Boundaries in relationships help you determine what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated by your partner. In a healthy relationship, partners respect each other’s boundaries, whether they are emotional, physical, or even digital. A lack of healthy boundaries can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, or potentially abusive
What Are Relationship Boundaries & Why Are They Important?
In a romantic relationship, personal boundaries and self-esteem go together. Boundaries help create natural limits that clarify your responsibility in the relationship. For example, if you say mean words to your partner, you take responsibility for those words and apologize. If your partner asks you why you’re quiet, you have a responsibility to help them understand what you’re feeling.
Although healthy boundaries are often psychological or emotional, they can also be physical. For example, if you don’t want to be touched because it doesn’t feel good, you have the right to say “No.” Each person in the relationship is responsible for their bodies, words, emotions, attitudes, values, and preferences.
When the boundary lines of responsibility are clear and respected by both partners, emotional intimacy has a strong foundation to grow. However, if boundary lines aren’t respected, problems arise, such as miscommunication, resentment, relationship burnout, lack of trust in the relationship, and codependency.
Examples of Healthy Boundaries In Relationships
Healthy boundaries in a relationship feel comforting, empowering, and safe for both partners in the relationship. Green flags include respect for boundaries, compassion towards differing feelings, and honesty shared in a responsible and kind manner.
Here are four examples of healthy boundaries in a relationship:
- You communicate your needs and wants in a relationship and listen to your partner’s needs, and find a way to meet in the middle.
- You are comfortable saying no and leaving a situation that feels uncomfortable.
- You have a strong differentiation of self – you have a full life outside of the relationship and are able to lean on others for support.
- You foster a sense of safety in your relationship where feelings can be shared honestly.
Examples of Poor Boundaries In Relationships
Unhealthy boundaries in a relationship can be a sign that you struggle with self-worth, self-esteem, or your identity. There are red flags to look for if you think you might need help with boundaries, including a lack of honesty, people pleasing, and a false sense of connection.
Here are four examples of poor boundaries in a relationship:
- You aren’t honest with your partner when you feel like you aren’t being treated right. This may stem from a fear of being seen as needy, standing up for yourself, or pushing a partner away.
- You’re falling quickly for someone you don’t know well or who has reconnected with you. Social media and online dating apps are a good example of how this unhealthy boundary plays out. Building a relationship with a strong foundation takes time, and the false sense of immediate connection that a person can feel when they exchange messages/texts doesn’t equate to true intimacy.
- You may have let someone touch you or even have sex with you even if you didn’t want to. This may seem like an obvious boundary that shouldn’t be crossed, but if you struggle to maintain healthy boundaries, the underlying issue could be a need to feel loved, not being able to say “no,” or feeling like you have an obligation to do something with the other person.
- You are trying to please your partner just so you can feel needed. If feeling needed makes you feel full in a romantic relationship, it may be a good idea to examine why. When you allow your roles (e.g., wife, boyfriend, husband) to define you, you can lose sight of your own identity. You have the right to be someone outside of these roles and embrace that part of you.
How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship
There are helpful tips for people to use if they want to practice setting healthy boundaries in relationships. These tips include self-reflection, communication, more communication, and practice being forceful.
Here are seven tips for setting healthy boundaries:
1. Know What You Need From a Relationship
It’s important to be clear about the type of person you would like to be in a romantic relationship with, what your needs are, and whether they’re being met. You should discuss what you expect to give and receive from your partner. A relationship should be a balance of give and take, so if one person is taking on the burden of healing or ”completing” the other, that isn’t healthy.
There will be times in any relationship that will require a partner to be more flexible, like if you’re in a relationship with someone who’s dealing with depression or dating someone with anxiety, but being flexible doesn’t mean putting your own needs second all the time.
Rather than “going with the flow,” ask yourself some questions about the person you are in a relationship with:
- Am I feeling happy, comfortable, and respected when I’m with them?
- Does this person listen to me and respect my signals?
- Are my boundaries being pushed or violated?
- Do I feel safe?
- Do I feel conflicted? If so, why?
- Am I pushing myself to do something I don’t really want to do?
- Am I putting pressure on myself to take things faster than I want to?
2. Learn How to Practice Healthy Communication
Communicate your thoughts and feelings honestly and clearly to your partner. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort out what you’re thinking or feeling at any given moment, so it’s fine to ask for some time to reflect; however, try to avoid using this as a tactic to get out of future discussion.
Communication is crucial, especially if a partner oversteps. While you might need to verbalize your concerns, these conversations shouldn’t be confrontational. When expressing your feelings, do so without blaming your partner. For example, it’s more effective to say, “I feel hurt and misunderstood in this conversation,” than to say, “You made me feel hurt by the way that you talked to me.”
It’s important to ask your partner what they are feeling, rather than guessing. Each of you has your own thoughts and feelings, and each person is responsible for putting these sentiments into words in order to be understood.
3. Choose the Right Time to Discuss Boundaries
Some issues need to be discussed in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship because they might play a big role in your happiness. When you sense the right time to discuss a specific boundary, make sure to do so when you are both relaxed, free from distractions, and open to each other’s point of view.
Other issues can wait to be discussed when (or if) the need arises. For example, it’s not necessary to state categorically that you will not tolerate being shouted at until/unless you find yourself in that situation. Even then, it’s more effective to wait for things to calm down so that you and your partner can talk in a calm, rational way. You could say, “I am not OK with raised voices during conflict.”
4. Don’t Hesitate to Revisit Discussions
People change. Relationships change. Boundaries change. Healthy boundaries can make the difference between a happy, healthy relationship and a toxic, dysfunctional relationship. With healthy boundaries, a couple can talk without fear of recrimination or harsh judgment. Discussing boundaries shouldn’t be viewed as a premonition of trouble, but as an investment in your relationship’s future.
Asking and respecting are key components in any relationship. The reality is that we all have boundaries, but we don’t always resolve to communicate or even examine them respectfully.
5. Know When & How to Enforce Your Boundaries
People aren’t perfect, and an occasion could arise when your partner crosses one of your boundaries or makes smaller mistakes around issues that are somewhat less important to you. Either way, it’s important for you to show that there are consequences to their actions in a firm, compassionate way; otherwise, they will continue to ignore your boundaries.
For example, if you cannot accept any form of cheating, you must make it clear from day one that you will end the relationship if this were to occur. On the other hand, if you and your partner have agreed that you will not raise voices during a disagreement, a consequence of yelling during a fight could be pausing the argument and taking a 30-minute walk alone.
It is crucial that you follow through on the consequences of any crossed boundary. If you don’t, this will indicate to your partner that you don’t respect your own boundaries.
6. Know When to Follow Up on a Boundary That May Have Been Crossed
If your partner crossed a boundary, giving them the benefit of the doubt initially can be helpful to clarify what your boundary is and help them understand why and how to honor the boundary. The hope in this situation is that they will recognize that boundary in the way you intend, and with clarity they will be able to honor it moving forward.
7. Know When You Need to Reconsider the Relationship When Boundaries Are Consistently Dishonored
If your boundaries are clarified, you’ve given the benefit of the doubt and clarified your boundaries, and the same boundary-crossing behavior continues, it’s important to enforce consequences. If not, you are teaching your partner that it is OK to keep behaving the way they are and violate your boundary. Violating behaviors is an indicator of disrespect and a sign of a toxic relationship.
How a Couples Therapist Can Help You Set Relationship Boundaries
If a couple is having difficulty reaching a middle ground where both partners’ boundaries are being respected, it can be beneficial to find a couples counselor. Professional guidance can help you identify your boundaries as they relate to your needs and values, use tools and language to verbally communicate your boundaries, and establish appropriate consequences for the violation of boundaries.
How to Find a Couples Therapist
If you’re ready to work on your boundaries with a couples therapist, consider starting your search through an online therapist directory. You might also check with trusted friends or family members. Some may be in therapy themselves and may be able to offer a recommendation.
Final Thoughts on How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship
Setting boundaries in a relationship is important. If you have used the tools from this article and are still struggling with boundary issues in your relationship, therapy can be an effective and game-changing resource for you as a couple and you as an individual.
Healthy Boundaries in Relationships Infographics