Boundaries are often thought of as imaginary lines or bubbles surrounding us that we prefer for others not to cross. While that’s true to an extent, boundaries within your relationship are much more comprehensive. We have been trained to believe that if we have to set boundaries in our relationships, then we are creating a wall between us and our partners. That’s simply not true! When done well, boundaries are essentially just healthy “rules” that can actually help bring you and your partner closer together. In this article, we’ll look at 4 ways you can set healthy boundaries in your relationship that will benefit both you and your partner!
Establishing boundaries requires you to be completely transparent with your partner about who you are, what you want, your beliefs and values, and of course, your limits. Think of establishing boundaries as a form of self-care. Not only can establishing healthy boundaries within your relationship help you feel more comfortable and safer, they can also increase positive self-esteem for both partners, strengthening your relationship overall.
What boundaries look like is typically determined by who is setting them and are often shaped by the experiences and interactions of our pasts. Your boundaries will likely differ from those of your partner, just like they will likely differ from those of your mother, father, sister, or best friend. This is important to keep top of mind because it’s all too easy to assume that the boundaries of others mirror our own, which can lead to struggle and conflict in your relationships.
Before we talk about how to set your boundaries, identifying your core values and needs is an important first step. Defining the values important to you, and the needs you require met within your relationship will help you better outline your expectations of what being in a relationship looks like for you. You may be wondering what your expectations and your boundaries have to do with one another. Can you think of a time where you were disappointed because the reality of a situation fell short of your expectations? This usually occurs in situations where we don’t necessarily have control of the outcome, or when our expectations – aka boundaries – are not communicated.
Let’s say, for example, that if you cook a meal, you expect that your partner will do the dishes. If those dishes remain in the sink long after the meal ended, you’re likely to be disappointed or upset because you had anticipated an expectation that ultimately did not occur. Now let’s change this from an expectation to a boundary. Maybe the equal share of household responsibility is a value important to you, or the reciprocal exchange of chores is something you consider to be a necessity in your relationship. Communicating this to your partner as one of your definitive boundaries, rather than an unspoken expectation, leaves a greater chance that your boundary will be respected. One, because your partner knows about it, and two, because it gives you and your partner a set of rules or inner-relationship code to abide by. Now if those dishes still don’t get done, you have an opportunity to have a healthy discussion with your partner about their disrespect for your known boundaries, rather than be upset that your partner didn’t deliver on something they didn’t know you valued.
Take a few minutes now to think about your expectations for your relationship. Now take a minute to think of those expectations as the tangible boundaries we’re used to imagining. Can you see the shift?
A grounded sense of self from both partners is what truly builds the foundation of a healthy relationship. Before entering a relationship, spend time in a relationship with yourself: exploring who you are, what you like, what you don’t like, what you need, what you can or will not tolerate, and so on. If you’re already in a relationship, you and your partner can still do this work and reap the benefits! You and your partner have a responsibility to continually work on being self-aware, acknowledging the individual areas in your lives that need growth, and taking action in those areas for continuous self-improvement. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, this work greatly impacts your ability to set healthy boundaries and maintain a safe space for you and your partner/spouse.
While there are many different types of boundaries, Dr.Nicole LePera talks about 5 basic boundaries: emotional, material, time/energy, mental, and physical. Here’s a brief description of each:
- Emotional: Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Simply, you have no control over the emotions or emotional boundaries of others. Allowing another’s feelings to dictate your own feelings, sacrificing your own needs to please others, and accepting responsibility for the feelings or behaviors of others can all be considered violations of emotional boundaries.
- Material: Material boundaries relate to our boundaries with material possessions. This could include your comfort level with giving or lending out money, your car, or any other material possessions.
- Time/Energy: Time and energy boundaries are exactly what they sound like – centralized around time and energy. This could include lateness, when you’re being contacted, or free labor disguised as favors.
- Mental: Mental boundaries apply to your thoughts, values, and opinions. Not having the freedom to have your own thoughts or causing harm to your self-esteem can both be considered violations of mental boundaries.
- Physical: Physical boundaries pertain to our personal space, privacy, and body. These include our needs and rights regarding sexual touch and activity—what, where, when, and with whom, including unwanted PDA or hurtful comments about your appearance.
Take some time and reflect over which type of boundary seems to be the most difficult or most pressing for you right now. You can also use this list as a tool or guide to help you determine your own boundaries comprehensively.
Now that we have a better understanding of what it looks like to create a good foundation for healthy boundaries, we can finally get to how you can set your own!
Keep reading for 4 ways you can set healthy boundaries in your relationship
- Give yourself permission: Not just permission to define and communicate your boundaries, but permission to honor and uphold them too! Fear, doubt, and guilt will all try to creep in, telling you that you don’t have the right to create such limitations, or that you don’t deserve them. Don’t believe the lies!!! Boundaries are a form of self-respect. It’s important that you uphold the boundary regardless of how others respond.
- Be Assertive: First, let’s be clear about one thing: being assertive does not equal being aggressive! Speak with confidence and be clear about what it is that you want to communicate, letting your “yes” be your yes, and your “no” be your no without wavering. Remember that these boundaries were birthed from your most cherished beliefs and values, and you deserve to implement them, and they are worthy of being defended. Honor these beliefs by communicating them with respect and grace.
- Learn to say NO: You can’t always do and be everything and everywhere at all times! Spreading yourself thin over things that ultimately are not serving you just means that the areas of your life that are important to you aren’t getting the best parts of you! Saying no can be tough at first, but it is so necessary. This will prevent burn out and feelings of overwhelm that can easily tailspin out of control.
- Take one boundary at a time: We’ve gone over how important, and personal, each person’s boundaries are. There should be a good deal of care and consideration that goes into defining your own boundaries, so don’t feel like you can just jot them down on a piece of scrap paper and set them on the shelf. Lasting and meaningful boundaries will develop over time as you learn more about yourself and what is most important to you. When defining your boundaries, start small! You can even give it a practice run with something that’s not particularly risky or challenging. Once you become more comfortable with operating in this space, you can make any necessary adjustments and expand from there.
At the heart of it, good boundaries help you be good to yourself, so you can be good for others. Defining your boundaries will give you and your partner a set of basic guidelines that can contribute to a strong, mutually respectful relationship!
If you and your partner are experiencing challenges with setting or honoring boundaries within your relationship, Solid Foundations can help! Learn more at solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!