Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationship With These 4 Tips
The conversation around setting personal boundaries in relationships has become more and more mainstream in recent years—and for good reason. Setting boundaries is essential for our well-being, and it's a key component of all romantic relationships.
Healthy boundaries set clear expectations for both partners around what is acceptable and not acceptable in order for both people to feel loved, valued and fulfilled. In other words, healthy boundaries equal healthy relationship.
Some couples have a hard time setting healthy boundaries. To help with this, Christie Kederian, a licensed marriage and family therapist, dives deep into what personal boundaries are, why they're important, examples of healthy boundaries, and tips for how to set and maintain better boundaries.
In this article:
What Are Personal Boundaries in a Relationship?
"Personal boundaries in romantic relationships are a way to say 'this is me, no matter who you want me to be,'" Kederian says. This looks like tolerating each other's differences for things both big and small. It can be especially difficult in the beginning of a relationship when your goal is to connect with the other person.
"Oftentimes, we reject asserting our boundaries because we're afraid this would lead someone to not like us when in fact, this is exactly what's needed to prevent a relationship from not working out in the future," Kederian says. "Being clear on your physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries is very important to decipher early on."
Lack of boundaries or unhealthy boundaries in a relationship—whether they're emotional boundaries, physical boundaries or sexual boundaries—can affect the quality of the relationship and take a toll on each partner's mental health and self-esteem.
Why Are Boundaries Important in a Relationship?
Right up there with trust and empathy, boundaries are a vital part of every romantic relationship. "In order to stay healthy, we must be able to balance autonomy and togetherness," Kederian says. "Boundaries are an important way to practice autonomy while you're building togetherness with your partner."
Kederian says some red flags that there may be a boundary issue in your relationship can include noticing your needs are consistently ignored and not feeling safe to express yourself—especially if your thoughts or opinions are different from those of your partner.
Examples of Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship
There are many different types of boundaries couples can and should set, including physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries. This will look different for each couple as each partner needs different things.
Some examples of healthy boundaries Kederian believes all couples should set and maintain include: scheduling alone time, spending time with friends and family members separately, and having independent hobbies. Most importantly, she advises couples to have boundaries around physical and emotional intimacy that are aligned with their own comfort levels.
How to Set Boundaries With Your Partner
1. Communicate who you are.
If you're still early on in the dating process, Kederian recommends being upfront about your autonomy and identity from the start.
"If you try to over-accommodate in order for someone to like you, you end up losing yourself and your voice in a relationship," she says. "Letting people know who you are—your preferences, your values and your convictions—early on in a relationship will prevent being with someone who will disrespect your boundaries or get upset when you inevitably assert them down the road."
This also applies to couples who've been together for some time. Kederian says having healthy boundaries involves continually clarifying and communicating with your partner who you are and who you aren't, and checking in with them to see how they feel about it. For example, you may tell your partner you need some additional personal space, and would like to hear how they feel about you expressing that with them.
2. Be clear.
The challenging part about setting healthy boundaries in relationships is figuring out what exactly to say. Being crystal clear in communicating your boundaries and needs is always the best way to go.
Here's an example Kederian shares of what you can say to establish a clear boundary: "Sometimes I disagree with you, but I've been noticing myself shrinking my needs in order to accommodate yours so that we get along. I'd like to express how I'm feeling fully with you moving forward so both of our needs can be met."
Use this as a template and adjust the words according to your own needs and how you naturally communicate.
3. Have consistent check-ins.
Establishing boundaries isn't a one-and-done solution, which is why Kederian recommends you and your partner regularly check in with each other to ensure your boundaries are being met. "Scheduling these times on a consistent basis, like weekly, can be a good opportunity to connect in the midst of navigating differences and exploring how you are independently and together," Kederian says.
4. Consider a couples counselor.
If after communicating your boundaries with your partner, there's a boundary violation and it's becoming a consistent pattern, Kederian says seeing a couples therapist could be beneficial. A therapist can help you both communicate your boundaries clearly and efficiently.