“You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.”
— James Baldwin
- Start by reading How to set boundaries
- Setting boundaries in close relationships, especially romantic ones, can be challenging to the conflict-adverse, but having clearly defined boundaries is one of the best ways to prevent (and soothe) disharmony.
- What does setting boundaries look like inside intimate relationships? When you share your body, heart (and in most cases your home) freely, how do you define those lines?
- Everyone has different needs and thresholds for sharing, so ultimately YOU are the main authority on what boundaries make sense for you. That also puts you in the hot seat for being the main defender of your boundaries. No one will ever be able to know or satisfy your needs like you do.
- That means that as much of this exercise should be listening as talking (if not more). Listen to your partner’s needs and demonstrate to them how you expect to be treated.
- Note: Many people make the mistake of “testing” their partner. Some even say silly things like, “if he really knows and loves me, he will…” Expectation is the root of all anger, so be sure to be clear about what you expect from your parter. Do you expect romantic nights out? Tell them. They cannot read your mind and it is unfair to ask them to.
- Here are some of the common boundaries drawn within close relationships:
- Issues around sex and affection: Everyone has different levels of comfort and it’s important to communicate your preferences and dislikes. Even communicating the pace of the relationship is important.
- Issues around division of labor: If you share a home, it’s important to be clear about how you expect the management of the home to go. Be explicit and detailed so both of you can hold each other accountable. Additionally, other “roommate” issues like who gets to eat the last piece of pie and sharing the remote should be hammered out too.
- Issues around space: Sometimes a partner will get their feelings hurt when their partner asks for space, but it is rarely personal. Everyone needs downtime - even from their loved ones. Different people need different amounts of space. Draw boundaries for what that looks like for you.
- Issues around values: While it is always preferable to find a partner who shares your values, sometimes partners differ on a value or two. Be clear about what is nonnegotiable for you and discuss how you will navigate that. For example, one partner may be extremely family-oriented and expect to see her parents every weekend, while her partner may resent having so much of his “free time” taken up visiting family.
- Issues around fighting: Learning how to fight is even more important than learning how to avoid conflict. Two human beings with independent minds will eventually come to loggerheads - it’s in our nature. That’s ok! Discuss how your partner prefers to “fight,” what “triggers” him or her, and agree on the lines that shall never be crossed. Example, she agrees to never compare him to his dad in an argument. See the “Official Guide for Fighting with Your Partner.”
<X> is a strong boundary that I’m not comfortable crossing, but <Y> is is something I might change my mind about so let’s talk about it more.
I don’t agree with you on this but I respect that you have your feelings and opinions.
When you show me lots of affection in public it makes me uncomfortable.
I need you to listen without interrupting me.
I need time to myself. It’s not a reflection about how I feel about you or us, I just need downtime.
If I bring up an issue with you, that is not the time for you to bring up any grievances you have with me. You had time and opportunity just like me but you chose not to, now is your time to listen and not deflect. I’ll be happy to discuss your grievances after we resolve this issue first.
I’m feeling disappointed and caught off guard with how our last conversation went. I’m hoping you can help me understand.
I’m not okay with your actions and that’s just a position I never want to be in again.
When you said/did <x>, it made me feel <y>.
You crossed a boundary and that’s not okay.
While I know you would never intentionally hurt me, I want to clear the air so we’re both calm and we can both feel heard.
I love spending time with you, but right now I need some time alone to recharge.
When you <action>, I feel disrespected.
I would appreciate it if you didn’t <action> anymore.
Let’s agree to disagree.
I understand you’re angry but do not speak to me that way.
I hear that you are feeling disconnected and you want to spend more time together. I love you, and I want that too! I can’t do it tonight because I have a meeting, but what about Saturday?
So you’d like me to help you clean and organize the garage? I’m exhausted from work today and don’t have the energy for such a big project now. Can we plan a time tomorrow to work on it together?