Boundaries In Romantic Relationships

A boundary is something that marks a limit. Think of psychological boundaries as guidelines that preserve your individuality from your partner’s. They comprise your uniqueness – your history, experiences, interests, personality, and values….your “you-ness.”

Setting Clear Boundaries – I am not You

Boundaries are crucial to enjoying healthy and secure relationships and avoiding dysfunctional ones. They define the safe and permissible ways you want to be treated by your partner and how you will respond if those limits are crossed.

Consider the following questions to determine if your boundaries are clear:

  • Do you know when to say “yes” or “no” to your partner?
  • Are you clear how to respond if your partner steps outside your limits?
  • Do you pretend to be someone you are not?
  • Do you respect your partner as a unique individual or do you think you can read their mind?

Do you ever weaken your boundaries by doing the following?

  • Pretend to agree with your partner when you disagree.
  • Accommodate your partner’s needs even when you do not want to.
  • Conceal your true feelings from your partner.
  • Decline something when you really want it.
  • Have difficulty stating your preference.
  • Keep quiet when you are treated poorly.
  • Feel guilty when you say “no.”

Do you set healthy boundaries by doing the following?

  • Learn to say no. Don’t say yes when you mean no.
  • Figure out what is acceptable to you and challenge what is not.
  • Communicate clearly.
  • Look to your Self, not your partner, to fill your needs and create happiness.
  • Ask your partner’s permission before making assumptions?
  • Maintain a keen awareness of how your partner is different from you?
  • Learn to make up your own mind.

The key to setting healthy boundaries is knowing your inner life. If you are out of touch with the many dimensions of your Self, not only will you have difficulty defining your limits, but you will continuously be vulnerable to self-betrayal.

Intimacy and Boundaries

Intimacy, the sharing of the deepest parts of your Self (your strengths and weaknesses, your angels and demons), cannot exist without boundaries. However, people often mistake boundaries for walls. Walls shut others out. Boundaries, on the other hand, help you regulate your needs for connection and separateness

The most effective boundaries are flexible. By learning to calibrate your boundaries you can decide how intimate you wish to be with your partner and how much personal space you desire.

Why do some people have difficulty establishing clear boundaries and healthy intimacy with their partner? Inadequate parental support for your developing independence as a child can result in one of two dysfunctional adult boundary patterns; co-dependence (enmeshed boundaries – where you seek your self-definition from your partner) and counter-dependence(fear of closeness and healthy interdependence).

A successful partnership, in contrast, occurs when two well-defined people create an interdependent partnership in which they appreciate and love the qualities in their partner that make them unique. When people with strong boundaries partner, the potential for intimacy, trust, security and commitment can be astounding.

Boundary Violations Between Partners

Much of my clinical work consists of helping people to gain clarity about their Self, so that they can engage fearlessly in healthy inter-dependencies. In order to accomplish that we must first identify the ways in which their flimsy boundaries may be impeding their ability to be intimate with their partner. Here are some of the common ways that my clients violate their partners’ emotional boundaries. Can you relate to these violations?

  • Discounting – devaluing or minimizing your partner’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors (“I can’t believe you are making such a big deal about that!”)
  • Denying – shifting the focus of attention away from one’s feelings when they emerge (“No, you’re the one who is bothered by this, not me.”)
  • Manipulating – controlling your partner (“If you don’t get your act together, I’m going to walk out the door.”)
  • Intruding – stepping into your partner’s space (“You must be sick. It is not warm in here it’s cold. I am going to turn up the heat.”)
  • Blaming – not taking responsibility (“It’s your fault. You are making me act this way.”)
  • Criticizing – due to differences (“You insist on doing it the wrong way. What’s up with that?”)
  • Negating – (“That doesn’t hurt as much as you think it does.”)

Although intangible, boundaries are real and essential to your individual welfare and that of your partnership. They are the distinctions we make between ourself and our significant other. Human boundaries allow you to be intimate with your partner – to be both connected and simultaneously be separate.