For most people, the idea of setting boundaries in relationships seem to be a bad one or something that is unnecessary. The reason why they think boundaries in relationships are bad is that they think boundaries keep people apart. However, this assumption is very incorrect.
On the contrary, it is imperative to have personal boundaries in a relationship in order to have a loving relationship. The truth is that a relationship cannot be healthy if clear boundaries are not established and respected.
For the most part, we usually don’t give much attention to the existence of boundaries in our daily lives. But there are actually all sorts of boundaries all around us. While some are unspoken or unwritten, others are set and regulated.
For example, you would not expect to climb over a neighbor’s fence at an odd hour and not get reprimanded. Also, civility requires that when driving on a two lane road, you should stay to the right of the center line. Cubicle walls and office spaces also help to mark boundaries in a work environment.
Boundaries are definitely all around us. Their purpose is to help us maintain a well-balanced and functional society. This is vital because everyone is different and in general, our needs, wants, and idiosyncrasies don’t line up.
The question that begs answering at the moment is why should romantic relationships be treated differently in terms of setting boundaries.
What are Boundaries in Relationships
In a very simplistic way, boundaries show us where one thing ends and another begins. In a relationship, a boundary can take the form of a limit you set about what you are comfortable with and how you would prefer to be treated by others.
Boundaries define who you are in a relationship. They define what is you and what is not you. The boundaries created in a relationship are meant to show you where you end and someone else begins. Thus, boundaries help to create a sense of ownership.
Healthy boundaries in relationships also mean accepting responsibility for your feelings and actions. It also means refusing to accept responsibility for another person’s feelings and actions.
In essence, boundaries are really about a relationship you have with yourself. It is like having self-love for yourself. Healthy boundaries allow you to stay true to yourself by honoring your own needs, goals, feelings, and values.
Boundaries in relationships work both ways. Just as you want other people to respect your boundaries, you are also obliged to respect their boundaries.
Importance of Boundaries in Relationships
Setting personal boundaries in relationships is important because it allows you to establish how you want others to behave around you.
In a romantic relationship, setting clear boundary lines help to define where you and your partner begin and end as individuals.
Boundaries create natural limiting lines that help you to distinguish between what is your responsibility and what isn’t.
Also, setting boundaries help to ensure that a relationship is mutually appropriate, respectful, and caring. Thus, healthy boundaries help partners to take each other’s feelings into account, seek permission from each other, and show gratitude.
Setting healthy boundaries is also a great way to respect your partner’s feelings as well as their different opinions and perspectives.
Healthy boundaries in relationships help partners to communicate and work together more effectively. So, the establishment and respect for individual boundaries in a relationship forms a good foundation for the development of strong emotional intimacy between partners.
Healthy boundaries in a relationship also help to reduce the tendency of partners fighting or wanting to breakup. Also, a partner’s repeated violation or crossing of established boundaries helps to paints a more realistic picture of the health status of the relationship.
One of the benefits of establishing healthy boundaries in relationships is the elimination of blames. The tendency for one partner to blame the other is greatly reduced. This is because boundaries leave no room for the deflection of the ownership of a problem.
The set boundaries allow each partner to take responsibility for their part in any misunderstanding, conflict, or harsh treatment. This way, conflict resolution becomes a lot easier for the partners.
Boundaries in Early Romantic Relationships
New lovers generally experience an all-encompassing and overwhelmingly positive feeling in their new relationship. Generally, the personal boundaries between the lovers tend to melt and dissolve during the early infatuation phase. As a result, the lovers generally lose their individual identities and merge together.
However, this initial melting and merging during the infatuation phase is very important. As a natural process, it enables the lovers to bond and build an attachment.
But as is inevitable in any relationship, the quarrels and arguments soon kick in. With time, the lovers start seeing the need for some kind of boundaries in order to keep the relationship from falling part.
Thus, beyond the infatuation phase of an adult romantic relationship, the partners need to start setting boundaries. This will help them to reinstate and maintain their individuality as they build their relationship.
It is thus necessary for the partners to acknowledge each other as separate individuals. Also, they need to develop respect for each other’s boundaries, wants, and goals. Likewise, they need to avoid trying to fix or change the other person.
Of the four types of boundaries – material, physical, mental, and emotional – the emotional aspect is very fundamental to the success of any romantic relationship.
When in romantic relationship, it is important to separate your feelings from those of your partner. The point is that your feelings should not be dependent on your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or moods.
You need to be the custodian of your own feelings without taking on your partner’s feelings. What you are responsible for to your partner is the way you treat them and not to carry the weight of their feelings.
You also need to understand that your feelings are a choice and that you have control over them. By the same token, your partner makes his or her choices about how they feel. Thus, they should take responsibility for them.
Setting Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
Having healthy boundaries in relationships entails everything from letting your partner know when you feel disrespected to requesting for time to be alone with yourself.
The first thing to do when trying to establish healthy boundaries in relationships is to know what you’re experiencing. This helps you to identify the limits you can take in the relationship.
The boundaries you are attempting to set are simply an external expression of what you have internally affirmed are important to you. So, your boundaries are an expression of your inner self-affirmation.
This self-affirmation is a process that begins by taking a good long pause. This pause period is for you to try to notice what actually rings true for you and what doesn’t. Yet, becoming clear about what actually feels right for you and what doesn’t can take some time.
Secondly, you need to communicate these affirmed boundaries to your partner in a respectful way. There is one major reason why a lot of boundary violations occur in relationships.
And the reason is the misunderstandings between partners. Also, the root of most relationship misunderstandings is the lack of effective communication.
There are often instances where one partner has problems with certain behaviors of the other partner but doesn’t let them known. At times such partners keep quiet because they don’t want to rock the boat.
Thirdly, it’s also imperative that you stick to the set boundaries. You should also try to have a plan in place in case of any violations.
Communicating Boundaries in Relationships
The essence of setting boundaries is for your partner to understand how you want them to treat you in the relationship. So, communication plays a vital role in setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships.
This is important because there are a lot of situations where some partners don’t communicate their boundaries. Such partners feel that the other partner ought to understand their boundaries.
This is an unfair and ineffective way of dealing with boundaries in relationships. At the same time, it has the tendency to create confusion and could harm the relationship.
Thus, partners need to develop good and honest communication skills. This will help them to effectively set and keep healthy boundaries in relationships.
There’s also the vital need to be specific and direct in communicating boundaries. The more specific your communication is, the better the boundaries that will be set.
So, the parameters of each partner’s boundaries need to be spelt out in a clear-cut manner.
For instance, what exactly does cheating as a boundary violation mean? Is cheating just about the physical contact, or is it about going on a lunch date with the opposite sex? Does it entail sharing personal secrets with others, watching porn, or even fantasizing about someone else?
When communicating your boundaries in a relationship, try to be open to hearing how the boundaries affects your partner. Also try to discuss the issue as openly as possible so that both of you feel heard, respected, and cared for.
Once your partner has communicated their boundaries, it is obligatory of you to respect such boundaries. And if you are not too clear about what they said, do yourself a favor and ask for further clarification.
To establish true healthy boundaries in relationships calls for partners to be flexible. They should be able to pause and consider what they really want and also how it is going to affect their partner.
In retrospect, healthy boundaries require having an impressionable mind and heart. Setting boundaries is never about being mean to other people and it is not selfish. Rather, it is about being present and sensitive to others while not ignoring our own needs.