In relationships, boundaries help you define what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated by your partner.
When it comes to love, people tend to think that they should love their partners unconditionally and be willing to do anything for them. However, unconditional love isn’t always healthy, since it can lead to a scenario where the person has to accept everything their partner does, no matter what.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, setting boundaries with your partner is important in order to maintain a healthy relationship. Boundaries are invisible lines that help protect you emotionally, intellectually, physically, and otherwise.
A relationship cannot be healthy if clear, firm boundaries are not established early on and respected by both partners.
This article explores the types of boundaries in relationships, some strategies to help you set boundaries with your partner, and the importance of boundary-setting.
Types of Boundaries in Relationships
Here are some of the different types of boundaries in relationships:
- Emotional boundaries: Emotional boundaries protect each partner’s right to have their own thoughts, feelings, and values without being belittled, ridiculed, or invalidated. Oftentimes, we may feel that our partner’s emotions and feelings are our responsibility, but it’s important to set emotional boundaries to distinguish what is and isn’t in our control. Emotional boundaries involve accepting responsibility for your own feelings, while refusing to accept responsibility for your partner’s emotions.
- Intellectual boundaries: Intellectual boundaries help protect each partner’s thoughts and opinions. Agreeing to disagree while respecting each partner’s right to their own opinion is an example of an important intellectual boundary.
- Physical boundaries: Physical boundaries help partners demarcate their personal space as well as communicate their preferences around physical touch. They also include aspects related to physical needs such as food, water, rest, and health.
- Sexual boundaries: Sexual boundaries include partners’ needs and limitations related to sexual interactions. These can include factors such as how long into the relationship you want to be intimate, types of contact you are and aren’t comfortable with, and where and when you feel most comfortable with intimacy.
- Time boundaries: Time boundaries mean respecting each others’ time. They can also include setting limits on how often you and your partner see each other and how you’d like to spend your time together. Protecting your time can include not feeling obligated to spend every waking moment with your partner.
- Communication boundaries: Communication boundaries can be set to better manage conflicts or arguments, and may include rules such as: no name-calling, no bringing up past arguments, no leaving abruptly in the middle of an argument, etc.
- Material boundaries: Material boundaries are linked to personal possessions and finances. You can choose the degree to which you are comfortable sharing your possessions and finances with your partner.
Benefits of Setting Boundaries
These are some of the reasons why setting boundaries is important:
- They help maintain individuality: Healthy boundaries can help ensure that you and your partner maintain your individual identities, thoughts, and feelings. This autonomy is empowering and helps build self-respect.
- They promote respect: Respecting yourself enough to stand up for yourself and set firm boundaries is the first step toward gaining your partner’s respect and building a healthy relationship. A 2020 study notes that mutual respect is a crucial ingredient in healthy relationships.
- They prevent manipulation: If partners are unable to stand up for themselves or state their preferences, they may end up in a situation where they are manipulated, taken advantage of, or simply unhappy.
- They help set expectations: Boundaries can also help you and your partner set expectations within the relationship and outline your responsibilities toward each other. It can be helpful to communicate which roles you’d like to fulfill and what you’re not comfortable doing.
- They promote closeness: Most importantly, boundaries can help you and your partner communicate your needs and preferences to each other, helping you feel more comfortable within the relationship and bringing you closer together.
How to Set Boundaries With Your Partner
McInnis shares some strategies that can help you set boundaries with your partner:
- Understand your boundaries: Be sure that you fully understand what your boundaries are, before trying to convey them to someone else. It can be helpful to do a self-assessment to hone in on your personal boundaries.
- Communicate them clearly: Communication plays a vital role in setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in a relationship. Partners need to be open, honest, specific, and direct in communicating their individual boundaries. The more specific the communication is, the better the boundaries will be set.
- Pay attention to your partner’s boundaries: Listening is an equally important aspect of communication as partners communicate their boundaries. Really listen to one another to ensure complete understanding. You can ask questions for clarity if necessary.
- Learn to say no: Saying no can be difficult, especially for your partner. However, if there’s something you’re not comfortable doing, it’s important to learn how to say no.
- Remember that you deserve respect: While it’s important to treat your partner with love, kindness, compassion, and respect, it’s also equally important to ensure your partner treats you the same way since you deserve no less.
- Point out things that make you uncomfortable: If your partner does or says something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s important to speak up and let them know that they’ve crossed a line so they know not to do it again.
Communicating your needs, preferences, and expectations directly and honestly with your partner can help promote closeness and make you more comfortable in the relationship.
Boundary setting can sometimes be daunting, but it’s important for both partners to be receptive and respectful of each other’s boundaries.
If you feel that you are unable to set healthy boundaries with your partner, it may be helpful to talk to a mental healthcare provider who can help you identify your boundaries and communicate them effectively to your partner.