Why Boundaries in Relationships are Key to Success
Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship, but is especially important with a romantic partner. I understand that this may feel counterintuitive, especially if you lean towards co-dependence. You might ask, “if my partner is ‘right’ for me, should we need boundaries?”. The answer is an unequivocal YES. You may be in love, but that does not make you the same exact person as your partner. You and your partner both have needs, and they will not always align perfectly. Boundaries simply establish guidelines within the relationship so your partner understands your needs and expectations, and vice versa. Lack of reasonable boundaries can end up creating resentment and anger and eventually end a relationship.
What Are Boundaries?
Simply put, boundaries are what set the space between where you end and the other person begins. In order to establish boundaries, you need to be clear with your partner about who you are, what you want, your beliefs and values, and just as importantly, your limits. Some people may need solo time, so a fair boundary would be “I would like to spend some time alone on Sunday afternoons”. Others may value their privacy, and say “It is not okay with me if you look through my phone without my knowledge”.
The important thing to remember is that when setting your boundaries, you should avoid using words like “always” or “never”. You’re in a relationship with another human being, so boundaries need to be able to bend a bit as needed. When necessary, a caring and healthy partner should be able to acknowledge a boundary that you have set, and ask you to make an exception. “I know you like to spend your Sundays alone, and I fully support that, but I’d really love to bring you to my family’s picnic next Sunday at 2pm. Can we choose another time to do our own thing?”
Different Kinds of Boundaries
You may have a “what’s mine is yours” attitude, but your partner might not. They may become upset if you take their car without asking, use their toothbrush (we don’t recommend!), or eat the last of their hummus. Material boundaries could also apply to who pays for what when you spend time together.
Some couples choose to spend 24/7 together, but many daters feel the need for solo time or time spent with friends, away from their partner. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the relationship! Needing a little space is perfectly healthy. However, in this case, it’s very important that you make these boundaries known in order to avoid hurt feelings. No one likes to be excluded. Be clear on how much time you wish to spend with others, and perhaps choose a recurring day(s) during your week to ease scheduling. Your partner may choose to make plans of their own on that same day. Personal space boundaries can also apply to things like privacy as well.
Sexual boundaries are very important so each partner feels comfortable. Before proceeding with anything that your partner might find to be a surprise, discuss it. And, it’s okay to let your partner know if they are doing something in the bedroom that you do not like. Sexual boundaries could also include discussions of exclusivity.
You’re not going to agree with your partner on every single topic. Mental boundaries can include thoughts and opinions, political leanings, or just things you are not yet ready to share. Should a disagreement arise in a healthy relationship, you should be able to say to your partner, “I respect your opinion, but please do not expect me to have the same”. Mental boundaries can create a safe space for you to share your thoughts, dreams, and even fears with your partner.
We all have our “things”. It’s what makes us interesting! Sometimes it’s the small stuff that INFURIATES us, like our partner leaving the toilet seat up or leaving their dirty dishes in the sink. Boundaries in this category may include “I need 30 minutes every morning to drink coffee before interacting”, or “I’d really like us both to tidy up every night before we go to bed, I sleep much better that way”. Making sure your partner understands these small needs will make your day-to-day interactions go a lot more smoothly!
If you are a single parent, establishing boundaries concerning your children is especially key. This could include when the children meet your partner, what sort of interactions take place, potential gift giving (especially around birthdays or holidays), your own personal time spent with your children away from your partner, etc.
How To Set Boundaries
Step One: Acknowledge your needs and limits. People who do not set boundaries often act like martyrs. “I had to clean up after him/her, AGAIN”. Instead, start communicating with your partner as to why something isn’t working for you. Go into enough detail that they fully understand the “why”. Do not criticize, but instead focus on the positive and your needs. “You know I love when you stay over, but I really need my space to be clean and tidy. Can you keep your clothes and toiletries more organized? A messy space gives me anxiety”.
Step Two: Acknowledge your partner’s needs and limits. This is a two-way street. Trust me, they have a few requests of you too!
Step Three: Discuss fully, until you both have a solid grasp of each other’s expectations and can acknowledge and accept your partner’s boundaries. Understand that these boundaries are not finite, and that they can bend as needed. Because life happens. That being said, you need to make sure that bending that boundary is the exception, and not the rule. To do otherwise is disrespectful to both your partner and your relationship.
In closing, boundaries show respect for your partner and honor your own needs. By openly communicating and setting reasonable boundaries you will reduce anxiety, guilt, and resentment in your relationship. Just remember that boundaries are not ultimatums, they are a communication tool. They are the push and pull in learning how to cohabitate with another human being. Through boundary setting, you gain the perfect opportunity to learn if this person is a good fit for you. Happy dating!