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How To Set Boundaries in a Relationship – 6 Experts Share Their Best Strategies To Create Strong, Healthy Relationship Boundaries

How To Set Boundaries in a Relationship – 6 Experts Share Their Best Strategies To Create Strong, Healthy Relationship Boundaries

How To Set Boundaries in a Relationship

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

~ Brené Brown

Brené Brown Daring To Set Boundaries Quote
Christy Fogg

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries exist so that we can teach others the expectations, rules, and limits we have.  Boundaries also communicate what our emotional needs are.  They exist to keep bad things out of our relationships and good things in.

Boundaries allow us to say “I’m ok/not ok with that”.  They provide a layer of protection to a relationship.  

If boundaries have never been discussed or established, there is a good chance that invisible lines have been crossed many times.  

There may be a lot of hurt and conflict in the relationship, but very little understanding on how to resolve it.

How many times have you said “Yes” to something and really meant “No”? 

Boundaries help us to say “No” and mean “No”—and stick to it!  

If you and/or your partner struggle to set and keep healthy boundaries, read below for some ideas on where to start setting boundaries in your relationship:

Communication

Communication is often the biggest issue that couples come to counseling for. 

How often do you talk to each other?   Think about the quality of conversation the two of you have.  Do you ask your mate about their day?  How often does the cell phone, TV, or computer interfere with your conversations?

The way that you communicate with one another can be an issue as well.  

Think about how much time you spend talking versus listening to your partner. Do you make eye contact, say please and thank you, and do you allow your partner to talk without interruption?  Make sure that you both are feeling heard.  Are you both deliberate about being respectful and using an appropriate tone of voice?

Family

Spending time with family can be a sore spot in a lot of relationships.  While your partner’s family may do everything together, you may have grown up in a family that sees each other only a few times a year.  How involved do you want to be in family activities?  You and your mate need to have conversations about saying “No” and turning down invitations.  What might that balance look like for the two of you?

Another piece to setting boundaries with family is how much you talk to them about your significant other.  

  • Do you call your mom up to complain every time your partner does something that drives you crazy?  
  • How would your partner feel about that?  

You and your significant other need to have discussions about how comfortable you are about sharing details of your relationship.  Where do you draw the line?

Finances

Money causes the most arguments with couples.  It’s no surprise that many couples struggle to set appropriate boundaries when it comes to finances.  You and your partner need to work on setting and achieving financial goals.  Think about how the bills get paid and decisions get made with spending money. 

Does one partner have all the control?  

If this is how it works with you and your partner, there is a very good chance that there is a lot of miscommunication or disagreements with where and how money should be spent.

Are you a saver and your partner a spender?  

This can often cause a lot of grief in a relationship and disagreements on prioritizing spending.  Make sure that you are constantly having conversations with your mate about bills, big purchases, and how you are establishing a savings, rainy day fund, or retirement.  Not doing so can cause a lot of big problems both now and down the road.

Intimacy

Think about the last time you talked about your sex life with your partner or checked in with them.  

Have you both communicated your comfort level, limits, and expectations?  

If you are thinking about trying something new in the bedroom, it may be beneficial to have a conversation before just springing it on your partner.  

  • Are you both on the same page with the frequency of sex?
  • Are you giving and receiving enough affection from your partner?  
  • Are you comfortable with PDA (public display of affection) and where do you draw the line?  

Think about the last time you spent cuddling, holding hands, or kissing your mate. 

If it’s hard to recall, you probably need to work on increasing the frequency and being deliberate.  How do you let your partner know you are thinking about them?

Time

Think about the last time you went on a date night—a real date night.  Are you carving out time to spend together?  Make sure that the time you are spending together is quality time.   

Attempt to “unplug” from the technology (no phones, computers, tablets, etc.) so you can spend uninterrupted time together.  It’s amazing how beneficial that can be in a relationship.

Reflect on the amount of alone time both you and your partner get.  

  • Is it enough for each of you?  
  • Are you comfortable with how your partner chooses to spend their free time? 

Another topic would be the amount of time you each spend with your children, and whether you feel it is fulfilling each of your expectations.

How to Set Boundaries

You may have a better idea of where you need to set some boundaries in your relationship.  The next step is to actually set them.  Take some time to think about what you need from your partner.  

Don’t assume that your mate should “just know” what you need from them.  Your partner is not a mind-reader!  Make a list if you need to, and slowly start to address your needs.

When establishing boundaries, communication is key!  

Set some time aside to have a conversation with your partner.  Approach the situation with a calm, level head.  Avoid using “you-messages” and work towards compromise.

A side note to this: Please don’t start a conversation about setting boundaries with your partner when you are angry with them.  If you are stewing about something, you will approach them with contempt and they will feel attacked.  Nothing will be accomplished if you both become defensive.

Give your significant other alternatives.  

Don’t just communicate to them what you don’t want; make sure to verbalize what you do want.  Again, don’t assume that they should “just know”.  Problem solve with them to find understanding and compromise with different topics and situations.

Allow your mate the opportunity to retort and express what they need from you. 

You may find out that they feel the same way with a lot of the issues you brought up, or they may feel very differently.  Either way, get in the habit of having frequent conversations with your partner about where boundaries need to be drawn.  No matter what, compromise!  It is truly the only successful way to set boundaries with your partner.

Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW – www.journeytojoycounseling.com

Holli Kenley

Although there are many strategies in establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship, reassessing past relationships is an excellent tool to implement. 

This exercise teaches us what we have been accepting in our relationships and directs us towards purposely establishing healthier expectations. This exercise has two parts.

First, take out a piece of paper and make two columns: 

Healthy relationships (balanced, mutual respect, flexible, honoring, affirming, supportive) and Unhealthy relationships (one sided, emotionally charged, rigid, power driven, depleting, negative).

Be brutally honest with yourself as you fill in the columns with the names of your past and/or current relationships. 

For the second part, go back to each name and write down in detail why and how each person was healthy or unhealthy. Again, be courageous as you examine each relationship. When you are finished, take a look at both columns.

In the Unhealthy column, make note of any patterns of behaviors that you have been accepting in your relationships and how those behaviors have made you feel. 

In the Healthy column, pay strong attention to the qualities that you want to look for and to expect in current or future relationships. 

As you move forward, use the Healthy relationship qualities to set boundaries for yourself – what you will accept and not accept in a relationship. Most importantly, begin acting upon those choices.

Holli Kenley, M.A., MFT – www.hollikenley.com

Kristen Brown

Setting healthy boundaries is important for both you and your partner. 

Healthy boundaries begin by knowing yourself thoroughly. 

It’s about defining what is acceptable in your life and what is not. 

Oftentimes we learn what our boundaries are by experience. Somewhere in our dating world we ran into situations or behaviors that we didn’t like and most likely didn’t speak up or if we did, we didn’t follow our words with action. 

Boundaries only work when they are supported with an action if they continue to happen. The road to empowerment (and eventually meeting our dream partner) is paved with setting and standing behind clear boundaries.

For example:

When I was dating my first husband we were wrestling and joking around one day and I was tickling him. Through his laughter and fun he said, “Stop it, you bitch!” 

At that moment the fun stopped. I do not condone name calling for any reason within relationships. I believe it is demeaning to a partner and breeds contempt and discontentment. 

I looked very seriously at him and I said, “Don’t ever call me a name again. I find it disrespectful and I will not have that within my relationship.” He never called me a name again.

It is important to remember that keeping boundaries is about respect for self and when we respect ourselves, we attract and keep partners who will respect us and if they don’t, we must be willing to take a pass and move on to something better!

Kristen Brown, Certified Empowerment Coach/Mentor – www.sweetempowerment.com

Orly Katz

Setting boundaries is the art of protecting your emotional self and well-being. 

It is your responsibility and duty to identify relationships, emotions or others’ behaviors that have the potential to hurt you. 

Imagine yourself at the center of a garden surrounded by a fence. The fence represents your personal boundaries, and the garden represents your personal space. You are this garden’s most valuable asset. Protecting yourself in your garden is a continuous process.

It can be maintained in three steps:

Step 1: Love and respect yourself

Value what you want to protect. Make yourself the first priority. Assess your wants and needs. Treat yourself with respect. Write positive affirmation notes about yourself, something that you love about yourself. Read your notes every day for at least a week.

Step 2: Assess and plan to protect emotional self

Identify in writing those triggers provoking negative emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety and stress. They can fester, and if left unaddressed, can harm your physical health.

Having identified negative triggers, you can decide how and in what order to tackle them. Imagine uprooting weeds and clearing your garden. For each trigger, plan ways to act on your assessment.

Example: Say NO to potentially harmful friendships or requests.

Step 3: Periodically Re-evaluate

As friends and situations change, so do triggers, and you will find that you may need to periodically repeat this process. Remember, the core of your boundaries is always the valuable, precious you, and your need to protect your self-being.

Orly Katz, LCPC – www.orlykatz.com

Jeannie Dougherty

It’s time to get real: all relationships require teamwork. And it’s important to realize you cannot take 100% credit or blame for anyone else’s thoughts or actions.

Ask yourself these questions to help create healthy boundaries for your relationships:

1. Are You Investing Too Much Time and Effort?

On an average day, many women say they spend more than 50% of their time thinking about their relationship. That’s not healthy.

It’s OK to not be absorbed by your relationship; it doesn’t mean you love them less.

2. Does Your Partner Come Before You?

When you allow someone else’s happiness to mean more than your own desires and needs, you’ll start to build resentment toward them, because you’re not feeling like an equal partner.

It is good to keep your partner happy, but not at the expense of your self-esteem. In a relationship with healthy boundaries, both partners feel happy and equal.

3. Do You Enjoy Manipulating Your Partner?

Are you one of those women who feels she has to control her partner?

While it may appear that you have the control in your relationship, control is an illusion. Your partner may be resenting you below the surface, and that kind of resentment can lead to affairs, binge drinking, and angry arguments.

Monitor your motives when you are making plans with and demands of your partner. 

A healthy relationship is a partnership, where neither person needs, wants or demands control of the other.

Setting healthy boundaries is key to a strong relationship.

Jeannie Dougherty, MAPC, LCPC, LPC – www.jeanniedougherty.com

Tara Gogolinski

It’s time to get real: all relationships require teamwork. And it’s important to realize you cannot take 100% credit or blame for anyone else’s thoughts or actions.

Ask yourself these questions to help create healthy boundaries for your relationships:

1. Are You Investing Too Much Time and Effort?

On an average day, many women say they spend more than 50% of their time thinking about their relationship. That’s not healthy.

It’s OK to not be absorbed by your relationship; it doesn’t mean you love them less.

2. Does Your Partner Come Before You?

When you allow someone else’s happiness to mean more than your own desires and needs, you’ll start to build resentment toward them, because you’re not feeling like an equal partner.

It is good to keep your partner happy, but not at the expense of your self-esteem. In a relationship with healthy boundaries, both partners feel happy and equal.

3. Do You Enjoy Manipulating Your Partner?

Are you one of those women who feels she has to control her partner?

While it may appear that you have the control in your relationship, control is an illusion. Your partner may be resenting you below the surface, and that kind of resentment can lead to affairs, binge drinking, and angry arguments.

Monitor your motives when you are making plans with and demands of your partner. 

A healthy relationship is a partnership, where neither person needs, wants or demands control of the other.

Setting healthy boundaries is key to a strong relationship.

Tara Gogolinski, MS, LCMFT – www.linkedin.com/in/tara-gogolinski-ms-lcmft-737b0036

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