March 30, 2020 |Gideon Hanekom

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This post looks at how to set boundaries for relationships that are healthy.

Without boundaries in your love relationship, you’ll constantly be upsetting each other.

Right now, a lot of couples find themselves in lockdown with their partners, due to COVID-19, and it’s doing their heads in. 

In this post, we look at a few ideas to help you get through this time and emerge even stronger as a couple.

boundaries for relationships

In this post, I want to give couples stuck at home, a few practical ideas to consider that will help them not just survive through this time of the lockdown, but actually thrive at the end of it.

You’ve heard me say in previous Facebook Lives or podcast episodes that this weird time we find ourselves in, are giving many of us an opportunity to focus on areas of our lives we’ve ignored for quite some time.

It also gives us an opportunity to lay a foundation for creating momentum that will serve us not just now, but in the long run as well.

So, in this post, I want to show you

1) how to set Boundaries For Relationships,

2) how to replace inevitable nagging (it’s gonna happen) with more positive alternatives, and

3) five tips to also strengthen your relationship.

Let’s first start with,

How to set boundaries for relationships that are healthy

Firstly, what is a “boundary” in the context of a love relationship?

I like to think of boundaries for relationships as a set of guidelines or rules for a relationship.

This ultimately means each couple has to find a way to accommodate the preferences of both parties.

Now, as many couples under lockdown would have discovered by now, this isn’t always easy.

But it’s absolutely crucial for a relationship to thrive and not just survive.

If you want to set your relationship up for long term happiness and success, you need to learn how to set boundaries for relationships.

They rarely happen on their own and will require working through a few things initially.

Now, I would always encourage couples to set boundaries that actually enhance their love relationship, while being practical, rather than just managing separateness and space.

Setting boundaries for relationships is not like building a wall around certain things to keep your partner out; they’re more like guidelines or rules for playing the games fairly and to the enjoyment of everyone involved.

Boundaries in your love relationship are not restrictive but directive.

So, with that being said, what are a few good areas for you to consider during this time of the COVID-19 lockdown?

I would encourage you to set boundaries for relationships in the following areas:


The first area you definitely need to consider is finances.

We know that financial issues can put a lot of strain on any relationship, let alone one that is currently facing a potential loss of income, reduced income, or other financial pressures.

At this time it is crucial to discuss your financial options and budget.

This is not the time to put your head in the sand, but rather an opportunity to discuss a very controversial and sensitive topic, while also deciding together to create acceptable financial boundaries that everyone involved will hold to.

This includes money available for groceries, online services like Netflix, and so on.

We know that financial issues are a regular cause of divorce, and that’s at the best of times.

The pressure your relationship will be feeling during this time of a global pandemic, as a result of financial pressures, will be immense.

It is, therefore, a very good idea to get in front of things by identifying this as a potential catalyst for a lot of relationship dissatisfaction and conflict and planning accordingly.

Don’t delay.


In the context of being stuck at home during this global pandemic, boundaries around privacy have more to do with personal space than transparency.

Usually, when I talk to couples about privacy and the need for transparency, it’s a different conversation.

In this instance, what I’m referring to here is your need as a couple for creating space.

You need separateness and a healthy amount of distance from time to time.

Or at least as much as you can create within your situation.

As people, we all need time for ourselves.

When, however, you’re stuck in a house with other family members, things can escalate pretty quickly.

Levels of frustration, a sense of being stuck, impatience, irritation, and so on will be heightened.

But because we know this, we can prepare for it.

Healthy boundaries around privacy and allowing each other personal space and alone time when convenient and appropriate is vital for the well-being of your relationship during this time.

In fact, it’s always important, but it’s especially important now.

And this goes both ways.

It’s not just reserved for one partner in a relationship.

The times we’re in require both partners to step up equally to make things easier for everyone.

Unfortunately, the rules that applied before, don’t apply now.

Yes, before all of this, you might have gotten away with your wife doing all the cooking …

That’s no longer the case.

Yes, before all of this, you might have gotten away with demanding your husband to finish some jobs around the house …

That’s no longer the case.

Many of us, and our relationships, are now facing something that many of us haven’t experienced before.

There is a lot of uncertainty going around.

We are trying to juggle a lot of different balls.

We don’t know what’s going to happen.

We are literally taking it day by day.

Now, our grandparents who have been through the great depression and the world wars, have experienced much of this, but we haven’t.

And so, it’s a good thing that we are forced to learn how to adapt.

Many couples have become complacent in their relationships, and this is forcing us to wake up and pay attention again.

But in order to make it easier for all of us, it is vitally important that we now, more than ever, keep our partners’ well-being in mind.

Give them space if they need it.

Pick up more of the slack if that’s what it takes.

Make it easier for each other to not just cope, but actually thrive.

Now, more than ever, our homes need to be our safe space as much as possible.

Not a catalyst for further uncertainty, frustration, unhappiness, and even, unsafety.

Anything else that matters to either of you

Your situation will determine how you set healthy boundaries in your love relationship right now.

All of our circumstances are different.

And so, it comes down to you and your partner to discuss what type of boundaries you need to put in place to not just survive as a couple during this time, but actually thrive at the end of it.

For me, personally, finances and privacy are two important areas to consider.

However, it’s also important to set healthy boundaries for your love relationship around anything else that matters to either of you.

That can include a range of things:

  • sex
  • communication dos and don’ts during this time
  • hobbies
  • who takes responsibility for what
  • chores
  • the children’s schoolwork
  • meals
  • routines

and so on.

The important question here is,

What types of boundaries in your love relationship do you need to feel comfortable right now?

You need to consider what you can tolerate, given the current circumstances.

What are you unwilling to tolerate?

Think about what you need and why, and discuss this with each other as soon as possible.

And keep revisiting these boundaries for relationships as the weeks progress.

Now, to help you even further, I also want to urge you to be careful not to weaken your boundaries with certain behaviours.

There are a few that can render your boundaries pointless if you’re not careful.

Here are three specific behaviours that can weaken your boundaries you need to be careful of

A lack of willingness to state your preferences

You’re undermining the whole purpose of having boundaries when you refuse to let your opinions be known.

Now is not the time to stay silent and suffer in silence.

If you want your relationship to get through this in one piece, and stronger, you need to learn to open up to each other.

However clumsy that might be.

So, if you’re holding back and cannot state your preferences, then,

Ask yourself why you’re unwilling to let your partner know what you want.

Accepting poor treatment or behaviour from your partner

There’s a saying, “You get what you tolerate.”

Another saying is, “You teach others how to treat you.”

When you tolerate mistreatment or a lack of contribution from your partner, you’ll get more of the same in the future.

And when that happens it’s not really just your partner’s fault …

When you’re willing to accept poor behaviour, your partner will assume that either 1) all is fine, or 2)  any boundaries you agreed upon are optional.

Now is not the time to be meek but responsible.

If you want your relationship to get through this current challenge and emerge stronger on the other end, learn to treat each other the way you want to be treated.


When boundaries are tightened, there’s usually an adaption period.

We have seen that with how different people have responded to the lockdown period here in New Zealand.

Your relationship will be the same.

When you suddenly demand stricter boundaries to be put in place, there might be times your partner could become frustrated by them.

But that’s not a cause for guilt or letting up.

Yes, perhaps the boundaries can be revisited or revised, but avoid feeling guilty for something you both agreed upon.

Understand that boundaries are guidelines or rules for a relationship to help it thrive, given the circumstances.

There’s no point in setting boundaries, only to turn around and sabotage them at the first sign of inconvenience.

So, with all of that said and before we look at positive alternatives to nagging, what boundaries do you need in your relationship?

Each relationship is unique.

Some will require a lot of boundaries at this time for both parties to feel happy and secure.

Other couples would feel smothered with too many “rules” to follow.

Sit down with your partner and talk about what you both expect from your relationship, especially over the next few weeks.

Cover what you are willing and unwilling to tolerate.

And include the kids in this.

Once you’re clear on everything, it’s important to uphold the boundaries in your love relationship.

Set boundaries that will strengthen your relationship and stick to them.

These agreed-upon guidelines can prevent a lot of relationship stress and make room for more joy, particularly during times of much uncertainty and lack of options.

Positive Alternatives to nagging

Nagging is ineffective and puts a strain on your relationships, yet many of us still persist with it at times.

So, what is nagging in essence?

Essentially it is,

To constantly harass someone to do something.

And the more time we spend together in one confined space, the more likely it is to happen.

When we’re living in close proximity, sharing one space with others, our own preferences, wants, and expectations are naturally put under stress.

Over time, this could lead to us feeling frustrated, stuck, cornered, and even disrespected.

This can then make way for increased nagging or constant harassment of others to do something (usually, the thing we want to have done).

But like I’ve already said, there’s only one problem with nagging – it doesn’t work very well.

It’s an ineffective strategy to get what you want.

Long term anyway.

So, what are some positive alternatives to nagging?

What can you do instead if your household isn’t playing nice?

Here Are Some Simple Alternatives to Nagging

Do the math 

If you still need to convince yourself that nagging fails to get results, try counting how many times you’ve said the same thing before.

Has it worked?

I’m betting, ‘no.’

So, what makes you think the next time would be different?

The tenth time is likely to turn out the same as the first nine attempts, which means it might be time for another approach.

Focus on the positive

Nagging is about venting your dismay and frustration.

It usually doesn’t work apart from annoying everyone else.

A better thing to do is to keep your eye on the big picture.

For example, when you think about how your kids enrich your life, it’s easier to cut them some slack on the other stuff.

Do it yourself

Sometimes it’s just faster and more satisfying to complete a task yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Learn how to iron your own shirts rather than wait for someone else to do it.

Vacuum the carpet or wash the dishes even when your spouse was going to do those jobs this weekend.

There are times when it’s just easier to get on with things and do it yourself.

Brooding over things and walking around like a bear with a sore tooth won’t make you feel better, and it definitely won’t clean the bathroom by itself.

Become more flexible

As somewhat of a “professional nagger” at times, I can tell you that being a tad more flexible with things goes a long way in dealing with feeling disgruntled.

One of the reasons many people find it so easy to become frustrated, and then nag about it, is because they have a certain standard in their own heads and they want other people to live up to it.

When others don’t, they get peeved.

But rather than doing that, let your kids or spouse know that you appreciate their willingness to help out even if their methods are different from your own.

It’s fine if they make their beds a little less tidy than yours.

It’s okay if they pack the dishwasher a little bit differently.

Relax, be more flexible, and you will soon discover that your feelings of frustration subside as well.

Let others experience the consequences of their actions

Not everything has to be turned into a drama.

Sometimes, people just need to experience the consequences of their actions or inactions.

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve had your kids surprise you with an important “project” that had to be completed today, but they ‘forgot’ about it.

Or you’ve asked the rest of your household a hundred times to put the dirty laundry in the laundry basket, if they want it to be washed, only to be ignored.

Again, you can get frustrated and continue nagging about these type of things …

OR, you can simply send your kid to school with an unfinished project and let them explain to their teacher why that is (I’ve done this).

Also, if you’re in charge of doing the laundry, simply wash everything that was INSIDE the laundry basket and leave everything else dirty.

You will find that people figure things out pretty quickly once this starts happening which might lead to more compliance in the future.

Streamline your workload

Chronic irritability is often a sign that you’re trying to do too much.

So, rather than trying to do too much, especially during a time of this lockdown, figure out which responsibilities are priorities and which you can put aside.

You can also task different members of your family with different responsibilities.

In our household, the kids have to unpack the dishwasher every morning and feed the cats.

They are also responsible to clean their own toilet and bathroom in the evenings.

I usually take care of mowing the lawns and keeping our section/garden fairly tidy.

I also tend to do most of the vacuum cleaning and tidying up the kitchen every night.

My wife does all the laundry, cleans our bathroom, and does all the cooking.

She is also the one that usually takes care of school issues and any other issues with the kids (doctor appointments and so on).

I will help out where and when I can.

Everyone has a role.

Sometimes you require help from others, and then you ask for it.

The point is, we’re a tribe and everyone has their role.

Young and old.

It’s always been like this.

But trying to do everything on your own or do too much, will lead to chronic irritability and constant nagging.

Embrace technology

A simple way to keep your partner on the same page is to use technology.

I’ve had conversations with couples in the past where one of their big issues was knowing what the other one was up to.

My wife and I set up Google calendars and imported both our sets of appointments into the same area so that we can know in advance what the other one has got on for the week.

This makes planning and setting appointments around each other a lot easier.

I know exactly when I shouldn’t book any appointments or commit to training jujitsu (for example).

Now, during this time of the lockdown, you might not need an elaborate system but you can still do something similar.

Make a list of everything that needs to be done for today or this week, stick it on the fridge, talk it through with your family, and get on with things.

Simple as.

No need for drama.

And by the way, your older kids can help the younger ones do their part.

Kids are far more clever than we often give them credit for.

Stop ‘saving’ them all the time.

Take time out

Nagging is oftentimes the result of built-up emotions due to a sense of injustice, unfairness, and feeling under the pump or stretched.

And this is usually the worst time to get your family on board to work together.

It’s a much better idea to deal with sensitive subjects, like chores, when you’re feeling calm, collected, and everyone else is in a good space as well.

So, sometimes the best thing you can do is just take a walk in the garden, sit outside in the sun, or read a book until you’ve settled down.

Once you’ve calmed down, you can address the issues.

More Advanced Alternatives to Nagging 

Sometimes nagging is a sign of deeper underlying issues rather than just simple frustration.

This is especially true if you find yourself struggling to let go of chronic feelings of frustration and constant nagging.

If that’s the case, you might want to consider some of the following.

Address the root issues

If any of the above is true, probe more deeply to see if nagging is a symptom of deeper issues in your relationships.

Is the frustration you’re experiencing perhaps the result of deeper-lying issues rather than just a lack of compliance or cooperation.

Marital counselling, coaching sessions or parenting classes may help you get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Ask for what you want directly

Sometimes, you just need to learn how to ask for what you want directly.

Perhaps you’re being too vague.

Nagging is oftentimes an attempt to express your feelings and what you want, but very vaguely.

Clear communication is what you must strive for.

So, work up the courage to state what you need clearly and tactfully.

Because one skilful and clear message beats years of beating around the bush.

Listen well

Practice attentive and active listening.

Rather than just listen to respond, concentrate on what the other person is saying and confirm that you understand.

A simple, “This is what I’m hearing; is that right?”, goes a long way.

When we listen well, not only can we understand better, but the other person also feels heard and validated.

And that goes a long way for establishing feelings of trust, being cared for, and ultimately, cooperation.

Listen, the longer we are under lockdown, the more our patience with each other will be tested.

Because we are not just dealing with everything else that is going on around us, we also still need to deal with the day-to-day challenges that come our way.

We still have to deal with toddlers.

We still have to deal with paying some invoices.

We still have to deal with our pets.

We still have to deal with our own well-being, health and fitness.

The list goes on and on.

But at the end of the day, if you’re tired of repeating the same requests without getting the results you desire, it’s probably time to try some alternatives to nagging.

Now is the time to change your expectations and/or improve your communication skills.

5 Tips to strengthen your relationship

Now, before we bring this post on setting boundaries in your love relationship to a close, I also want to give you five tips to strengthen your relationship during this time.

The reality is that a lot of relationships right now, are under a lot of pressure.

And increasingly so.

But like I said at the start, this is not just about surviving but thriving.

Yes, our number one priority is to get through this lockdown safely and healthily, but it’s also a great opportunity to strengthen our relationships with one another.

Not just for now, but for the future.

Consider these tips to strengthen your relationship

Take your partner’s side

To continue to grow an enriching, loving relationship, you must consistently take your partner’s side, whether you agree with them or not.

This is especially true in times of much uncertainty.

Now, more than ever, your partner needs to feel that you are on the same team as you’re faced with many challenging things.

This is not the time to divide and play against each other.

Ultimately, if you promise yourself and aim to always be on the same side, then there will be fewer situations that can divide you.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that we agree on everything.

That’s not reality.

We are unique individuals with different points of view.

That is normal.

However, we can always disagree appropriately, with tact and with love, instead of fighting and division.

In this time, let your differences lead to discussions that help you understand each other better, rather than divide you.

Because these types of honest discussions can reinforce the love and respect you share, and strengthen your unity in the long run.

Release past hurts

If you’ve been holding on to emotional pains related to your current partner, now is the time to let it go or work through it.

If you opt for the latter, there are still plenty of online support that can help you do that.

Just because we are maintaining physical distance doesn’t mean we don’t have access to resources anymore.

The point here, however, is that by keeping the hurt inside, you can stifle the love and affection you want in your relationship.

If the pain results from your current partner’s past actions, resolve the past situation so you can let go of that pain and move forward with your relationship.

Letting go of past hurts will allow you to feel freer to love and be close to your partner now and in the long run.

Ask yourself, “When’s the last time that you have had a month together, away from work and everybody else, to just focus on each other and your family?”

Now is a good time to strengthen your relationship, not hurt it further.

And if you don’t know where to start, then just start with the ideas on this website, as there are plenty to work through and on.

Use this time wisely.

Be willing to try something new

If you want to truly connect with your partner, embrace the activities they love to do.

Even though the particular pastime may not be your cup of tea, show a willingness to engage in their beloved activities with them.

This might actually be a good time to learn more about the stuff they like and engage in it.

For example, if your wife loves to read, then take some time to be alone together somewhere in your house and just read.

Or, if he likes working out outside, then work out with him.

Or, you can do what my wife does – when I work out and my little gym in my garage, she puts a mattress on the concrete outside and read.

So, we are spending time together, by doing what we like.

But the point here is also to try something new.

Lose the need to be right

We have a saying in jujitsu, “who cares if you tap; just start again.”

The same goes for winning arguments with your partner.

I think it is overrated.

I mean, what real value does being right really have?

If you think about it.


What do you get by winning an argument?

Apart from more arguments.

You might feel some sense of personal victory, but the truth is, your relationship is losing.

So, during this time of being under lockdown, try and lose the need to be right.

Not just for now, but for the long run as well.

Because at the end of the day, insisting that the other person agrees that you’re right and they’re wrong, does nothing to increase positive feelings or strengthen the bond between you.


In fact, it does quite the opposite.

Therefore, try focusing, instead, on accepting that there will be times when you might be correct and other times when they are.

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who taps.

Let this go and see how your relationship flourishes over time.

Celebrate your differences

Now is also a good time to allow yourself to again experience the passion that brought you into the relationship initially.

The irony is that the things couples end up fighting about are usually the same things that brought them together in the beginning,

How interesting is that?

The difference is that at the beginning we tend to see differences as enticing, whereas after a while we start seeing them as sources of frustration or even threats.

So rather than celebrating your differences, you end up fighting about them.

But here’s the thing – it is your responsibility to keep the flame going in your relationship, which reinforces your connection over time.

And one way to do that is to truly embrace the ways in which you want different.

Not fight about.

Not become divided as a result of it.

But embrace and celebrate it.

And what a great time to get to know each other again and do exactly that.

Take away …

We have covered a lot in this post, but I’m only really trying to make one point …

You can turn any situation into a potential opportunity or a potential problem.

I choose to see this time as a great opportunity.

There are so many wonderful opportunities to ensure your relationship continues to blossom and grow stronger, despite what is going on around us.

Set healthy boundaries for your love relationship.

Let go of the nagging and use more positive and better alternatives.

Use this time to not just survive but thrive by strengthening your relationship with a few simple things.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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