Boundaries in RelationshipsSep 08, 2020
Boundaries in Relationships
This is an article I wrote for Women's Health Magazine
Why is having clear boundaries in your relationship beneficial for your mental health and the relationship?
Boundaries set the basic guidelines for how a person wants to be treated.
Clear Boundaries are essential for our own mental health and self-esteem.
It is important for children to be brought up with boundaries for them to develop into fully functioning adults. If the boundaries are too loose or even non-existent then the world becomes an unsafe place.
In a relationship with a partner there are three entities; You, Me and Us. For the relationship to be strong and sustainable each of these needs to have firm foundations and to have a degree of separation. If there is only an ‘Us’, then it becomes a co-dependent relationship which is unhealthy as the ‘You’ and ‘Me’ need to be able to grow and develop alongside the ‘Us’.
What are some examples of relationship boundaries that someone might want to set or define?
Boundaries are unique to every individual and they can be:
Explicit, ‘I have told you that’
Implicit, ‘ You should know that’
Unknown, ‘I only realised my boundary when that when the boundary was crossed’
Boundaries can also be healthy, creating growth in the relationship and each other or they can be unhealthy and place unrealistic demands on the other.
Some examples of boundaries and their corresponding freedoms are:
I am different from you and have different moods and tastes, inclinations. The fact you have a relationship doesn’t deny you this freedom. So, you don’t have to fulfil their every need or match their every mood.
e.g. Your partner wants to stay in – you don’t have to. They want to go to a show – you don’t have to. They want to talk - it’s okay for you to want to be quiet or alone. They’re in the mood for X – it’s OK for you to be in the mood for Y.
In other words, although you are in a relationship, you are not required to be identical.
You have a right to be an individual and to have your own personality. Loving each other doesn’t mean you have to be ‘joined at the hip’ - you should still have the freedom to have our own personalities, beliefs, opinions, values, and individuality.
Two people respect each other’s right to have their privacy – so neither has to tell the other their thoughts, or account for their time – or their emotions.
We are all imperfect. Ideally, loving one another is a joyful process of celebrating the similarities between you and the differences. Ideally, it’s also a process of deciding which aspects of your partner’s lifestyle you wish to share and which you decide you do not wish to share. It’s also a process of deciding which things are worth overlooking even though you may not agree with them, approve of them or like them.
Life of your own
In this you agree that you each have the freedom to have an independent life ‘outside the relationship’.
‘You have the freedom to a life and interests of your own. You can enjoy friendships, places and activities which do not interest me. And I do not see this as a threat to our relationship.’
Evolve and change
In relationships many people believe that it’s okay for me to grow, develop, evolve, change, but my partner must remain just as they were when I first met them.
What is often unspoken is ‘He/she mustn’t get old, get slim, get fat, get fit, take up new interests, change their habits, their appearance, their lifestyle, and so on and on – or at least, they mustn’t do any of these without my permission and blessing’.
What are some practical steps/tips people can use to set clear boundaries with their partner?
There are so many things in a relationship that cause are unspoken and can become causes of hidden friction and resentment. It is rare for couples to sit down and share with each other how they really feel about their relationship and what needs to change.
One significant step to set clear boundaries with their partners would be to:
- Schedule time (at least an hour) to talk, free of distractions, about the relationship and the boundaries in it. It may be good to do this in a different environment, maybe outside, walking
- Ensure that ‘blame’ is taken out of the discussion and you both focus on expressing how you are feeling
- Create a gentle start by sharing what has gone well in the relationship in the last week.
- Each write a list of what their boundaries in the relationship are.
- Share and discuss what each of those boundaries mean to you.
- Compare where there is similarity and where there is difference
- Ensure you each are listened to and understood
- Score out of 10 (where 10 is wonderful and 1 is awful) how well each of those boundaries are respected by the other
- Each choose one area that needs the most significant and urgent improvement and discuss what you need to have this boundary respected. Clarify where a boundary is a core need that is an absolute and where there is some flexibility.
- Schedule a weekly meeting to each discuss what has gone well on that boundary and what still needs improvement.
- Continue until there has been sufficient improvement on all the boundaries
- Have a regular ‘State of the Union’ meeting with your partner to discuss what has gone well in the relationship since you last spoke and where improvement is needed.