Setting boundaries in a relationship is essential to creating a strong foundation and understanding of each person’s needs and expectations. Often, we struggle to set healthy boundaries because we are unable to identify what we need, fear conflict when communicating these needs, or truly believe that “if they love us, they will know”. This leads to pain, disappointment, and can be disastrous to our relationships. When we identify and communicate our boundaries, we are creating vulnerability in our relationship and making space for others to do the same. This is the key to lasting, fulfilling, and healthy relationships.
Setting Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship
Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship starts with understanding what your boundaries are. Sometimes this can be very challenging because so few of us have had the opportunity to explore and communicate our own needs early in life. Many of us enter adulthood with no experience identifying or setting boundaries (or worse yet, negative experiences). In the process of identifying boundaries, you may find yourself struggling with self-doubt or wondering if you are asking too much. You may even experience some anxiety. That is very normal and to be expected. Keep in mind that identifying your boundaries is imperative for a healthy relationship, and that you can adjust your boundaries, they are not set in stone. And don’t worry, you don’t have to have it all figured out, you can start small by identifying one or two things that matter to you and communicating them as they come up.
What are Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship
When beginning boundary work it is common to ask, “what are healthy boundaries in a relationship”. This is especially true if you’ve had little experience with having your boundaries validated. The truth is, healthy boundaries in a relationship can vary widely from person to person and relationship to relationship. Some of the more common and universal healthy boundaries though include giving space when needed, listening, asking permission, and being honest. These are expectations and needs most of us have in our relationships and often they are deal breaker boundaries, meaning if they are repeatedly (or in some cases, ever) violated, it could end the relationship. Even though these boundaries are common they still need to be communicated.
When it comes to healthy boundaries in relationships it’s important to recognize that each person in the relationship has the right to have and communicate their own boundaries. And those boundaries don’t have to be the same (they often are not). Not needing the same things in your relationship doesn’t mean that something is wrong or that you aren’t compatible. It simply means that you aren’t the same person. Making space for each other’s boundaries is the key to a healthy relationship.
How to Discuss Boundaries
If the idea of discussing boundaries makes you nervous or uncomfortable, you aren’t alone. Most people feel this way at first but as you do it more you will find yourself getting the hang of it. I’ve found that that most helpful tip to make discussing boundaries easier is a mindset shift. Many of us fear conflict or feel discussing boundaries will be perceived as demanding by the person we’re in relationship with. Once we begin to recognize that discussing boundaries is a gift and that these discussions create opportunities for open communication and growth in our relationships it becomes much easier.
Keep in mind that part of this mindset shift is allowing the other person to discuss their boundaries as well and recognizing that in doing that they are also offering us the gift of vulnerability. This can be tough to do as we may sometimes feel boundaries are restrictive, threatening, or critical. Create a mantra or affirmation regarding boundaries to remind yourself of their importance in every relationship.
Setting Personal Boundaries
One of the most misunderstood things about boundaries is that they are for and about others. In fact, they are not. When we set and communicate boundaries, we are communicating our own needs, but it is essential to understand that this doesn’t change the behavior of the other person. We can’t control others, only ourselves. Creating boundaries with yourself regarding how you will respond if / when your boundaries are invalidated or violated can make it much easier to navigate these tough situations. In addition, strong personal boundaries help you stay true to yourself even in the most challenging and pressure filled situations.
While it might seem incredibly difficult to set boundaries both personally and in your relationships, they pay off is huge! Psychologists have recently found that having a strong sense of personal boundaries leads to increased happiness and self-esteem. So, with your relationship health and personal happiness on the line, boundaries are definitely worth the effort!