“Healthy boundaries protect without isolating, contain without imprisoning, and preserve identity while permitting external connections.” – Anne Katherine, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin.
Every couple strives to achieve a stage in their relationship where they can say and do anything in front of each other. Once you know you can pop each other’s back acne, there isn’t much you would shy away from. However, there just are some types of boundaries in relationships you never cross. When a couple gets extremely comfortable around each other, those boundaries can sometimes be hard to spot.
That’s why you need to have a conversation about the types of relationship boundaries you need to respect. Just because you can put your cold feet on your partner’s warm stomach doesn’t mean you can say just about anything that comes to your mind. Unknowingly, some topics might just hit a nerve.
Even if your relationship seems easygoing, you should still consider discussing boundaries so things don’t go awry. Read on to find out why they’re important, and what kind of boundaries you should set with insights from psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
What Are The 7 Types Of Boundaries In Relationships?
Once the infatuation in a new romance begins to fade, the persistent texts and calls will very quickly go from “cute” to “please make this stop”. In situations like these, following healthy boundaries will do wonders for you in keeping your relationship going. It doesn’t just have to be romantic relationships either. Boundaries in interpersonal relationships will help your mental health significantly improve. With healthy boundaries in place, you won’t be prone to being a pushover or having your opinion deemed worthless.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “Knowing what boundaries to set in a relationship is an important factor that governs the health of a bond as well as the people in it. It is an act of establishing mutual respect and acknowledging your partner’s rights, wishes and desires and them, in turn, acknowledging yours.”
Remember that time you told your friend you don’t want to go out but were eventually persuaded into a “quick” outing? An hour and thirty minutes into it, you end up thinking how you ever got yourself in this situation. Setting boundaries is as easy as being stern about your wants.
You won’t feel obligated to help people with problems you would rather not be involved in, fearing what they might think of you. You’ll learn to live without craving the validation of others. Put in simpler terms, you’ll learn to say “no” to a superior at work if they ask you to help them move in exchange for pizza and beer. All these are examples of personal boundaries that you must establish for your own peace.
Different types of boundaries in relationships will help take you from the cusp of a potentially toxic relationship to a healthy one in which you respect each other’s space. Enough talking about why they’re important, let’s get into what are the different types of boundaries in relationships, examples of boundaries, and how you can set them:
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1. Physical boundaries
Physical boundaries are boundaries concerning your body, your personal space and your physical needs and wants. Maybe you’re not big on cuddling, and you feel like you’re forced into it. Perhaps you need an hour to yourself after you wake up before you can hug and kiss your partner. Voicing your opinion on physical boundaries will clear misunderstandings and make sure you’re both on the same page.
Examples of physical boundaries in relationships could include you setting a limit on the PDA you partake in, or just wanting to be left alone in your room/personal space for a while. If your partner were to burst into your room during your personal time, it would be a breach of your physical boundaries.
In every relationship, a bit of personal space is required for it to thrive. You get to know yourself better, and only through knowing yourself will you know what you want. In her book Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, author Anne Katherine claims that “Intimacy comes from being known, and being known requires knowing yourself, having a self to know.”
Examples of physical boundaries
This is undoubtedly one of the most important types of personal boundaries that no one appreciates being violated. But how do you convey your physical boundaries to your partner without hurting their feelings or coming across as distant? Here are a few examples that will give you a sense of how to communicate personal boundaries without causing offense:
- “I don’t like being touched/held this way”
- “I feel tired, I need a break”
- “I’m hungry, I will grab a bite now”
- “I can’t have XYZ in my living space, I’m allergic to it”
- “Please knock before walking into my room”
- “I don’t appreciate being disturbed when I’m in the shower”
- “Don’t bang on the door, loud knocks make me anxious”
2. Sexual boundaries
At the beginning of every relationship, sex is often not talked about before it actually happens. It’s led to people fearing that any conversation about it would ruin its authenticity. Like a conversation about it would ruin the thrill and it’ll then feel like an inevitable formality. But ask yourself, is fake authenticity more important than making sure you don’t get violated in bed?
Through sexual boundaries, you’ll be able to make sure you and your partner know exactly where you stand on sex. Whether you want to have sex, how you would like to have sex, what kinks will be entertained, and which kinks are just straight-up weird. These are examples of healthy boundaries in relationships you must talk about with your partner early on.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “Partners should share their fantasies and desires with one another openly and without hesitation or judgment. However, it’s equally important to respect a partner’s reluctance to partake in some of those fantasies and desires. That’s essentially what setting sexual boundaries boils down to.”
Your partner may not have a sex drive as active as yours or might have had bad experiences with sex in the past. Before you go jumping into bed, with 0 signs of foreplay (that’s how they do it in the movies, right?), make sure you have a conversation about sex first.
Examples of sexual boundaries in a relationship
Sex can turn out to be a touchy topic between partners, especially when it comes to voicing fantasies and kinks and/or turning them down. Here are a few examples of sexual boundaries in a relationship that will help you learn how to say no without bruising your partner’s self-esteem:
- “I’m not enjoying this. Let’s try something different”
- “Do you want to have sex right now?”
- “Would you like to try a new position/experiment with a new technique?”
- “I don’t want to have sex right now. Can we cuddle instead?”
- “I’m not okay with unprotected sex”
- “This hurts/is uncomfortable. Stop”
3. Financial boundaries
A request along the lines of “Hey, can I borrow some money from you? You know I’ll pay you back as soon as I can” shouldn’t leave you incapable of saying no. You should only lend your money if you want to, not if you’re fearing retaliation that sounds like “Oh so you don’t trust me? Is that how little you care about me?”
Financial boundaries about money, your assets like your car, house, personal belongings should be addressed early on in the relationship. Drawing a line in the sand about hard-earned money and other assets is among the most normal boundaries in a relationship and shouldn’t be frowned upon at all. In fact, it is one of the most important types of boundaries that couples must talk about when they get into a relationship.
Having a conversation about money might not be the easiest thing but it’ll improve communication in your relationship. It doesn’t sound very romantic but if your partner takes your car out for a while and comes back with a bunch of dents in it, you’ll wish you had this talk sooner. Being able to talk about finances without getting defensive or touchy is a rare quality that more couples should aspire to imbibe.
Examples of financial boundaries
Setting material boundaries in relationships, especially the ones involving money, can be hard. Here are some examples of boundaries in relationships to help you figure out how to broach the topic of money without it turning into an issue and ace setting one of the trickiest of different types of boundaries between partners:
- “I can’t lend you my car since your name is not on the insurance”
- “I would appreciate if you get the car serviced after the road trip”
- “Let’s go over the credit card bill and divide who owes what”
- “We can’t give out more money to X. Let’s find another way to help out”
- “We should go over the details of the mortgage and decide who pays for what”
- “I would like to keep my personal account active and not have my salary credited in our joint account”
4. Intellectual boundaries
Examples of healthy boundaries in a relationship aren’t limited to just physical/monetary aspects. If your political views couldn’t be further apart, a civil discussion about the same can quickly turn into a heated argument. It doesn’t even have to be something as serious as your political views. A seemingly nonchalant yet condescending remark on your ideas may be enough to trigger an argument. But labeling certain topics as a no-go zone can lead to an undercurrent of tension in your dynamic. It’s important to understand how to set intellectual boundaries tactfully.
Setting boundaries on how to go about conversations around your ideas and beliefs will make the dialogue beneficial. However, you have to be cautious with the level of boundary you set. Completely discouraging conversations about intellectual topics like prejudices, beliefs and opinions may hamper communication. Go about this one carefully because you don’t want it to seem like you’re limiting the things you two can talk about.
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Examples of intellectual boundaries in a relationship
Intellectual boundaries help you navigate the minefield of differences of opinions skillfully, without letting them take a toll on your relationship. Here are some examples of how to set intellectual boundaries:
- “I know we disagree on this topic, but it doesn’t make it okay for you to belittle me”
- “We never get anywhere in our discussions on this issue. Let’s shelve it for now”
- “Yes, we surely need to talk about this but the dinner table isn’t the best place for it”
- “Let’s agree to disagree”
- “To each their own”
5. Emotional boundaries
Everyone has a different way of dealing with their emotions. If you rant about your problems to your partner and they immediately take it upon themselves to fix all of them, there could be a mismatch. Maybe you just wanted to be heard, instead of having it seem like you’re incapable of dealing with your own problems.
If you’re upset and your partner reacts in the wrong way, healthy boundaries in your relationship will make sure that never happens again. Imagine this: you’re swamped with work and your partner has started talking about issues they’re facing, expecting you to listen regardless of how busy you are. It’s one of the unhealthy examples of emotional boundaries you and your partner must avoid.
“Being emotionally vulnerable with each other is an integral aspect of any romantic partnership, which is why this is among the most crucial boundaries to set in a relationship. The notions of vulnerability can be very different for different people and you need your partner to be a collaborator and not a challenger of your understanding of emotional intimacy and vulnerability. Clearly defined emotional boundaries can facilitate the right kind of collaboration,” says Dr Bhonsle.
You could gently tell them that this isn’t the best time for you to discuss these things and set a healthy boundary on how you two deal with your emotions in the process. Your emotional baggage is not your partner’s responsibility and vice versa.
Examples of emotional boundaries
Emotional boundaries are all about validating each other’s feelings and handling any emotional information with respect and care. Here are a few examples of emotional boundaries in a relationship:
- “My feelings being criticized make me want to shut down”
- “I can share my feelings with you only when they’re received with respect”
- “I really need to talk some things out right now. Are you in a place to listen?”
- “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, but I’m not in a place to listen right now”
- “This conversation is making me uneasy. Can we revisit it another time?”
6. Time boundaries
Since we’ve established it’s healthy to have a life outside of your relationship, you won’t be able to devote 100% of your time to your partner. As you shouldn’t be expected to, either. Violation of time boundaries can be easily spotted if your partner gets angry at you when you tell them you wouldn’t be able to spend time with them.
Examples of boundaries in a relationship can be as simple as sending a text, saying “I’m busy, so I won’t be able to come to that event”. When there’s mutual respect and the time you spend outside of the relationship, setting these boundaries won’t be a problem. However, a constant violation of these will leave you feeling suffocated.
At the same time, time boundaries in relationships must also focus on ensuring that a couple gets to spend some quality time together consistently. Dr. Bhonsle says, “When couples come in for therapy on account of one or both partners not being able to make time for the relationship, I usually use a ‘zero hour’ assignment. The idea is simple: making an effort to take time out for one’s partner. However, this simple act also conveys love, respect, dignity, compassion.”
Examples of time boundaries in relationships
Time boundaries are all about respecting each other’s time. You should respect the fact that both of you have a life outside of your relationship and, therefore, can’t be together all the time. You should also realize that you need to spend time together as a couple. Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries in a relationship with respect to time:
- “I can’t accompany you to that event this weekend”
- “I have plans with my friends”
- “Do you have the time to talk?”
- “Let’s plan weekly date nights”
- “Turning the TV off after dinner will give us time to connect with each other. How do you feel about it?”
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7. Expectation boundaries
In a new relationship, boundaries on expectations need to be addressed as early as possible. Having high, unrealistic expectations can spell doom for your relationship, especially if they’re not mutual. Perhaps your partner is under the expectation that yours is a casual relationship, while you’re expecting exclusivity.
Setting boundaries in a relationship on the overall expectations you have from each other will leave no room for disappointments. Talk about what’s feasible, not everyone can live up to expectations of celebrating “monthly anniversaries”. Setting the big questions aside, everyday expectations like how frequently you two will communicate, how available you will be and who inevitably decides what you’re ordering for dinner should be talked about.
You don’t want to be caught in an endless loop of “I’ll have whatever you want, but just not that”. If you don’t manage expectations in relationships or establish realistic expectations between each other, you two could end up fighting while wondering what you did wrong the entire time.
Examples of expectations boundaries
Expectations boundaries can be looked at as another term for setting expectations in a relationship. Here are some examples to illustrate how to set expectation boundaries realistically:
- “While I don’t expect we’ll never fight, I’d like us to resolve those fights maturely”
- “I expect my partner to be loyal and honest”
- “We will both make some mistakes along the way, and that’s okay”
- “What are your expectations from this relationship?”
- “How often should we meet and communicate with each other?”
- “Mutual respect in a relationship is non-negotiable for me”
The whole process of defining new relationship boundaries is worthless if you’re not stern about them or don’t voice how important they are to you. When you’re scared of standing up for yourself in fear of retaliation, then the relationship isn’t worth working on anyway. In a healthy relationship, communication, and respect for each other’s views are encouraged. Without mutual respect, there are no boundaries. Without boundaries, there is no limit to where your partner ends and where you begin as a person.
How To Set Boundaries In Relationships
Like stated earlier, healthy boundaries are important for a happy and long-lasting relationship. Especially in current times when the world is still reeling under the effects of a pandemic, you and your partner end up spending most of your time with each other. It may not be easy to set boundaries but it’s crucial so that you can build a healthy relationship with your beloved.
It is easier said than done but establishing different types of boundaries in a relationship boosts a person’s self-esteem, self-worth, and sense of identity. They help you retain your personal space, freedom, and individuality. You also develop respect for your partner’s space and sense of self. A happy and healthy relationship is one where both partners are able to clearly define and follow their boundaries. Here are a few ways to set boundaries in your relationship:
- Introduce boundaries early in the relationship – what is acceptable and what is not, habits, routines, etc.
- Communication is key to defining boundaries, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation is. Do it with respect and compassion
- Be brutally honest about your needs and comfort
- Figure out the consequences if either of you breaks a boundary
- Listen to your partner’s needs as well. Know what they are comfortable with and what they will not tolerate
- Ask for space when you need it. It’s important to spend time alone
Relationships are complicated. They are not a walk in the park. You have to work at it every day and part of that work includes setting healthy boundaries with your partner. Establishing them can be tough but don’t be afraid of defining boundaries anyway. Look at them as one of the foundations of a relationship rather than a set of rigid guidelines that you have been forced to follow.
- Physical and sexual boundaries should be established at the very beginning of the relationship to avoid invasion of personal space or getting violated in bed
- Time boundaries in a relationship help partners respect each other’s time and the fact that they can’t be together all the time. It also means that they must value and respect the time they spend with each other
- Your emotional baggage is not the responsibility of your partner, which is why it is crucial that you establish emotional boundaries in your relationship
- Boundaries are key to a happy, successful, and long-lasting relationship. It’s a sign that you share a healthy equation with your partner
Setting boundaries means that you understand the importance of each other’s sense of space and identity. It means that you respect each other and the fact that you may hurt each other at times and fail to fulfill each other’s every need. It means that you are not afraid of angry outbursts, conflict or getting hurt. But you also realize that this does not mean that you don’t value or love each other. You realize that you need to support each other on your journey to self-actualization.
Realize that the only person’s behavior or attitude that you can control is your own. Focus on your emotions, needs, and wants and know that you’re the only one responsible for them. Focus on your thoughts and actions and be accountable for them.
Let them know that you did not appreciate them crossing the particular boundary. Tell them that it was disrespectful. Communicate the boundary clearly to them again and decide the consequences of what happens if they cross it again. Set a limit to your engagement and be persistent about maintaining your boundaries. Most importantly, remain calm through it all.