to avoid a conflict, you won’t be able to escape some tension. If this happens, stand your ground anyway but don’t push too hard.

Know where you need boundaries

The first thing you need to do before you begin setting any boundaries is to have a chat with your loved one to determine what relationship aspects make you nervous. You’ll probably want to set some emotional and sexual boundaries and agree on how to manage your budget. It’s never too late to discuss sexual limitations, no matter how far you’ve gone together already. With these boundaries, you’ll always have a safe haven in any situation. It’s absolutely normal if your relationship needs only one or two boundaries.

Admit that there’s a distance between you and your partner

Violation of personal space doesn’t necessarily imply physical contact or aggression. The fact of breaking the boundaries can only be seen by a person who’s aware enough to admit to themselves that the actions of their partner caused emotional discomfort. You must always remember what’s best for you at the moment and always check your feelings: “Am I ready to do what my partner asks or support my partner’s point of view?” Only by having clear answers to this question, you’ll prevent “energy leakage” from the violation of your personal boundaries.

Say no to favors you can’t do

Sometimes we really don’t want to say no to close people when they ask us to do something for them. But at this moment, we don’t feel physical or moral strength to help them, but at the same time, it would seem selfish to refuse because it’s your loved one that stands before you, asking for a favor, and you’re not a heartless monster. Here comes an internal contradiction: to do what they ask and put your needs aside or find the strength to refuse, which can be too difficult. People with healthy boundaries never feel guilty – they know how to say no and stay cool when someone refuses them.

Be flexible

When building a healthy relationship, it’s important not only to set boundaries but also hold onto them, that is, to trust yourself and remember your true needs, goals, and limits. On the other hand, flexibility in the relationship allows you to find a balance in cases where the interests of the parties differ and even come into conflict. Flexibility helps you see other people not as enemies or competitors but as allies and helpers you can come to an agreement with. Therefore, effective boundary setting rests on the internal and external resources of a person as well as on their ability to find mutually beneficial solutions, reset the boundaries in time without falling into paranoia, when loved ones turn into enemies.

Take responsibility

Awareness of your responsibility has a special place in relationships. After all, if a person is able to recognize a share of their responsibility in any situation, both favorable and unfavorable, they can effectively direct the experience they gain to personal development. When setting boundaries, it’s not enough to just voice your rules to your partner; you also need to be able to follow these rules yourself. Some people hide their irresponsibility and unwillingness to set boundaries under such excuses as personal spontaneity and creativity. However, they simply don’t want to take responsibility for following the rules they came up with.

Final thoughts

So, what are boundaries in a relationship? They aren’t a wall that keeps you from building a strong union of hearts, and they aren’t designed to give one partner some edge over another. They’re simply the means of protecting what’s dear to you – your individuality. There are various types of boundaries that regulate every aspect of a relationship, but this doesn’t mean you should set them all even if you don’t feel like doing it. But if you do, make sure you take your partner’s feelings and emotions into account to make the process as smooth as possible.

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