How to Set Boundaries in Healthy Relationships

Kirsten Schuder
Couple discussing boundaries

Relationship boundaries are part of developing a healthy relationship. It's a process of identifying your needs and rights to establish parameters for behavior. If you take the aspects of a relationship that make you feel good and aspects that don't make you feel good, you have a good start to establishing healthy boundaries.

How to Establish Boundaries

Whether or not you are aware of them, you have personal boundaries. When someone does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, it's an indication your personal boundary has been crossed.

Boundaries are essential in establishing and maintaining respect and equality in relationships. They help ensure that each partner is being treated how they expect to be treated.

Learn What Is and Isn't Okay

Make a list of instances where you felt or may feel uncomfortable or violated. This will help you define your boundaries. Relationship boundaries can involve:

  • Possessions or money - For instance, would you want any money spent to be discussed?
  • Emotions - For example, you could set a boundary to not make statements with the purpose of making you feel guilty, or blaming each other.
  • Sexual preferences - Communicate your preferences and things you are not willing to try.
  • Code of Conduct - For example, instead of yelling, each partner agrees to separate and calm down first, then discuss what is happening.
  • Personal Needs - You can communicate when you need a little time to yourself, when you need affection, or when you need your partner's help with house cleaning.
  • Relationship Needs - Each partner agrees to have mutual respect, to support the other, etc.

Use the Word "I"

When explaining your personal boundaries to your partner, express your needs in terms of "I statements," in a way that does not accuse the other person. An example may be to say, "I feel upset and angry when you yell at me. I cannot continue to speak with you if you continue to yell at me. I will be happy to speak with you when you calm down."

Also, there has to be a consequence if your partner does not respect your personal boundary.

How to Discuss Boundaries

When you need to discuss boundaries with your significant other, there are ways to accomplish this constructively.

  • When you feel your boundaries have been violated, this might make you mad. You need to calm down first so you can express yourself as clearly and productively as you can.
  • Use a concise way of stating your feelings. You might have to write down your feelings first if you are having trouble identifying your feelings.
  • You do not have to say sorry or get defensive when establishing a boundary. You are expressing your needs.
  • You do not need to argue over your boundary. Your partner needs to respect you and your boundaries.
  • Do not accuse or mistreat your partner when expressing your boundary.
  • Do not be inflexible. If one of your boundaries entails meeting the needs of your partner, be willing to negotiate, communicate, and cooperate.

How to Enforce and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries help encourage the growth of the individual and the couple and ensure healthy relationships. When healthy relationship boundaries are established, communicated and enforced, it ensures that each person is able to live in a safe environment free from abusive tendencies.

Stand Firm

If you have not experienced healthy boundaries in your other relationships, you might have an unhealthy self-image, low self-esteem, or feelings of unworthiness. However, you have a basic human right to meet your needs. You should not feel like you have to sacrifice yourself, your health, or your identity to have a relationship. With practice, this will be the norm rather than the exception. Stand firm in your convictions.

Cooperate and Compromise

Compromising and cooperating is not the same as sacrificing. For example, if you decide you need a little time to yourself to exercise every day, you could be flexible on what time you exercise so you can coordinate schedules with other people in your household, but everyone works together to make sure you do get your workout in for the day.

Follow Through With Action

Follow-through is an important part of setting boundaries. It's to show that if your boundaries are violated that you mean business. For instance, if your partner continues to yell at you, you could get up and leave the room.

When to Seek Help

If you are having trouble setting boundaries in your relationship, seeking the advice of a mental health counselor is helpful. Mental health counselors have training and education in relationship dynamics and can help you set new relationship patterns. Also, your counselor can help you with communicating in a productive manner to help build the health of your relationship.

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How to Set Boundaries in Healthy Relationships