Examples & Tips for Setting Boundaries in a Relationship

Choose a partner who has healthy boundaries and respects yours.
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Boundaries keep others at a comfortable distance, much like a fence between you and another person. With healthy boundaries, you control the gate and decide who can come in and who must go away. Your behavior provides signals that say “keep out,” “come in” or something in between. Setting boundaries is important, but it can be tricky.

1 Determine Your Rights

You have a right to safety and respect. You decide which behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. You should be able to have friends outside of your relationship, according to the article, “Setting Boundaries With Difficult People" from the Indiana University–Purdue University, Fort Wayne Parkview Student Assistance Program. You decide when you want to be physically or emotionally intimate. Remember that you are responsible for your actions and your happiness.

2 Determine Your Needs

Past relationships that contain abusive, disrespectful, addictive or harmful behaviors from friends or partners demonstrate a need for healthy boundaries, suggests writer Martha Beck in the Oprah.com article, "The Relationship Two-Step: How to Set Healthy Boundaries." If you aren’t sure about your relationship patterns, ask a trusted adviser, classmate or someone outside your circle of close friends who might encourage positive boundary changes.

3 Define Behaviors

People who are respectful, safe, appreciative and listen to you could become your friends, partner or a potential mate, suggests Margarita Tartakovsky in the article, "10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries" for the PsychCentral website. People who are abusive, threatening, insulting and controlling should be excluded from your life as much as possible. Take time to evaluate the behavior of new people you meet. Recognize people who won't violate your healthy boundaries.

4 Build Your Fence

Decide upon the consequences for someone who threatens you. You might say, “I don’t like it when you threaten me. I won’t stay in a relationship with you if I don’t feel safe.” If your boyfriend stands you up or keeps you waiting, you might say, “It is disrespectful when you are late or don’t show up. If you can’t let me know when you will be late, I won’t date you anymore.” Each statement should have a consequence that you are committed to act upon when your boundary is pushed. The consequence must be an action you perform, not something someone else does. If you don’t follow through, your boundary is useless and the negative behaviors will continue.

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.