When you think of a boundary, what comes to mind? You might think of something like a property line or the defining lines of a shape. Boundaries show where one thing ends and another begins. Boundaries in a relationship are kind of like this; they help each person figure out where one person ends and the other begins. In short, boundaries help you define what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated by others. They apply to any kind of relationship you have – whether with a friend, family member, partner or anyone else in your life.
What are my boundaries?
Even though we talk about them in relation to other people, in some ways boundaries are really about your relationship with yourself; they help you honor your needs, goals, feelings and values. Boundaries can be emotional, physical or even digital . Some examples of personal boundaries might be:
- I’m cool with following each other on social media, but not with sharing passwords
- I’m comfortable kissing and holding hands, but not in public
- I’m okay with regularly texting, but I don’t want to text multiple times in an hour
- I want to spend time with my friends/family on weekends
- I need quiet time to myself every day
- I’m comfortable with some touching, but I’m not ready to have sex
It can be helpful to think through your own boundaries, no matter what your relationship status is. Start by paying attention to how you feel about and react to situations around you, whether in real life or in shows or movies you watch. What makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s important to you? What do you want to keep private? Is there any type of behavior or trait that would not fly with you, ever (sometimes called a “dealbreaker”)? It might be helpful to write down some of your thoughts.
How can you and your partner know each other’s boundaries? By talking about them! Communication is really key in a healthy relationship, and boundaries are an important part of an ongoing conversation between you and your partner. Talking about boundaries can happen whenever, wherever! If your partner does something that you like or don’t like, let them know. A simple, “Hey, I really like it when you…” or “I’m not comfortable when we…” lets them know what’s up. In a healthy relationship, partners respect each other’s boundaries once they’ve been communicated. And if you’re ever not clear on your partner’s boundaries, just ask! Questions like “Is this okay?” or “Are you cool with this?” can help jumpstart the conversation. Just remember: if you don’t want to talk about your boundaries with your partner because you’re afraid they’ll react with anger or violence, that’s a warning sign that your relationship might be unhealthy or abusive.
Healthy vs. unhealthy boundaries
How do you know if a boundary is healthy…or not? It’s important to recognize that healthy boundaries help to protect and respect you; an unhealthy boundary seeks to control or harm someone else. A healthy boundary would be: “I need space to hang out with my friends and do things I enjoy on my own.” But if your partner says, “I need you to stop talking to other guys/girls because you might cheat/I get jealous,” that’s not a healthy boundary; it’s a warning sign that your partner may have some trust issues and is trying to control who you hang out with. Here are some more great examples of healthy/unhealthy boundaries!
Can boundaries change?
Can your boundaries change over time? Yes! It’s normal for boundaries to shift as we gain more life experience or get more comfortable in our relationships. We might not be okay with something at the beginning of a relationship, but we might be totally cool with it a few months down the line. On the other hand, we might realize something crosses a boundary for us after experiencing it for the first time. Every person has the right to change their mind about what their boundaries are at any time. What’s important is that you’re communicating any boundary changes to your partner and you’re making changes because YOU want to, not because you’re being pressured, forced or manipulated into making them.
You deserve to be safe and respected, and boundaries play a big part in creating healthy relationships that let you be YOU. If you still have questions about setting your own boundaries, we can help you think through them. Call, chat or text with a loveisrespect advocate any time.