Boundaries are limits that each person sets within a relationship. All healthy relationships have boundaries, including those with friends, parents, siblings and teachers. Setting boundaries in a romantic relationship is sometimes tough, because you really want your partner to like you. Healthy boundaries, however, actually promote healthier relationships because they give both partners guidelines for meeting each other’s needs.
The Importance of Boundaries
According to a handout from the Johnson State College Counseling Center, boundaries help you create good relationships with all the important people in your life. Without boundaries, you might give away more of yourself to one person than you intend, which leaves less available for your other friends and family members. Boundaries also help you retain control over your own thoughts and actions, and help you channel your energy more effectively. In addition, they tell your partner exactly where you stand, help him to recognize things he needs to change, and foster good communication within your relationship.
Setting Your Boundaries
In “10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries,” psychologist Dana Gionta notes that the first step is to decide where your limits are. Pay attention to how different situations make you feel. Consider the values you learned from your family. When you start setting boundaries, begin with something that feels small and not threatening. Build on your successes until you are ready to tackle the boundaries that make you nervous, such as seeing your partner less often or setting a 10 pm cutoff time for phone calls.
Enforcing Your Boundaries
Communicate your boundaries to your partner in a clear but loving way. Tell her that some things make you uncomfortable, so you would like to change those things. Gionta points out that your partner cannot read your mind, so you need to be assertive. Change takes time, so try not to be too hard on your partner if she does not respect your boundaries right away. Continue to clearly state your expectations and refuse to be drawn into an argument about them. If your partner refuses to honor your boundaries, explain what the consequences will be. For example, if he is repeatedly late, you might explain that next time you will leave without him. If the behavior happens again, follow through with the consequences.
Respecting Your Partner’s Boundaries
In a healthy relationship, both partners have boundaries that might or might not overlap. It is not fair to expect your partner to respect your boundaries if you do not respect his. Encourage him to tell you clearly what his boundaries are, and do your best to honor them. Like you, your partner might set consequences for overstepping his boundaries. Work together to keep the lines of communication open and help both partners feel valued and respected.
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