The word leaves icicles in the hearts of lovers.
We’re told love is supposed to be an unencumbered, wide-open field where unicorns and fairies create magnificent tapestries of our love with sugar and instant trust.
Truthfully, the more room there is to run unfettered, the more likely we are to trip and fall flat on our faces.
Boundaries are necessary, and there’s nothing about them that says they can’t change.
They shouldn’t be thought of as rigid constrictions designed to suffocate a relationship.
They should, can, and do change, which is why discussing them is so important.
19 Boundaries To Consider Setting
Here are 19 types of boundary you should think about setting in your relationship.
1. Overall expectations.
First off, you should always discuss what you expect out of someone, and what you expect to receive.
“Expectations” get a bad rap in Romanceville, but if one thinks of expectations as standards of conduct, embracing the boundaries that come with it becomes easier.
A lot of people enter relationships putting the burden of healing/completing them onto someone else.
None of us, however, are anyone’s god, goddess, or totem of completion.
We’re us, we’re real, and we have needs; needs which are easy to overlook by someone else if that someone puts us on a pedestal.
A relationship should be a balance of give and take, not take till there’s nothing left for someone to give.
Make sure to discuss how far you’re willing to go toward being someone’s “fulfillment” and how you would like, in turn, to be filled.
Everyone has different physical pain thresholds.
Same goes for emotional.
Let a loved one know there are certain things you will not tolerate: being shouted at, lied to, silenced, or mistrusted – whatever it is, make it known that going past these boundaries is a journey they may not want to take.
3. Sexual expression.
Some people like sex every morning. Some people like it in odd locations. Some do it only on holidays. Some are wild, some slow and sensual.
If you and your lover don’t know where your sexual boundaries are, one or both of you might spend precious time unhappily faking sexual expression, which is a clear sign of trouble on any relationship’s horizon.
Let your needs and preferences be known, as well as how much wiggle room for experimentation exists within them.
Money is generally taken to be poison in matters of the heart, but money (for better or for worse; granted usually worse) is an inescapable part of human interactions whether you’re with someone or not.
There used to be a huge stigma associated with a division of “romantic” funds, but many married couples now openly maintain separate bank accounts.
It isn’t an issue of mistrust or an expectancy of a failed relationship; it’s a matter of convenience.
Discuss your financial boundaries early to avoid sticky entanglements later.
5. Past lives.
Simply put, your past is yours.
Many people incorrectly feel that it’s their right or duty to split open a lover’s past so that everything about the lover is laid bare like parts for examination.
You, however, are not an automobile; there is no title and registration in your back pocket to hand over to someone; you have no tires for kicking.
Let people know that what you choose to divulge – unless non-disclosure presents a direct health risk or is otherwise threatening – is at your discretion.
Communication is key in any relationship, but a relationship is not a therapist’s couch. Unless and until you’re comfortable doing so, you’re in no way obligated to make yourself an open book.
Relationships often exist within the eyes of “Hurricane Familia,” which doesn’t necessarily mean terrible family interactions, but simply that the needs of both families will constantly swirl around the edges of your relationship.
Setting basic boundaries on how much each other’s family interaction impacts the relationship will prevent a lot of emergency restoration later.
Your lover will never like all of your friends, nor you theirs, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying to determine who the other can and can’t have as friends.
Set mutual boundaries of respect that the other can make reasonable decisions as to who they allow to influence them and, by extension, who they allow to influence the relationship.
No one gets to tell us our dreams are worthless, even if they think they’re doing so kind-heartedly in our best interests.
Set a boundary: This is what I want to/am going to do; support is allowed, undermining is not.
Are you willing to bring children into the relationship? Pets?
These are generally hard and fast boundaries everyone brings to a relationship, but are unwilling to bring up unless they absolutely have to.
Adding to a relationship unit is a huge deal and shouldn’t be left to chance.
Talk about who and what you’re willing to allow past your boundaries into the relationship.
As with tolerances, a discussion early-on about what we will and will not do in the event things don’t work out might save loads of pain and drama at the end.
This could encompass cooling off periods, second chances, living arrangements, all the way to the “let’s stay friends… with benefits” option.
Whatever it is, if a loved one knows where we stand, we can both end the relationship on quieter, less shouty terms.
Time, even among lovers, is finite, so the questions become:
What are your time boundaries?
At what point do you feel smothered?
How long do you need to recharge?
These are all things a lover will need to know – and will want to know – so that both of you not only feel comfortable in your own skins, but around each other.
And in this day and age, this stretches into the realm of digital communication too.
If your partner doesn’t reply to your messages straight away, it’s likely that their attention is elsewhere. That’s okay.
And don’t assume that your partner will want to be in touch with you constantly throughout the day to hear every little detail of your life. They may value the separation of their work life from their home life, or not feel the need to speak when they are with their friends, for example.
12. Digital presence.
In the age of iPhones and social media, it’s necessary to discuss how much access a lover has to your digital presence.
Communication apps, tracking apps, calendar apps, Facebook friending (and friending of friends): all of this is boundary-laden territory.
Love may not always last, but social media, while not forever, is, exceedingly difficult to untangle.
Couples often share a lot. But they needn’t share everything if they don’t want to.
Your life is yours. Their life is theirs. Your lives may intersect in a major way, but they don’t have to overlap completely.
And then there are the inner workings of your mind. You don’t have to reveal every thought, every desire, every feeling, every belief.
You are entitled to privacy. That means being able to say when a discussion is violating that privacy. It also means not snooping on phones or asking for logins to computers.
Arguments happen in every relationship. And they can be helpful to actually identify each other’s boundaries to begin with. You may argue when an unspoken boundary is crossed, and this brings that boundary to light.
But conflict can also be destructive if it’s not approached carefully.
Boundaries in these circumstances might involve not holding grudges or bringing up the past over and over again.
It might mean not blaming each other but seeking to work together to resolve issues.
It might mean allowing a cooling off period if either partner feels unable to discuss a topic at a given time. You shouldn’t force conflict upon your partner.
We’re all different. In oh so many ways. And those differences need to be respected.
That might encompass religious beliefs. If you are practicing and your partner is not, you can’t drag them along to your place of worship and try to convert or convince them.
This holds true for other beliefs too. You should accept the reality that you will not always believe the same things as each other. Don’t force your views upon each other and expect them to agree. They won’t.
You will also do things differently to each other. Don’t paint their way as the wrong way and try to coerce them into doing things precisely how you like them to be done.
And if you value something that your partner doesn’t, you are within your rights to adhere to that value. You shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything you are not comfortable with in the name of relationship unity.
We make lots of decisions each and every day. Some more important than others. But in a relationship, that decision-making process can cause tensions.
Firstly, no one should be expected to make every decision for the couple as a whole. That’s a burden of responsibility that should be shared.
Secondly, it is reasonable to expect to be consulted on decisions that affect you or your life in a meaningful way. That’s a common courtesy and a sign of respect.
But thirdly, you should feel able to maintain your own autonomy in many respects. You can make decisions without consulting the other person, assuming it doesn’t affect them in any major way.
It’s natural, of course, to be somewhat impacted by the emotions your partner is experiencing, and vice versa.
But it’s also important to try not to allow their inner world to affect your inner world too much.
If their work stress doesn’t have any major ramifications for you (such as losing their job), it’s not yours to deal with. You can show care and empathy without needing to adopt the stress they are feeling.
The key here is not to take on responsibility for things that aren’t within your circle of influence. If you can’t do much to change something – or it’s not your job to try to change it – don’t.
But there is another side to emotional boundaries and that is not having your emotions manipulated by your partner.
If they resort to guilt tripping, the silent treatment, or emotional blackmail (among other things) to get you to do something, that is crossing your emotional sovereignty and is not okay.
18. The word ‘no.’
The word ‘no’ can be used to express your wishes in all sorts of scenarios.
“No, I don’t want to try vegan cheese on my pasta.”
“No, I don’t want to have sex.”
“No, I don’t want to join a gym with you.”
“No, I don’t want to visit that museum today.”
You should feel able to say no to things or turn down invitations without having to explain your precise reasoning.
You just don’t want to. In most cases, that is sufficient. You ought to respect each other enough to accept when one says no to the other.
Of course, if your partner is asking you to do something that is really important to them – like visit their elderly mother – it is reasonable for them to expect you to make the effort unless you have a good excuse why you can’t, or unless you have done said thing very recently.
19. The sharing of private stuff with others.
Your relationship and the things that happen within it are nobody’s business but yours and your partner’s.
Unless, that is, you are both happy for the other to discuss things relating to you and your relationship with their friends or family.
But even then there might be some red lines that you don’t want crossed, such as talking about your sex life, mental health issues, or your respective pasts.
How To Set Boundaries In Relationships
Now that you know some of the key types of boundary you may wish to set in your relationship, how do you go about it?
It should come as no surprise to learn that open and honest communication is the key to unlocking successful boundary setting and the respecting of those boundaries.
It’s as simple as following these steps.
Step 1 – Know your boundaries.
Perhaps you have found inspiration in the above and have some idea of what boundaries you’d like to set.
But even so, it’s worth taking the time to really identify where you stand on the range of issues spoken about, and to think about other areas where you have red lines a partner must stick to.
Only when your boundaries are known to you, will you be able to communicate them to your partner.
A good way to figure out your boundaries is to think about what caused you to feel upset or led to conflict in past relationships. It is very likely that your boundaries were being crossed by your ex.
Just remember that not all boundaries are good boundaries. If they are to be effective in maintaining harmony in a relationship, they should be fair, comfortable for both parties, sustainable, and realistic.
If they are not, you will find that those boundaries are crossed often.
Boundaries are there to guide behavior, not control it. If you are imposing on your partner’s free will in a way that has nothing to do with protecting yourself or expressing reasonable expectations, it’s not a healthy or effective boundary.
Step 2 – Choose when to discuss them.
Some things need to be discussed fairly early on in a relationship because they may play a big role in yours and your partner’s happiness and the overall health of your union.
When you feel the time has come to discuss a particular boundary, make sure to do so when you are free from distractions and when you are both relaxed and open to each other’s point of view.
Other things can wait until they actually need to be raised.
It’s not necessary, for instance, to state categorically that you will not tolerate being shouted at until/unless you find yourself in that situation.
Even then, it is best to wait for things to calm down so that you and your partner are able to talk with less emotional energy to confuse things.
Step 3 – Make them clear.
If you want your partner to abide by your boundaries, you must make them clear and easily understood.
There is little room for ambiguity and gray areas if these things really mean a lot to you.
Get your partner to repeat back what they think your boundary is. This will allow you to be sure that they have understood.
When expressing your boundaries, use “I” statements rather that “you” statements.
“I would prefer it if your Mother phoned first before coming round.”
“You need to tell your mother to phone before she comes round.”
Step 4 – Allow for some minor infractions.
Nobody is perfect.
People make mistakes.
While there are some deal breakers that you simply will not accept, you have to give your partner some leeway if they cross over some of your boundaries…
…especially when you have first communicated them.
Perhaps they ignore your wish to be alone so that you may rest and recharge. It’s an innocent mistake to make, and they do it because they don’t understand your needs.
It’s certainly not something to create a huge fuss about… unless they continue to disregard your feelings time and again.
Keep reminding them of your preferences and they should eventually come to respect and honor them.
Be consistent in the message you are giving to your partner. Don’t overlook boundary infractions some times and then call them out at other times. This will only confuse your partner as to what is and is not okay.
Always call out violations, no matter how little you might care about it in a particular instance.
Step 5 – Know when and how to be forceful.
There may come a point when one of your strict boundaries has been crossed…
…or your partner may keep making smaller mistakes around things that are slightly less important to you.
Either way, there will come a time when you need to show that there are consequences to their actions.
If you don’t, they will continue to ignore your boundaries.
For some things, your partner needs to know the consequences before the first infraction.
If, for example, you simply cannot accept any form of cheating whatsoever, you have to make it clear from the get-go that you will end the relationship should this occur.
Other times, you may need to discuss the consequences of a repeated violation of a less important boundary.
So if they stay out late with friends without even consulting you, you can make it clear that if they do so again, they should expect to spend more time with your family as a result.
Step 6 – Respect their boundaries in turn.
You cannot expect your boundaries to be respected if you don’t show the same respect to your partner’s boundaries.
After all, if you creep across their lines on a regular basis, it normalizes this sort of behavior. All of a sudden, they’ll think that it’s okay to do things you’ve explicitly said are not okay.
Many people forget this last step and then get upset when their partner follows suit. Remember, whatever you want to receive, you must give. In this case, respect.
Don’t be afraid to revisit discussions.
People change. Relationships change. Boundaries change.
Clearly-communicated, healthy boundaries bring couples together in the knowledge that they can talk without fear of recrimination or unfair judgment.
When we’re able to see that setting boundaries within a relationship doesn’t limit it but actually strengthens it, the juvenile fantasy that someone has to be open and completely ours gives way to the more adult appreciation of our loved one’s as individuals.
Asking and respecting are key components in any relationship, and the reality is we all have boundaries, we simply don’t always resolve to state them or, sometimes, even examine them.
Discussing boundaries shouldn’t be seen as a forecast of trouble, but rather putting trust and faith in reality lasting longer than unbounded fantasy.
More relationship wisdom:
- How To Deal With Someone Who Repeatedly Disrespects Your Boundaries
- What Are Some Examples Of Emotional Boundaries (+ How Do You Set Them)
- How To Respect The Boundaries Of Others: 4 Highly Effective Tips
- 4 Ways A Lack Of Empathy Will Destroy Your Relationships
- 7 Signs The Love You Feel Is NOT Unconditional (And What It Means For Your Relationship)
- 7 Signs You And Your Partner Are Incompatible
- How To Stop Sabotaging Your Relationships With Passive Aggression