Boundaries are necessary for all relationships, including your intimate relationships. There’s a common misconception that boundaries prevent intimacy in relationships, but in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many people think that boundaries are like fences, preventing people from coming into your space and therefore stopping intimate bonds from forming. Instead, boundaries are more like state lines. It’s the distinction between one place and another, or one person and another.
You have to be aware of them because rules and laws change from state to state, so crossing from one state to another will change the expectations for how you behave. It’s the same with people, knowing someone’s boundaries means you’re aware of how they need you to behave around them, in order for them to feel comfortable and open up to you.
When you treat someone in a way that allows them to comfortably open up around you, you can then build intimacy together. Therefore, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries actually facilitates intimacy.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are healthy and respectful guidelines that define your needs, separate from your partner’s needs. A boundary is generally defined as a limit or line that separates you and another person. We don’t all have the same likes or dislikes, vulnerabilities, or insecurities. Therefore, we all need different things – different boundaries – in our relationships.
For example, maybe when you come home from work you like to immediately talk about your day with your partner. However, your partner needs to have some quiet time to unwind from the workday before they are ready to talk and engage with you.
Both needs are healthy, but if your partner doesn’t tell you they need down time to transition from work to home before they are ready to engage with you, you might not realise they have a need that is different from yours. You might accidentally violate their boundaries without meaning to.
Boundaries are a simple and clear way to define how we are different from the other people in our lives. When defined, established, and maintained in a healthy manner, boundaries enable us to create relationships built on mutual trust and respect. They are a first step to managing conflict, understanding one another, and building intimacy in relationships.
What are healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries are boundaries that build intimacy. They eliminate distance and barriers between partners, while allowing both people to feel emotionally comfortable and safe with the other person. They also allow each person to maintain a sense of self, separate from their partner.
Healthy boundaries have many benefits, such as improved self-esteem and self-respect. They allow you to have a balanced partnership, where both partners are heard and respected, and both partners share equal power in the relationship.
Empowerment and a sense of safety are other important advantages to healthy boundaries. Maintaining healthy boundaries ensures your physical, mental, and emotional needs and limits are not violated. They also gain you the freedom to be assertive. You can truthfully say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without suffering any feelings of fear or guilt for expressing what you need.
Some examples of healthy boundaries include:
- Clearly expressing what you are and are not comfortable with
- Telling someone ‘no’ when they do, say, or ask for something outside of your limits
- Recognising and feeling that your needs and wants are valid and deserving respect
- Feeling mentally, physically, and emotionally safe around another person
What are unhealthy boundaries?
There are constructive boundaries that help you define your needs and differences separate from your partner’s, and there are boundaries that build up walls and create distance between you and your partner. Unhealthy boundaries are boundaries that make you feel like there is an emotional barrier or chasm between you and your partner.
These boundaries are often derived from feelings of fear, guilt, or an undefined sense of self. Unhealthy boundaries will make you feel powerless and unable to say ‘no’ when you feel uncomfortable or when someone has violated your limits. You may take on responsibility for your partner’s happiness, and feel that if they’re unhappy, it’s your fault.
Not sharing your needs and wants is another signal that you have set unhealthy boundaries. If you don’t share and assert your needs with your partner, you’re not opening up. This removes the opportunity to build intimacy with your partner, and for them to build intimacy with you.
Some examples of unhealthy boundaries include:
- Stonewalling or refusing to respond or answer questions in order to control conversations
- A lack of concern or respect for your needs and feelings
- Putting someone else’s needs and happiness before your own
- Allowing people to treat you in a way that makes you feel badly about yourself
- Constantly smothering your partner and not allowing them to be autonomous
How boundaries improve your intimate relationship
Setting boundaries can be hard as it is something many of us are not taught to do. Healthy boundaries can improve your sense of self and the level of comfort you feel in your relationship. Boundaries help to build trust and respect in relationships.
You are a different person from your partner, and therefore you have different needs. Healthy boundaries allow both of you to express and take responsibility for your individual needs. The process of establishing boundaries allows you to learn more about and build intimacy with each other.
How to have good boundaries in your relationship
These guidelines will help you define, express, and maintain healthy personal boundaries with your partner.
- Know yourself and your limits
Identify what you can tolerate mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s important to know what you are comfortable with and where the line is that changes that comfort into discomfort or distress.
- Be aware of your feelings
Take the time to listen to your body and your emotions. If you feel uncomfortable about something, this is a sign you have exceeded your limits. Everyone’s limits are different, this is something you must feel for yourself, not something someone else can tell you.
- Be clear about your needs
You’ve identified your needs, own them. Clearly express what you need to, from, and with your partner. You’re showing them how to make you feel comfortable mentally, physically, and emotionally. More boundaries for you doesn’t mean less boundaries for them, so don’t be apologetic. You deserve happiness and comfort, too.
- Boundaries and love coexist
Express your love while maintaining your boundaries. Saying when you are uncomfortable or that your boundaries have been violated does not mean you do not love your partner. An easy way to ensure your partner still feels loved when you’re expressing your discomfort is to tell them.
For example, “I love going for walks with you in the evening. I like to relax and have a cup of tea right after dinner, though. Let’s take the dogs for a walk instead of letting them out in the yard before locking up for the night and we can all walk together then”.
Avoid saying “I love you, but…”. Tell them what part of the interaction you love, say what you need, and offer an alternative way to do things that meets your needs.
- Be calm, firm, and concise
Setting boundaries is something that should happen when you’re calm. Don’t set boundaries when you’re emotional. This allows you to stay your course. You’re expressing your needs, which is an important thing to do, so don’t apologise or backpedal.
Get right to the point. If you need alone time, say you need alone time. Unclear communication will only confuse your partner.
- Listen and keep communication open
Your partner has boundaries too and they need to feel their limits are being respected as well. Maintaining boundaries requires you both to be able to talk about and listen to each other’s needs.
Boundaries can be difficult to establish but they’re an important step in allowing you to feel good about yourself and feel good in the relationships in your life. Building healthy boundaries with your partner will help improve respect, trust, and intimacy in your relationship.
Do you need relationship help?
If you need help with your relationship, contact Clinton Power + Associates on (02) 8968 9323 to discuss your situation and find out how we can help.