“The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you're enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect."
~ Brené Brown
A boundary separates your emotional or physical space from that of another person.
It’s an invisible demarcation, but nevertheless one that needs to be recognized between individuals. Boundaries may be described as tight or loose and we generally understand what these terms mean. Recognizing the purpose of boundaries is especially important in romantic and other intimate relationships.
Understand the purpose of boundaries
You can’t begin a meaningful discussion about boundaries with your partner, if you both don’t understand their function. A boundary sets a limit, in the same way as a door does. We have different feelings, for instance, about a door that’s wide open, one that is shut, one that is locked, and another that swings open and closed. A secret is another kind of boundary, a limit on who knows something—maybe just you or maybe you and your partner.
The purpose of boundaries is to demarcate what’s yours and what is your partner’s. In the physical realm, you may want him to know that your toothbrush is used only by you. In the emotional realm, you may wish him to recognize that you don’t want him telling everyone your business, such as the fact that you got a not-so-great work review or that your mother has breast cancer. Boundaries in a relationship indicate “This is mine and this is yours or this is ours.”
Recognize how we develop boundaries
We develop a sense of where we end and where another person begins in childhood. In some families, everyone shares everything and what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine. Moreover, everyone is pretty cool with that and thinks nothing of sipping from your glass of wine or using your shampoo in a pinch. They also share feelings openly and there are few, if any, family secrets.
In other families, privacy is de rigueur. You would never dream of borrowing your sister’s dress and might never see your parents eat off the same plate. In some households there’s a strong emphasis on what belongs to each person and less of a shared sense of the group as whole. The focus is on individuals. There also may be many family secrets, or members requiring a great deal of space and alone time.
Get a sense of your partner’s family boundaries and tell him about yours
Getting to know your partner’s family (in person or by discussion with him) will tell you a great deal about how he came to view boundaries the way he does. You will also want to let him know how they were dealt with in your family. Why? Because then you will both understand that you are doing what you learned to do and not take it personally that your attitudes toward boundaries might not be the same.
For example, say that everyone in your family had his or her own bathroom because you had a very large house, while everyone in your partner’s family shared one bathroom in a tiny apartment. Maybe you were used to leaving a bathroom mess, while your partner had to clean up after himself in consideration of other family members. Another example is that you may come from a family that had oodles of extended relatives which meant huge gatherings filled with family gossip at every holiday, but maybe your partner didn’t even know his grandparents, had no cousins, and holidays generally meant him and his parents sharing a low-key meal.
Strive for clear but flexible boundaries
Couples do best when they are clear about boundaries, but not rigid. The exception is when both partners have tight or loose boundaries and are comfortable with them. However, this is rarely the case in couples. Usually one person’s boundaries are inclined toward tighter and the other toward looser. There is often no right or wrong way to set a boundary. What you’re striving for is compatibility. If everyone in your family shared every thought that entered their heads and adored talking to strangers, this could be difficult for a partner who grew up with excessive privacy and barely had any close friends.
The best thing you can do is to calmly explain why you set your boundaries the way you do, then listen to why your partner does his a certain way.
Try to be understanding and see it his way and expect the same from him. Be respectful of boundaries, but also question them if they seem inappropriately too tight or too loose. There is no science to boundary setting (would that there were!), so keep talking about them with curiosity and without judgment as differences arise.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
It is important to establish healthy boundaries at the beginning of a relationship.
True intimacy occurs when you can communicate your needs in the relationship. It is also important to have the capacity to respond and not react during interactions with your partner. In a healthy relationship, you can express yourself freely without the concern of being judged, blamed, or that your partner me overreact, feel hurt or lash out at you. The other person should feel equally as safe. Boundaries also protect us from being manipulated and controlled.
In a healthy relationship, each person will have their own sense of self, which is impossible without healthy boundaries.
So, what exactly are boundaries?
As defined by Pia Melody, boundaries are a system of limit setting that protect a person from being a victim and contain a person so she or he is not offensive to others. The purpose of boundaries is to hold and support a person, in order to protect his or her reality and to establish identity.
There are both internal and external boundaries.
Internal boundaries protect your thoughts and emotions while acting like a filter. The external boundaries protect your physical body and personal property, also controlling distance and touch.
It is important that you realize that it is your right to control how close someone gets to you, whether sexually or non-sexually. Of course, the same is true for your partner.
Boundaries are not walls.
Many confuse having a wall with having a boundary. A healthy boundary is flexible and flowing. It may change in different situations and with different people. For instance, I may sit closer to my daughter than I would to a stranger. I would talk with my best friend about personal issues, but I would not disclose them to the person I don’t know standing next to me in the checkout line.
If you have been hurt in the past in your family of origin and/or relationships, you may have inadvertently built a wall to protect yourself from emotional pain instead of using boundaries.
The problem with walls however, is that it is impossible to connect with others on an emotional and heart level this way. It keeps you separate and apart from everything that you truly desire and the connection that you seek. With a wall, there is nothing getting in and nothing getting out.
When a wall is employed, you may get feedback from others that they are not quite sure about you, or don’t know the real you, because a part of you is concealed. This may manifest in rigidity and inflexibility.
A partial list of common signs of unhealthy boundaries:
- Sharing personal information too soon
- Inability to say no
- Falling in love before you know a person
- Feeling responsible for the happiness of others
- Allowing others to make decisions for you
- Feeling the need to explain yourself
- Apologizing when not necessary
- Difficulty setting limits
- Letting others define you or your reality
- Expecting others to anticipate your wants and needs
- Being sexual for others and not self
- Use sex as a substitute for love
- Using sex to manipulate or control
- Answering sexual questions too soon
- Standing too close
- Asking inappropriate questions
- Allowing abuse
- Abusing others
- Not in touch with feelings
- Going against your own belief system to please another
- Feeling that you are responsible to take care of the needs of others (other than children, handicapped or elderly)
Another aspect of having healthy boundaries in relationship is to communicate your expectations of the behavior you expect from each other.
For example, it is healthy to have time apart, your own friends and time to yourself.
However, you may or may not be comfortable if your partner engaged in certain behaviors with his friends, like going to singles clubs or strip clubs. This expectation would need to be communicated and agreed upon in the beginning of the relationship.
How you would like to be communicated with should also be discussed. Are you ok with text? Do you expect a response to your texts in a timely manner? What about timeliness for dates? Do you feel disrespected if your date is later than agreed upon?
Be sure to discuss exclusivity if this is what you desire for the relationship.
If you have healthy boundaries, and an effective communication style with self-esteem, you will never assume.
Lisa Angelini, MAPC, LPC - www.lisaangelini.com
It will be difficult to maintain healthy boundaries in a romantic relationship if you struggle with healthy boundaries in general.
If you grow up in a household or family with unhealthy boundaries, you have to learn what healthy boundaries are through experience and lessons learned. Some of these lessons can be very painful because you can give so much that you exhaust yourself. In the aftermath, you are left struggling with what went wrong despite putting so much effort and energy into the relationship.
Know your limits
It is important to recognize your limits. Be mindful not to change the way you establish and maintain your boundaries based on the type of relationship it is. In romantic relationships, it is critical that you start the relationship being confident of your limits and boundaries. I have had clients lose themselves in a relationship and do things that are outside of their personality. They have gotten to a point that they no longer recognize who they are because they do not know how to set healthy boundaries with their romantic partner.
Evaluate if there is already a pattern of codependency and overextending yourself. Be aware of your own inability to say “no” to requests in any relationship.
Pay attention to the red flags
If you start dating someone who does not have a job and you pick up the tab for dinner for the first few months. He can easily get used to that. Three months in when he gets a job, you get frustrated that you are sill picking up the tab on meals. When you ask him to pay, he says “well I thought you would keep paying since you have always paid.” He might say “you didn’t seem to mind before.”
Be careful not to enable him. Don’t gloss things over and expect it to get better. Hold him accountable by enforcing your limits and asserting yourself in situations in which he is pushing on your boundaries.
If you have an issue with something, speak up and say something. Don’t stay silent and let him think that you are fine with something when you are not fine with it. He could interpret your silence as permission to continue to engage in unhealthy behavior.
If he has trouble accepting that you do not agree with him or are uncomfortable with something he is doing or asking for, this is a huge red flag. If he is imposing his will on you and you are allowing it, there is a huge problem. For example, if he does not like a certain television show and he refuses to let you watch it, look out. This type of behavior will only escalate and get worse over time.
Establish your boundaries and maintain them consistently
When you start dating, go on with your life. Don’t change your plans or accommodate him because you want to please him. Be mindful not to let the new relationship consume every minute of your life. Go slow and don’t rush into things like moving in with him before you are ready. Give yourself time to grow into the relationship and get to know who he really is. Set your limits and observe his reaction to this.
In a relationship, it is important not to attend to what you think he expects. Be polite and set your limits, but don’t give in because you feel obligated or you think you can “save” or “fix” him. If your boundaries keep changing with every guy you meet, then you will be chipping away at your own power to make healthy decisions for yourself.
Don’t change who you are for him
Don’t let him have his way with everything and likewise, he shouldn’t let you have your way with everything. Balance is the key to compromise. Make sure that you are both getting your needs met and talk about the things that make you uncomfortable. If he is a swinger and you are not, you need to be honest and tell him. If that is a deal breaker for him, then it is time to move on. Don’t change who you are for him. If you compromise in a way that doesn’t respect your boundaries, you will be the one who suffers in the end.
Be clear and up front with him about your boundaries and only then will you know whether he can respect them. Give him the opportunity to meet
your needs and respect your limits. In order to do that, you must be able to ask for what you want and need in the relationship. Giving and giving with
the expectation that someone is going to give back to you without you asking for what you need creates a very unhealthy dynamic.
Be authentic from the start of the relationship and do not put your needs aside thinking that he will guess or know what you want. Say what you mean and mean what you say. The tone you set from the beginning of a relationship will be what he expects throughout the relationship.
If you are struggling with a pattern of unhealthy relationships in your life, talk to a couple’s counselor to help you identify areas you need to work on. Work on being the healthiest version of yourself that you can be even if you are not in a relationship. Learn from your past and what didn’t work. Build on what is working and keep trying.
It takes time to learn what healthy boundaries mean to you. It may also take time to figure out how to enforce and maintain healthy boundaries if it is new to you. Your boundaries may fluctuate over time with experience and as you grow into the person you are meant to be. Experience is why you may not tolerate certain behavior now because you tried in the past and the experience has taught you that it will not work. Be kind to yourself and remember we are all a work in progress.
Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net
I’m going to start off with a blunt but very true statement: You will always attract in a man who treats you the way you treat yourself.
And in the case of abusive relationships, you will attract in a man who treats you just a teensy bit better. Which is why you stay with him. Your self-confidence is low and the fact that he treats you a little bit nicer than you treat yourself is the reason you stay with him.
Meaning, treating yourself like a Queen or a Goddess (which includes setting healthy boundaries) is going to go a long way towards manifesting a soulmate level relationship and attracting a man who worships the ground you walk upon! Which is what I help my clients do. 🙂
The first step in setting boundaries is to treat yourself with love.
This includes how you speak to yourself, making time for activities that you enjoy doing and also how you treat your body (diet, exercise, and thoughts). A woman who does not respect herself will certainly never be able to set boundaries and have the respect she deserves. Period.
Be kind in what you say to yourself. Treat your body with love and respect. And make time every single day for activities that you enjoy.
Second, get comfortable saying NO.
And this is so freaking hard for women! We are programmed to say ‘yes’ to everyone else’s needs before our own. But if you want to set healthy boundaries in any relationship in your life, you must learn to listen to your own desires first and say no to anything that does not serve you. Some might call it selfish. But truly it’s the only way you could ever be of service to others.
Relationships are compromise, yes. But too many women put the needs of their man first. If you’re feeling tired and he asks you to come over and hang out, simply reply “I’m sorry sweetie. I’m exhausted tonight and need my sleep. I miss you, so how about tomorrow night? I’ll have so much more energy to give you my full attention!”
Speaking your mind in a kind and clear way is essential to a healthy relationship and will give you more energy, more love and more quality-time together.
Put your needs first. Always. And start practicing saying NO.
And finally, continuously work on those communication skills!
I think this is so important that I’ve developed an entire course on the subject called Conflict to Conscious Communication! We were never taught how to love and we were certainly never given a healthy example of communication.
Go to therapy together (before you have issues!). Read books on communication (Non-Violent Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg is a great one!). Attend a personal-growth seminar. The options are endless. But the more you two work on your personal lives separately plus your relationship together, the easier it will be to set healthy boundaries in your relationship.
Continue to do the self-help work. Never stop growing. And work on those communication skills forever!
Emyrald Sinclaire, Love and Relationship Coach - www.EmyraldSinclaire.com
Too often couples have an expectation that they should always do everything together, even to thinking alike, having the same preferences, and even enjoying or disliking the same things to the exact same amount.
This is most evident in newly in love couples. It’s a normal stage of the relationship. However, when relationships get stuck in this initial stage, anger and resentment eventually build up, because no two people are really as alike as we would sometimes wish we were.
This unspoken expectation to always think and feel alike can also lead to thinking the other person should always be available, totally interested in what we have to say, and willing to engage in interacting at a moment’s notice. Every couple needs time to be separate from each other. It can actually increase your appreciation and enjoyment of the other person when you’ve had some time to yourself or with other people.
You and your loved one are not the same person.
You are two unique individuals. And as a couple, you each need to find ways to maintain your individuality. This requires setting some healthy boundaries—such as, having some space that is “yours” alone, being able to say “no” to the other person, being able to have different opinions, interests, even some different friends, or activities.
Even just having alone time to have a bath, take a walk alone, read a book, or work on a project that you enjoy allows both partners to step away, take a breather, and then re-engage with more delight and probably with some new and interesting thoughts and feelings to add to the relationship.
When the two of you feel merged together, it can feel like each of you disappear into the all encompassing “we”. We think, we feel, we want. When you each maintain a sense of “I”, you’ll find that when you agree, it’s a real joining of the two of you, rather than an annihilation of one or the other.
And when you disagree, you can discuss your differences and find a way to come to a solution that works for both of you.
That means you have to both be willing to speak up as well as be respectful of each person’s needs. I’m not a big advocate of “compromise” which requires one person to give in, and the other to get their way. I’ve found over the years, as a therapist, that two people can quite often find a solution that actually enables each person to get a portion of what they want. But it requires two people to clearly set their boundaries, state what they want, and work together to create a resolution.
Couples who learn to set boundaries, respect each other’s differences, and each have a sense of their own individuality actually report being more compatible, enjoying each other’s company more, and having less conflict.
Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT – www.margalistherapy.com
Setting boundaries in a relationship is key to developing and sustaining a healthy, loving and prolonged relationship.
Here are 3 tips to help you set and maintain healthy boundaries:
1. Knowing what you want.
Until you know what you really want, from and out of this relationship, you cannot set any healthy boundaries. If your man loves to go out after work and hang with the boys and you have accepted the idea that this is just what the guys do, even though it is not what YOU WANT, you have not set healthy boundaries for yourself. You must get clear on what you really want. Your boundaries will be leaky if you can't define what it is that you want. You will accept anything and ultimately, you will not be happy and it will feel like it is his fault.
First decide what it is that you want, not what you have been settling for or how it has been, but what your heart and soul truly desire.
2. Know your core values.
Your core values will influence what is important to you and what is not. We can see some relationships where we say "Oh, I would never allow that in my relationship", but their core values may be very different from your own. Define your core values and measure them against your partner's core values. His may be different than yours and in that case, a discussion around what is important to you and what is important to him needs to take place.
Spending time only with you may be your core value, but his core value may be spending some time with his friends. Here you can set the boundaries that will work on behalf of both of you. Maybe one or two nights a week he is with his friends, and the other five or six nights a week are spent in quality time building your future together, doing things you both enjoy.
3. What feels life giving to you vs what feels constrictive.
Let's say your guy likes to just take off on a Saturday morning to go play ball, without any fore warning. He is just use to doing his thing, not thinking he has to check in with you and you are just standing there with that "what the hell just happened" look on you face. That feeling you get is constrictive, it is not life giving.
Anytime we feel constriction, we know that this something that is not in alignment with what we truly want or our core values It dictates that a discussion is necessary to set those boundaries. It is not to point out that he is wrong and you are right, rather it is to inform him of how you feel.
A life giving feeling would be something like "Hey babe, the guys are playing ball and invited me along. How does 2 hours with the boys sound and then it's you and me the rest of the day?"
Knowing that you want the relationship to continue and grow and he wants the relationship to continue and grow, if he can hear why things are painful to you, it will be much easier for him to respect your boundaries. You have taken away the blame and stated what is important to you and how you feel when those boundaries are crossed.
If he is new at relationships, it may take a few reminders.
It has been my experience that if we address boundaries from a place of 'this is what I need and require. I feel hurt when.....' instead of pointing out everything he has ever done that is wrong and caused us pain, we get much results. The boundaries help each person build trust ultimately a deepening of the relationship.
Nada Hogan L.Ac, Dipl.Om, M.Om - www.nadahogan.com
Healthy boundaries are the cornerstone of all flourishing relationships.
However, this is one area that I see so many people get tripped up and confused as to what they actually are! Our sense of boundaries is taught to us at a very young age by the families in which we grew up.
Did your family have healthy boundaries or were they rigid, loosely defined, enmeshed or completely non-existent? It can be hard to see this clearly ourselves because we often have no basis of comparison until we move out of our childhood home and explore intimate relationships with others.
Once in an intimate relationship, it is hard to ignore the fact that two people often have a different sense of personal boundaries. These differences can lead to confusion, conflict and untold difficulties until healthy, mutually agreed upon boundaries are established.
Unhealthy boundaries can cause a relationship to devolve into an entanglement.
By an entanglement, I mean a relationship in which both people are expecting the other person to fill certain personal needs that they really need to be filling for themselves.
In an entanglement, behavior becomes toxic and codependency is the name of the game. For more information on codependency and healing from this kind of relationship, I recommend reading Codependent No More by Melody Beattie or Facing Codependency by Pia Mellody.
In it’s most extreme state, codependency is an addictive relationship between two people who are trying to control and manipulate each other in order to self-soothe and manage their own repressed feelings and insecurities. These relationships inevitably become toxic, controlling, shame-based and anxiety-ridden.
Healthy relationships are between two people who feel complete and secure within themselves.
In these partnerships, both people bring a sense of maturity and self-awareness to the relationship. There is a foundation of mutual care, respect, trust, honesty and acceptance. Each person is able to speak their truth and feel seen and respected.
With healthy boundaries, each partner is able to ask for what they want and need from each other and negotiate mutually agreed upon solutions to problems. There is a sense of compromise in which the relationship is honored as a separate entity worth working on and nurturing as needed.
In these relationships, there is a sense of stability and safety where one feels they can be both vulnerable and strong.
The relationship is seen as a vehicle for self-empowerment and healing with each person wanting the best for the other. Personal growth and self-fulfillment are fostered for the betterment of both the individual and the couple.
If you find a partner who is willing to develop this kind of conscious relationship with a foundation built on healthy boundaries and mutual support consider yourself lucky. While it takes more than healthy boundaries to create a life-long successful relationship, it’s a necessary ingredient for sure.
Nancy Harris, LCSW, LICSW - www.nancyharriscoaching.com
Most people understand and pay close attention to the cues from others and are able to maintain a healthy balance in their relationships and interactions with them.
They are also willing to make the necessary changes so that their relationships remain strong, satisfying and equal. But there are those who are not so intuitive and may overstep the boundaries of their partners, making them feel uncomfortable and distressed.
Here is how you can handle the issue of setting healthy boundaries:
1. The purpose of setting boundaries is to protect yourself from people who can be abusive and hurtful.
2. By stating your feelings, you let others know that your rights have been overstepped and that you are taking responsibility for yourself.
3. It is easier to set boundaries and assert yourself with people with whom you don’t have strong relationships. It becomes more difficult, but even more necessary, with those you care most about.
4. Remind yourself that you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and that this is vital if you are to love yourself. So feel comfortable letting your partner know that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that changes need to be made.
5. When you set a boundary, you also have to let go of the outcome. This is because, some people are incapable of changing. It is their choice to refuse to make things better. You also have a choice whether you will leave the marriage, end the friendship, find a new job or distance yourself from those who make you feel so uncomfortable.
Setting personal boundaries defines the edges of your physical and emotional space.
Pick and choose the most important behaviors that need to be discussed and then state your request. Hopefully, the people who care about you the most will be willing to make the necessary improvements to keep your relationships honest, respectful and mutually satisfying. If they don't care to listen, understand who they are and how you need to protect yourself from further abuse.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
I think of boundaries as the invisible lines that define where you end and other people begin.
While culture and family influence your boundaries, ultimately, they are defined by you. Your boundaries include your physical and emotional space. You are entitled to define your own boundaries, period. This is not a dynamic that is up for negotiation.
People relate most closely to physical boundaries.
The big news today is the violation of women’s boundaries by men in power. It is a boundary violation when someone touches you in any way that you haven’t explicitly given permission for. Men of power have taken advantage of through various forms of intimidation, mostly based on a power differential. Simply put, women are afraid of retribution if they speak up.
Retribution can come in the form of physical intimidation, a threat of job loss, or any exertion of a position of power. It is a violation when anyone including medical people, teachers, therapists, your boss, even family members, or any person in a position of power over you uses the inequity in your relationship to touch you or coerce you any way.
There may be nothing more important to a good relationship, any kind of relationship, than good boundaries.
Besides defining your physical space, boundaries protect your sense of self. Boundaries are seldom overtly defined. We learn them from our families and from the larger culture. We learn to intuit often-subtle cues from others just as we inform them about our boundaries by the cues we give out. If someone reaches out to touch you and you back away, you are indicating your boundary. If you feel pressured to behave in a way that isn’t comfortable to you, it’s likely that someone is stepping on your boundary.
Sometimes the boundaries are clear.
We know that the bus driver is in charge of driving the bus. You, the passenger, are responsible for getting to the stop on time, having the fare and behaving civilly to other passengers. If you or the bus driver reneges on your responsibilities there will be some amount of chaos. We rely on generally understood boundaries to make it easier to function in the world. We don’t need to negotiate every time we ride the bus, because the rules are understood.
In relationships it’s a lot less clear what the boundaries are.
Generally big things like monogamy are understood but the kinds of boundaries that make up everyday life in a relationship are often less clear. This is because people’s boundaries differ. That’s why it’s so important to be clear and speak up about what works for you and what doesn’t. These conversations often need to include role definitions. “In my family the women did the cooking” doesn’t mean that in your current relationship, you have to do the cooking. Although it can be difficult when people have differences, that is really the rule rather than the exception. Both partners have to learn to speak up, tolerate, understand, and negotiate. Respect is key; never let yourself be bullied.
Really, boundaries are a reflection of how you define yourself and how you expect to be treated.
While some boundaries are flexible, the ones that protect you physically and emotionally are not. When you feel taken advantage of you must speak up loudly and clearly. This isn’t a question of who’s right and who’s wrong; it’s a question of taking charge of your own personal safety. You have that right.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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