Contrary to what most Hollywood movies and society would have you believe, setting boundaries in relationships is healthy and necessary. A good relationship is a partnership with respect, love, and care, not a merger of two beings.
If you have trouble sticking up for yourself and keeping boundaries, this article is for you.
Your Self-Worth & Self-confidence
Before we can start talking about relationships, we have to talk about you. Regardless of whether we’re talking about friendships or romantic relationships, having a healthy sense of self-worth and self-confidence is essential to make things work.
You need to have a stable sense of identity and know your likes and dislikes before you can hope to have a happy long-term relationship with someone, otherwise you might find yourself stuck in a codependent relationship.
This comes more easily to some individuals than others, but in essence, these two things are something you need to practice daily.
Finding inner peace and working on your self-worth comes through exploring your comfort zone, trying out new things and seeing what clicks, as well as through therapy.
When a potential partner becomes a way to enrich your life instead of complete it, and when you wouldn’t be with anyone just to avoid being alone is when you know you have a healthy sense of self-worth and confidence.
What Are Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship?
Though boundaries are necessary, not all of them are healthy. In this section, we’ll cover some examples of healthy boundaries you can practice setting in a relationship.
Physical boundaries refer to anything regarding your privacy, sexual orientation, personal space, and your body. People’s physical boundaries are different, which is why some may step back when someone is talking too close to them, for example.
Stepping back is a non-verbal sign that your boundary of personal space has been invaded.
When it comes to relationships, physical boundaries include:
- Not wanting to be touched in a certain way (sexually or not)
- Not wanting your partner to go through your devices
- Wanting respect for your personal space (e.g. not wanting someone to barge into your room)
Emotional and intellectual boundaries refer to being able to separate your feelings from those of your partner, as well as protecting your self-esteem.
People who have trouble maintaining emotional boundaries usually feel influenced and affected by others’ thoughts, words, and actions. These people also tend to feel uncomfortable and even wounded due to the effect others have on them.
Weak boundaries can often affect your choices, sense of responsibility, your ability to be intimate with your partner, how you act, and what you believe.
Examples of healthy emotional boundaries include:
- Not sacrificing your goals and dreams for the sake of your partner
- Taking responsibility for yourself
- Separating your feelings from your partner’s
- Not letting your partner’s mood dictate how happy you are
Steps to Setting Boundaries in a Relationship
If you don’t have healthy physical or emotional boundaries, you can work on making them stronger. Baby steps and continuous practice are essential here.
Before you start exercising your sense of self, we will need to address common reasons why people have trouble setting boundaries. Working on these clears your path to a healthier relationship with yourself and your partner.
- Guilt. If you’re not used to standing up for yourself, you may feel guilty when you finally do. This is solved by working on your self-worth and realizing you are a person worthy of respect and comfort.
- Being concerned for your safety. If you are afraid your partner might do something that will endanger you if they don’t get their way, it is a sign you need to get out of there, and fast. Healthy relationships don’t have this level of fear in them. Research local aid centers for domestic abuse that can help you safely exit the situation.
- Fear of rejection. Needing to be accepted all the time is a sign of poor self-confidence and self-worth, once again. Work on accepting yourself for who you are first, and realize that your partner’s acceptance doesn’t change your worth as a person one bit.
- Fear of abandonment. When you’ve addressed the issues above, you’ll realize being just with yourself isn’t so bad. You don’t need another person to feel whole and holding on to someone just so you’re not alone is a recipe for disaster. Look at being single as an opportunity to discover more about yourself.
So, how to set boundaries in a relationship when you’ve dealt with the outcomes mentioned above?
- Start with the little things. Whether it’s saying you want to change the location of your next date, or voicing a pet peeve that you’ve had for a long time, setting these boundaries has no real consequences. They’ll help you realize it’s not so scary and you’ll see your partner won’t leave you for them.
- Practice saying no. Even if you don’t have an explanation besides “I don’t feel like it”, practice saying no in a relationship. Remember that a good partner will respect your right to refuse to do things you don’t feel like doing, and this is a definite green flag that you’re with the right partner.
- Ask for what you want. Whether it’s more affection or more time apart, you are entitled to it. If you feel like your needs aren’t being met, ask for what you want. This applies to sexual situations as well, especially for those who usually don’t voice their needs.
What Boundaries Aren’t Healthy?
Not all boundaries in relationships are healthy ones. In fact, these types of boundaries often end up hurting one or both partners. This is because they tend to be rooted in control, and even manipulation, instead of love and honesty.
Here are some example of unhealthy boundaries that you shouldn’t put up with:
- Controlling the way you act or dress. No one has the right to tell you how to act or change the way you dress. If your partner has a problem with your being goofy or dressing a certain way, it is a problem they have with themselves, not you.
- Controlling who you’re friends with. The same applies to who you are “allowed” to see. Your partner doesn’t have the right to restrict your friend circle, with the exception of a friend being directly mean to them.
- Putting only their needs first. If your partner often expects you to just deal with their whims and attitude because “it’s just who they are” or “they’re just high maintenance”, you should reconsider the relationship. This isn’t a boundary, it’s just disguised as one.
- Ultimatums. Asking you to choose between something and them is never really a healthy boundary, no matter how much it may seem that way. Threatening to leave you because you’re smoking or having a certain hobby, for example, is a sure sign that you shouldn’t be with this person.
Setting Boundaries with Friend When in a Relationship
Getting into a relationship can also change friendship dynamics. Suddenly, there’s a new person in your life and you don’t have as much time to spend with your friends. This is natural, but the transition can still be scary and result in friendships ending if it’s not handled well.
Here are some things that you can do to maintain both a healthy friendship and a healthy relationship at the same time:
- Talk to your friends. Be open and tell your friends that you won’t be able to see them as much anymore, but set days where they have your undivided attention. If you always have coffee on Saturdays, for instance, don’t stop doing that just because you’re in a relationship now.
- Don’t put up with badmouthing. Some friends will point out even the littlest flaws your new partner has or only want to hear about the bad parts of your relationship. You don’t have to participate in these conversations, and you should always be able to say when you’re uncomfortable with their comments.
- Learn to say no. You need to practice saying no to your friends as much as you do with your partner in order to establish boundaries in a relationship. You don’t always have to go out with them, as long as you still make time for them, as we previously mentioned.
- Don’t bring your partner everywhere. If you want to maintain both a healthy friendship and relationship, don’t bring your partner to friend events unless they’re not specifically invited. You might be together, but you are still your own person with your own friends, and bringing your partner is simply too much and inappropriate.
Communication & Respect
In the end, having a healthy relationship with boundaries comes down to mutual respect and open communication. Always remember that your partner is as much of a person as you are, and that you don’t have to agree with every feeling they have to make them feel comfortable and understood.
Of course, other parts of this article will help you determine which boundaries your partner has set aren’t actually toxic.
When it comes to those that are, but you can’t completely relate to them, try to imagine the situation from your partner’s perspective. The best thing you can do is exercise empathy and compassion and support your partner whatever they’re going through.
It goes without saying that you should expect the same treatment in return. If you find that the relationship is more take than give even after multiple open conversations about it, then you might want to reevaluate it and look for someone who treats you the way you deserve.
It can be hard to set boundaries in relationships, as well as to recognize which boundaries are okay and which aren’t. This guide is here to help you navigate your relationship in the healthiest way possible, so you and your partner can enjoy each other’s company for a long time.