Boundaries? In a relationship? That doesn’t make sense. I love this person. And because I love them, there shouldn’t be any boundaries between us…right?
Healthy relationships are created from strong connections, strong boundaries, and strong self-awareness. We tend to think strong connection with others stems from little to no boundaries. But this is not true.
Strong boundaries define the place where you end and I begin. They allow us to set expectations for how we should be treated. They allow us to hold others accountable if boundaries are crossed and we are mistreated.
We need strong self-awareness to recognize what boundaries we need. And to respect the boundaries of our partner.
Think of boundaries in a relationship like your personal bubble. If someone is in your bubble for too long and invading your personal space, that isn’t a healthy way to live. You are not going to be able to love that person the way you want to if they can’t stop invading your personal space. It would be difficult to be with someone who had absolutely no regard for your personal space. No matter how much you loved them, that would put a strain on your relationship.
Boundaries are like your personal bubble. They protect your emotional, mental, and physical space and needs.
1. Why Are Boundaries Important?
We nurture our relationships by giving of ourselves to others. We share our time, energy, talents, space, resources, and affection with those we love. And they do the same for us.
But you can’t give what you don’t have. And if you don’t have boundaries, the parts that you can give to others will be drained quickly. Without the right boundaries in place, you won’t be able to replenish those things. And your relationships will suffer.
This is why boundaries are key structures for your relationship. They prevent burnout and resentment (the cancer of relationships). They allow you to have your own needs met so you can reset. They allow you to rest and recover. And they reserve your energy for people and things you actually value.
2. Types of Boundaries
There are three types of boundaries: healthy, rigid, and weak. Which type of boundaries do you currently use in your relationship?
Healthy: Having healthy boundaries creates healthy relationships. These boundaries nurture connection between you and your partner. They help you balance your needs with the needs of your partner. This creates intimacy and authenticity in your relationship.
Rigid: These boundaries are like a brick wall. They are meant to protect you, but they tend to deprive you of connection. They keep you distant from others, especially your partner. They stifle intimacy and authenticity.
Rigid boundaries likely stem from trauma you experienced as a child. Or trauma you experienced while in other romantic relationships. If you struggle dismantling your rigid boundaries, work with a licensed therapist. They will be able to help you understand why you have these specific boundaries and how to overcome them.
Weak: These boundaries are either too permeable or nonexistent. They enable your partner to mistreat you. You lose your autonomy as you become engulfed by and enmeshed with your partner. You end up feeling smothered, exhausted, unappreciated, and resentful. As a result, weak boundaries make it difficult to connect with your partner.
Weak boundaries can also be due to unresolved trauma. If you struggle with weak boundaries, you may find it helpful to work with a licensed therapist.
3. Identify Your Boundaries
Having strong self-awareness is how you identify your boundaries. But sometimes it can be challenging to even know what your boundaries are.
This can happen if you grew up in an enmeshed family that had no boundaries. Or if you constantly deny or ignore your feelings. This makes it more difficult to recognize what you actually need.
We establish boundaries to protect our values. For example, if you value honesty, a boundary you may have in your relationship is to always tell the truth. If you value partnership, you’ll set boundaries to share the domestic workload. If you value compassion, your boundaries will guard against name-calling.
To recognize what boundaries you need in your relationship, look at your values.
Identifying your values starts with mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness by being aware of what you think, feel, want and need. Meditate on your relationship for a few minutes. Sit in a quiet place and think or write in a journal.
What do you think, feel, want, and need in regard to your relationship? What do you like about your relationship? What don’t you like about your relationship? Do you feel any resentment in certain areas of your relationship? Resentment is a sign that a boundary has been crossed. What boundary is causing that resentment?
4. Establish Your Boundaries
This may be the part that sparks the most fear or makes you the most uncomfortable. But remind yourself (and your partner) that boundaries support your relationship and make it stronger. Remember, strong boundaries create strong connection. Which is important for a healthy relationship.
As you establish your boundaries, use clear, specific language. Some examples of phrases you can use when creating boundaries include:
—— “It would mean a lot to me if…”
—— “I feel (an emotion) when you (specific behavior) because I think (what that means to you).”
—— “I would appreciate it if you…”
—— “I loved it when you (specific behavior). Will you do it again?”
For your boundaries to be received well, consider when and how you start the conversation:
Right Time: Use the HALT method to decide if it is the right time to have this conversation. Don’t start a conversation about boundaries if either of you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
Ask: Ask if your partner is available or open to having the conversation. Maybe they’re on their way out the door or expecting an important phone call. If they are unavailable right now, ask when would be a good time. This shows that you respect their time and want to be considerate of their schedule. It can also eliminate unnecessary stress.
Stay Private: Have important conversations in private. Your partner may feel like they are being attacked if you try to establish boundaries in public. Be respectful of their feelings by having this conversation in private.
5. Stick To Your Boundaries
Once you have established a boundary with your partner, you need to stick to it. This means holding your partner accountable if they disrespect a boundary.
This will require you to have another conversation.
Ask why they crossed an important boundary. Was it a mistake? Or were they being careless? Do they disagree with that boundary or find it unfair? Are they unsure how they can respect that boundary and need more clarification? Work together to navigate this offense. Use the above techniques to know how and when to start the conversation.
If your partner can’t respect your boundaries or doesn’t agree with them, it may be time to end the relationship. You need to feel safe, honored, and respected in your relationship. But if your partner won’t respect your boundaries, it is not a healthy relationship. And you should move on.
People often trade their boundaries for love or approval. They are afraid that they will lose important relationships if they set boundaries. However, you begin to lose yourself when you forfeit important boundaries. Your boundaries allow you to nurture your partner while nurturing yourself. And a partner who truly loves you will want to respect your boundaries.