You’ve probably heard of these things called boundaries, but do you know how to set boundaries in dating and relationships? Setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them won’t be the answer to all your relationship challenges. But they can help you build self-esteem and reduce the chances of you getting hurt and dating people who are incompatible with you. So let’s explore what boundaries are, why they’re important, and how to set boundaries when dating and in a relationship.
What exactly are boundaries?
Personal boundaries are invisible lines we draw for ourselves based on what we are and are not comfortable with regarding physical contact, verbal interactions, and personal space. This allows you to take responsibility for your emotions and actions while avoiding taking responsibility for other people’s emotions and actions.
We can have boundaries in all areas of our lives: at home, work, while dating, with family members, in our friendships, and in romantic relationships.
Types of boundaries
Here are the different types of personal boundaries you can set.
Physical boundaries help you feel physically safe and comfortable when you’re out in the world meeting and interacting with strangers. But they also apply when spending time with people you know well.
For example, if you share an apartment with a friend, and you don’t want them cluttering the place with junk or intruding into your bedroom. Another physical boundary could be when someone you don’t know very well goes in for a hug, and you explain that you prefer to shake hands with someone you don’t know that well.
Emotional boundaries maintain your emotional wellbeing. For example, a boundary could be acknowledging you are not responsible for how a guy reacts when you turn him down for a second date. Another emotional boundary is when a stranger on the subway decides to vent all their life problems to you, and you consciously choose not to take on their emotions and stress.
A sexual boundary could be that you want to wait until you fall in love before you are physically intimate with someone. Or acknowledging there are certain sexual acts you do not feel comfortable with and do not want to do and communicating this to your partner. Another sexual boundary could relate to the expectations around the frequency of sex or the use of contraception.
Financial boundaries cover money but also your material possessions. Maybe you don’t like it when your sister borrows your clothes, so next time she asks you, you say, “no, I really don’t like lending my clothes to people.” Or there’s a friend who is always asking to borrow money from you, but she takes forever to pay you back, so the next time she asks you say, “no, Jenna, I can’t loan you money for that new jacket.”
Time boundaries help you focus and devote energy to the things that are most important to you without feeling burdened by other people’s needs and wants.
For example, you’ve had a stressful few months at work and want to stay in bed, order pizza, and do nothing this weekend. So you politely decline the invite from your girlfriends to go to brunch. Maybe you’re dating a guy who consistently shows up late to your dates. In this case, you might say, “when you don’t show up on time to meet me, it makes me feel frustrated because I’m a busy woman, but I’m always here on time to meet you.”
Why is it important to set healthy boundaries in a relationship?
Learning how to set boundaries when dating and in a relationship is important because it will boost your self-esteem, confidence, and emotional health. In other words, boundaries are hot. Boundaries prevent people from taking advantage of you. They stop you from being sucked into arguments and debates that drain your energy. They absolve your responsibility for other people’s problems and clarify your individual responsibility in a relationship. And they take all the drama out of the dating process.
Healthy boundaries encourage autonomy, reduce codependent habits, and empower you while dating. They ensure you feel safe on all levels (physically, emotionally, sexually, and financially) and set clear expectations when interacting with others.
On top of that, research has found that discomfort caused by boundary violations can lead to anxiety and other kinds of fallout in our personal and professional relationships.
So if you don’t have personal boundaries, it’s time to set some.
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Clear signs you have poor boundaries
There are usually two types of people with poor boundaries. The first is people who take too much responsibility for the actions and emotions of others.
Here are some signs this is you:
- People frequently take advantage of you
- You are always “saving” people and fixing their problems
- You regularly get sucked into pointless arguments
- You get far too attracted to or invested in people than you should be based on how long you’ve known them
- Your relationships usually consist of major highs and major lows with no in between
- Drama drains you but seems to follow you wherever you go
- You often apologize or defend yourself for things that you don’t believe are your fault
The second type is people who expect others to take too much responsibility for their actions and emotions.
Here are some signs this is you:
- You often take advantage of other people’s good nature
- You expect other people to “save” you and fix all your problems
- You blame everyone else for all of your problems
- You regularly start and suck people into pointless arguments and debates
- You create a lot of drama in your relationships
If you were nodding as you read either list, there’s a really high chance you have poor boundaries in your relationships.
How to set healthy boundaries when dating and in a relationship
1. Build your self-esteem
The first step to setting boundaries in dating and a relationship is building your self-esteem and self-worth. Poor personal boundaries almost always show up in someone with a poor sense of self.
So, how do you build self-esteem? Self-esteem is essentially a reflection of how well you think you’re doing in life, whether in your work, finances, romantic life, etc., compared to everyone else.
It’s important to accept who and where you are today, flaws and all. None of us are perfect. But it’s also about working on yourself at the same time. Learning, growing, and bettering yourself while offering yourself compassion on the journey to who you want to be and the life you want to live.
Try monitoring how you speak to yourself, noticing when you fall into a comparison trap, surrounding yourself with positive people, practicing self-care, and being grateful for all that’s good.
Remember that there is no quick fix. Building self-esteem takes time and work. But gradually, you will start to remove yourself from toxic relationships, be much clearer on what you will and won’t tolerate from others, and assert your boundaries confidently.
2. What are your values & beliefs?
To set healthy boundaries, consider your core values and beliefs.
What qualities and behaviors do you admire in others or find attractive? What behaviors and traits irritate you or don’t align with your values? How do you like to spend your time? What makes you feel happy and fulfilled? What kind of man and relationship do you want to have (creating a love vision can help with this!).
Answering these questions will help you better understand yourself, the kind of man and relationship compatible with you, and the boundaries you need to support yourself and that relationship.
For example, if you value independence and need plenty of alone time to recharge, this is a physical boundary you need to set between you and someone you’re dating or in a relationship with. If it’s important to get to know someone before you become sexually intimate with them, then you will need to set sexual boundaries during the dating process.
3. Define what your boundaries are
Now it’s time to set your boundaries.
What behaviors, actions, or lifestyle choices will you accept, and which ones will you not? What are you willing to tolerate, and what is a clear no?
You can do this for the people you’re dating, your friends, family, coworkers, casual acquaintances, strangers, etc.
Thinking about how different behavior and actions have made you feel in the past can be helpful. What has made you feel uncomfortable or disrespected? Have you ever felt pressured to do something that didn’t align with your values and beliefs?
Remember that some of your boundaries might last a lifetime while others will evolve, and you’ll also create new ones as you learn more about who you are and what you want in life.
4. What will happen if someone crosses one of your boundaries?
Now that you have your boundaries, it’s time to set the consequences for when someone crosses one of them. Naturally, this will happen. So, how will you communicate that your boundary has been crossed, and what action will you take? For some less serious boundaries, you may give people a second chance. But for major ones, that might be your cue to walk away.
Decide before it comes up so that you know the action you will take.
5. Communicate your boundaries clearly
Communication is essential to any healthy relationship and for making your boundaries known. The closer you are to someone, the more they need to know the full scope of your boundaries. For example, your barista probably doesn’t need to know all your boundaries, but your best friend needs to know much more. When you go on a first date, it’s not the time or place to start reeling off a page-long list of your boundaries unless some of them organically crop up. But the more you get to know someone, the more you can share your boundaries with them.
Even if you have to have a difficult, awkward conversation with someone you care about, it’s really important that you do. Because that person needs to know when they are crossing the line and making you feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Discussing boundaries will help you understand what value it is tied to, the extent of the boundary, and the consequences if it were crossed. Try to sit down and chat when you both feel relaxed and have the emotional bandwidth for the conversation. If you’re worried you’ll forget what you want to say, write down some main points. Focus on using “I” statements to explain how you feel rather than making it about them. And be as clear as you can.
6. Stay firm and follow through
Once you’ve set your boundaries and communicated them, it’s important to stay firm and follow through with the consequences when someone crosses them. Do what you said you would do, otherwise you are giving someone a green light to cross that boundary again because they think they can get away with it.
When you’re dating or in a relationship and someone crosses a major boundary that they know is unforgivable, for example, cheating on you or lying to you about something big, don’t be afraid to walk away.
Learning to set healthy boundaries in a relationship and while dating is essential to protect your energy and wellbeing. Every person is unique, so boundaries will vary so much between two people. That’s why you must clearly communicate your boundaries so that both of you know where you stand.
I’d love to know one boundary you are setting today and the consequences of someone not respecting that boundary. Share it with me in the comments below!