When considering what boundaries in a relationship are, most people visualize a wall that separates the couple, one that stifles growth in one way or another. This imagery couldn't be more wrong. In reality, boundaries are a sign of a healthy, prosperous relationship. They are not a walls that inhibit the emotional intimacy of the relationship. Rather, they are self-given rules that allow each person to exhibit respect for one another, feel comfortable in the relationship, and develop healthy self-esteem: three crucial components of a healthy relationship.
Boundaries are not always easy to identify in a relationship. People may feel, in one way or another, that an emotional boundary is being violated in the relationship, but they don't know how to properly communicate it with their partner. It could look something like this:
Isaac and Leah have been dating for 6 months. Leah has friends that are much older than she is, and Isaac makes snarky jokes about their age from time to time. These jokes make Leah uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed, but she doesn't say anything about it and reserves her emotions.
In the previous example, Leah is displaying poor boundary management in the relationship. It is likely that she bottles up her emotions and, at the peak of her emotional capacity, she lets them loose in a heated frenzy. Isaac is likely taken off guard by her response and matches her intensity in defense, possibly resulting in an ugly breakup. A few days or even weeks go by, and they end back up together, only for another ugly argument to arise in the near future.
If that story remotely resembles relationships you've been in before or your current one, it could be that you're lacking critical emotional boundaries needed for maintaining the relationship. If so, you're not the only one. Boundary setting doesn't come naturally with most. It is, however, a skill that can be learned, and when you and your partner are diligent to set and enforce boundaries, you'll be amazed to see how your relationship improves.
The 5 Ways to Set and Keep Emotional Boundaries in Relationships
By learning these 5 expert-recommended ways to set and enforce healthy boundaries, you can become a master at boundary setting and relationship improvement.
1. Communicate with your partner.
Assuming your partner knows your thoughts and feelings on a subject matter is a fantasy. No partner is perfect and all-knowing, so you will need to communicate your feelings to them. The more accurately you can identify what it is that your partner is saying or doing that caused your emotional discomfort, the better your boundary will be, and more likely that your partner respects it. Avoid blaming your partner, or conversely taking too much blame on yourself. Instead, calmly address the issue with your partner, and discuss how you would like to avoid it in the future. The goal is to establish a clear understanding with your partner about what is acceptable and what is too far.
2. Take absolute responsibility for your actions.
If you are the one violating one of your partner's boundaries, you should retreat from doing so as soon as you are aware of it. If your partner is upset with it, don't try to argue away your actions or blame your partner for being overly "sensitive". Instead, own up to your mistake, apologize if necessary, and assure them that you meant no harm by it. If you want your partner to respect your boundaries, you must be willing to respect theirs.
3. Choose your battles.
Don't expect your relationship to be flawless. You're going to have disagreements with your partner, as everyone does. Furthermore, you should be prepared to handle them appropriately. Keep in mind that you cannot maintain a healthy balance in the relationship by micromanaging everything your partner says or does. However, know your limits on how their actions affect you and when it's time to set a boundary accordingly. In doing so, you can prevent unnecessary strain on relationship.
One way to do so is to think about your previous relationships, or even friendships. What were the conversations, disagreements, or situations that made you uncomfortable? If you can identify the ones you weren't able to handle, you can use those experiences for setting your most important boundaries for the relationship. The key is to maintain a healthy respect for your partner's opinions and actions while keeping true to your own limits.
4. Uphold the integrity of your boundaries.
It's one thing to set a boundary with your partner. It's another thing altogether to keep it. If you feel that your boundary is being crossed in any way, you should address it sooner rather than later. If you brush it off, you're conditioning yourself and your partner that it's OK to overstep on your boundaries. This belittles the meaning of your word and opens the door to more sensitive boundaries being violated elsewhere in the relationship. Understand that you have every right to keep to your boundaries, and your partner should respect them. Moreover, keep the slack out of your boundaries.
5. Recognize when it's time to seek help.
This is perhaps the toughest piece of advice of all, yet it is needed in many situations for long-term happiness. It's one thing when boundaries are crossed by mistake, but deliberate, consistent overstepping of boundaries is another thing entirely. If your partner is unable or unwilling to respect your boundaries, you should strongly consider getting outside help from a professional counselor. There is always hope for change in a relationship, but sometimes it takes the guidance of a trained therapist to equip and empower you with ways to handle issues that are negatively affecting the relationship.
Relationship Boundaries Enable Growth
Boundaries do not hinder the growth of a relationship. Instead, they help establish mutual respect between the couple, allow each person feel comfortable, and help deter unnecessary friction in the relationship. Consider these five ways of setting healthy emotional boundaries and put them in action today.
If you feel like you're at the end of the rope with your spouse or partner, it might be time to seek the help of a counselor. At Fuller Life Counseling Partners, we know it can be difficult to decide on seeking therapy, but we also know that remaining in a dysfunctional relationship is even more difficult. We want you to know that we are here to help and that a satisfying, functional relationship can be achieved with our help. If you want to schedule a free consultation with us, click the "Schedule Now" button at the top or bottom of this page. Or, click the "Contact Us" button to ask us any questions you may have.