It makes sense that you don’t set every boundary you need on a first date. But, when is the perfect time to mention that you really want more solo time or that you actually hate PDA?!
Sometimes establishing boundaries can feel like a stretch - especially if you and your partner(s) have grown comfortable without them. But, boundary setting in any relationship is obviously important, so let’s dive right in.
First off, what exactly are boundaries?
Boundaries are invisible yet important lines that help you maintain a sense of self and security in a relationship. Boundaries support mutual safety, respect, and connection by honoring each partners’ individual needs. While relationships are often unpredictable, boundaries help maintain consistency, security, and support.
What types of boundaries exist in relationships?
Boundaries are as unique as the individuals in a relationship, but there are two general types to be aware of: Physical boundaries and emotional boundaries.
Physical boundaries communicate needs around personal space, physical touch, and consent.
Here are a few examples of physical boundaries:
- I love it when you kiss my neck, but I do not want to go any further.
- I’m not comfortable with PDA.
- I enjoy spending time with you on the weekends, but I need to spend weeknights alone.
- I need to have some time to myself every day.
Emotional boundaries establish feelings of safety and trust, as well as drawing the line between your feelings and your partner(s)’.
Here are a few examples of emotional boundaries:
- I don’t feel comfortable discussing this right now.
- I would like to check in on the phone once a day.
- Let’s agree to disagree.
- I’m not ready to talk about my past partner(s).
- I feel differently, and that is perfectly fine.
Boundary setting may seem simple, and sometimes it is, but practicing boundaries IRL isn’t always easy. After all, it’s one thing to have agreements. But, sticking to them (and interpreting them on-the-go) takes practice. That being said, there are some major benefits to putting in the work of establishing strong, mutually supportive boundaries with your partner(s). Read on to explore a few benefits.
What are the benefits of boundary setting?
There are many reasons to practice boundary setting with your partner(s) - and really, anyone in your life. The benefits range from deepening trust, providing safety and support, respecting needs, and acknowledging individuality. Here are a few more:
- Boundaries help you and your partner(s) communicate your needs clearly. Physical boundaries are especially important as they support you in navigating consent.
- Setting boundaries involves open, honest conversations about your comfort levels and needs, and equips you to respect the needs of your partner(s).
- Boundaries also help you minimize conflict in the long-run. Open, honest communication is basically like an apple a day for relationships.
- Boundaries come down to respect, and you deserve to feel respect in every relationship you have.
What do healthy boundaries look like in a relationship?
Of course, every relationship is different, and every individual has a unique set of needs. This is reflected in the diversity of boundaries set by partners. While setting boundaries in your own relationship(s), be mindful to:
- Value each other’s feelings, views, and needs
- Ask permission
- Be open
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Allow for autonomy
- Avoid codependency
- Honor each other’s time and space
- Show gratitude
What do unhealthy boundaries look like?
Setting boundaries is essential, but sometimes boundaries are unhealthy and don't work, especially if one person seeks to restrict the actions of the other.
Boundaries are not:
- Limiting the other person’s options
- Disregard for you and your partner’s needs, preferences, and limitations
- Having sex without clear consent from the other person
- Changing the other person
- Feeling responsible for the other person’s happiness
What kinds of boundaries should you set with your partner(s)?
Of course, every relationship is unique and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to set boundaries with your partner(s). The most important thing is that your boundaries respect all of your needs, physically and emotionally. This goes for you and your partner(s).
While your boundaries will be as unique as your relationship(s), here are a few areas to consider setting clear boundaries around.
- Sex - Consent is important in any physical relationship, and it requires clear, direct, affirmative communication. Boundaries around physical touch and sex must be discussed openly and with trust. For more about affirmative, enthusiastic consent, read our blog post here.
- Time - Respecting your time is one way that you respect yourself. It can be helpful to set boundaries around time spent together and apart based on your needs and your partners’. Of course, like all boundaries, these may evolve as your relationships do.
- Texting - Communication is key, but texting can be tricky. You and your partner may want to discuss each other’s texting styles and how frequently you’re each able to respond to one another. Allow this to open a deeper conversation about your communication styles. It’s normal to have different styles, but discussing what makes you feel secure may help you avoid any tension.
- Money - When setting financial boundaries, it helps to think about your financial goals. Do you prefer to put money aside or “invest” in lavish experiences? In a new relationship, you might discuss how transparent or open you want to be about finances. It may be helpful to set agreements around purchases, like splitting a bill or treating one another. Keep in mind that you should never be forced to reveal your finances, or provide financial support to partners, without your enthusiastic, willing consent. Part of boundary setting is having your needs (and limits) respected.
Boundaries look different in every relationship, and the key is setting boundaries that respect all partners’ needs. If you're struggling to respect your partner(s)’ physical or emotional boundaries, we urge you to seek support from a trained therapist or professional.