In this post, we’ll go over how to set healthy relationship boundaries in various areas of your life and why it’s important.
Setting and respecting boundaries in our relationships is critical to maintaining healthy, positive interactions with others because we can easily become overwhelmed and resentful if we do not.
In the end, boundaries assist us in protecting our time, energy, and emotional well-being.
They also contribute to the development of healthy, balanced relationships in which everyone feels respected.
If your marriage has no or unhealthy relationship boundaries, you could very well feel overwhelmed and taken for granted.
You may also find yourself giving in to your spouse’s demands on a regular basis, which can lead to resentment.
The bottom line is that it can be difficult to maintain a healthy balance in your relationship without healthy boundaries, which can lead to serious complications.
So, with that in mind, setting healthy relationship boundaries is, therefore, a good idea to ensure both the wellbeing of your marriage and your own.
But this raises an important question: what are personal boundaries?
How should we understand them before we can set them?
What are personal boundaries?
Personal boundaries, in general, are the limits that people set in relationships to show where one person ends and the other begins.
That may sound confusing, but it basically means that people have distinct and separate needs.
This is an important concept to grasp if you want to establish healthy relationship boundaries.
You are not your spouse, and your spouse is not you.
Everyone has unique experiences, needs, desires, beliefs, and values, as well as boundaries.
These are not fixed characteristics that one just inherits from one’s parents or at birth; rather, they are developed over time in a unique way.
And without these boundaries, it’s difficult to distinguish between your spouse’s needs and your own.
For example, you may believe that it’s your sole purpose to meet their needs while ignoring your own, which is not only a mistake but also foolishness.
True, many of us use personal boundaries every day, but there are times when the fear of disappointing others, guilt, anxiety, or low self-esteem can get in the way of establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Another unfortunate aspect of such a reality is that some people, including our family or spouses, may take advantage of it at times.
Furthermore, people who are highly empathetic frequently struggle to maintain proper boundaries because their desire to help others can be overwhelming, causing problems at times.
It is also possible to have extremely rigid boundaries.
People who have been hurt in the past or who are afraid of losing control often establish firm and inflexible boundaries, which has a significant impact on their relationships.
For example, if one partner in a relationship is always rigid and set in their ways, the other partner may find it difficult to make any changes or compromises, which can lead to tension and conflict in the relationship.
When tension and conflict occur too frequently in a relationship, it can lead to isolation or difficulty maintaining a deep connection with each other.
Furthermore, those with rigid boundaries commonly have difficulty trusting others and may not listen to other people’s thoughts or ideas.
The point is that personal boundaries are used in many areas of life and appear far more frequently than you may realise.
The following are some of the most common types of boundaries and where you might encounter them in your daily life.
Physical boundaries are anything that has to do with your physical body.
It includes aspects such as personal space, physical needs, intimacy, and privacy.
Those with weak personal boundaries may find it difficult to tell someone when they have been touched inappropriately.
When their physical needs are not met, they may also fail to speak up.
For example, they may not tell others when they are hungry or tired of the fear of being an inconvenience or disappointing someone else.
- “I’m not a big fan of hugs,” for example, is an example of a healthy physical boundary. “I’d rather shake hands.”
- “I don’t like it when I’m touched in that way.”
- “I’m beginning to get hungry.” “Would you like to go out to eat with me?”
- “I need some alone time, but I’ll be able to talk later.”
Mental or Intellectual Boundaries
Mental and emotional boundaries are concerned with thoughts, opinions, and feelings.
When it comes to their own thoughts and opinions, people can become forceful at times, expecting others to have the same thoughts and opinions.
People may become angry or upset if they do not share them.
Everyone has the right to hold their own beliefs and opinions.
When someone else’s point of view becomes too forceful or angry, it’s a good idea to end the conversation and set a boundary.
The following are examples of healthy mental boundaries:
- “I don’t think we can have a productive discussion about this subject without getting heated.” Let’s find another topic to discuss.”
- “It’s fine that we have different points of view. We are not required to agree on everything.”
- “I’m not sure how I feel about this.”
- “It’s not the best time for us to talk about this right now, but we can talk about it another time.”
Spiritual or Religious Boundaries
In the same way that people have deeply held personal beliefs, spiritual or religious boundaries are similar to mental boundaries.
Setting spiritual or religious boundaries entails having the freedom to worship or observe religion in the manner that you believe is correct.
Although religion is often based on community, and religious leaders are common sources of instruction, each individual must develop their own personal beliefs and ethics.
- “I can’t participate in this activity because it goes against my personal beliefs,” is an example of a healthy spiritual boundary.
- “I pray before I eat a meal; you are welcome to join me.”
- “I disagree with your interpretation of that, but it doesn’t have to stand in the way of our relationship.”
Having emotional boundaries implies acknowledging that everyone has their own set of thoughts and emotions.
In order to set healthy boundaries, you must first recognise that your feelings are distinct from those of others and that you are not solely responsible for their emotions.
While it is important to be sensitive to the feelings of others, it is not your responsibility to ensure that everyone is content all of the time.
It’s okay to have different opinions on certain issues, and it’s also okay to express your emotional needs.
Those who have tight personal boundaries, on the other hand, may find it difficult to consider the sentiments and emotional needs of others.
Their emotions may be tightly guarded, and they may refuse to reveal them or ask about someone else’s feelings.
They may be uncomfortable with the idea of someone else having views or feelings that differ from their own.
- “Even though it’s not your goal when you say things like that, it hurts my feelings” is an example of a good emotional boundary.
- The conversation about these personal concerns in your life would be wonderful, but I don’t have the emotional stamina to do so right now. “Do you mind if we pick it up again tomorrow?”
- “When you speak to me in that manner, it gives the impression that you are putting me down. That’s not how I want to be feeling. “Could you please try communicating with me in a different manner?”
- “I’m having a pretty bad day and I’d like to talk to someone who understands. “Would you be able to make yourself available to listen?”
Time and Energy Boundaries
Another form of personal boundary is one that is set by time and energy.
The breaching of this form of personal boundary is rather simple, especially for someone who is concerned about letting others down.
Consider a scenario in which an employee is repeatedly requested to take on additional responsibilities at work without receiving extra compensation.
Someone with weak personal boundaries might continue accepting the workload without saying anything.
Personal boundaries in terms of time and energy may also be tested when it comes to family.
Depending on your family’s expectations, they may also expect you to freely give up your time to watch their children, assist them with household chores, or organize events.
Now, the act of helping your family is natural and commendable, but it should not be done at the expense of one’s own needs.
On the other hand, someone who has strict boundaries may be completely cut off from supporting others or might be very tight with donating time or energy to others.
They may also refuse every volunteer opportunity and refuse to participate in family activities or extra tasks at the office.
Examples of appropriate time or energy boundaries include:
- “I would love to help watch your kids so you can go on a date, but I’m not available this weekend. Let’s get together and go over our calendars to figure out when the kids can come over.”
- “I’ve been given a lot of new duties at work during the last few months. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn so much about the industry through first-hand experience. Kindly notify me of any promotional opportunities that may be available. I am really interested in learning more about them. Could this be an appropriate time to discuss about that now?”
- “I’ll be unavailable to work this weekend because I’ll be spending time with my family.”
Material or Financial Boundaries
Material goods or finances are another areas that require personal boundaries.
Growing up with siblings or living with a roommate you may experience times when someone uses your belongings without permission.
You may also have a friend or family member who is always asking for money or expecting you to pay for things.
It’s good to be generous, but there are times when people will take advantage of someone’s kindness.
They may also borrow things and return them in a bad state, or they may continually ask for money.
Financial boundaries may also be necessary for relationships in which money is shared.
For example, one spouse may be freer with spending than another.
This will require clear communication from both parties so each person can feel comfortable with the household spending.
Examples of healthy material or financial boundaries include:
- “I’m happy for you to borrow my car, but it’s important to me that you return it in the shape it was given to you when you borrowed it.”
- “I won’t be able to contribute financially at this time, but I’d be happy to help in other ways.”
- “I wish I could come on that trip this weekend, but it doesn’t fit into my budget. Please let me know the next time you’d like to do something like this.”
As you can see, setting boundaries is an important part of laying a strong foundation for healthy relationships.
However, each type of relationship presents its own set of dynamics and challenges, as well as its own set of boundary issues for you to deal with.
So, in the following section, we’ll look at healthy relationship boundaries, specifically as they relate to romantic relationships and relationships with parents, to get a better sense of what’s required in these specific contexts.
What are healthy relationship boundaries?
Personal boundaries, as previously stated, are an important way for you and others to maintain healthy relationships.
The same is true for any romantic or marital relationship.
When you and your partner have healthy relationship boundaries, you and your partner will feel more secure because you both know and understand what is expected of you.
For example, when we share physical, emotional, and sexual space, it’s critical that both parties understand the ground rules and who is responsible for what.
While it may appear that “rules” detract from the romance or love in a relationship, the exact opposite is true.
People in a healthy relationship consider each other’s feelings and needs, express gratitude, respect differences, and ask permission before steaming ahead with decisions.
That’s where relationship boundaries come into play.
Boundaries are especially important in romantic relationships because they help you know where you end and your spouse begins.
Marriages and committed relationships usually thrive on boundaries that respect both partners equally and do not favour one over the other.
For example, it isn’t reasonable for one partner to always be in charge of something in the relationship, such as planning dates or finding a babysitter unless both agree that one partner is better at it and the other takes on a responsibility that is just as important to the smooth operation of your family.
In the same breath, neither partner should have unreasonable expectations of the other.
Requests that are not specific, such as “just pick up the kids occasionally” or “don’t spend a lot of money this month,” are too broad.
Boundaries should also not be used to manipulate your partner or have double standards.
Telling your partner that unless they call you from work every day, you will not have sex with them, or that if they don’t do something specific, you will hurt yourself are examples of manipulating the other person’s behaviour and are not intended to establish healthy boundaries.
When it comes to healthy relationship boundaries, one of the biggest limitations is that many couples never talk about them at all.
They frequently expect their partner to know what they are thinking, want, or believe about boundaries.
This is common among long-married couples.
One would think that because a couple has been together for a long time, they would know what their boundaries are, but this is not always the case.
Long-term couples frequently grow as individuals, but the relationship does not keep up and falls behind, resulting in the couple not knowing what the other wants, desires, feels, or craves for.
As a result, they may frequently just fill in the blanks, i.e. assume what the other person wants but be incorrect.
Communication about who takes out the garbage, whether you can have lunch with someone from the opposite sex at work, and who will cook each night are all issues that MUST be discussed and resolved between you, and that conversation NEVER ends because we are ever-evolving beings.
Finally, healthy boundaries will NEVER limit your freedom as a spouse unless you are engaging in behaviour that you have both agreed is off-limits, and the moment it does should be a major red flag.
Respect for one another’s preferences and preferences of one’s spouse should be a key component of healthy boundaries.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and Boundaries
In 1967 Rhythm and Blues sensation Aretha Franklin made the song, “Respect” a top single.
But, it has been even farther back that psychologists and scholars have recognized the value of respect and boundaries.
To respect, someone means that you admire them for their abilities or qualities.
But what does respect in your relationship look like?
Respecting yourself and your spouse entails offering and accepting support from your partner.
When they are going through a difficult time in their lives, you offer them reassurance and support.
If something bothers you, you speak up.
That also implies that you should never keep things to yourself, but rather communicate with your partner with respect and consideration for their point of view.
Respecting your spouse further entails understanding that your partner’s wants and needs and feelings are valuable in the same way that yours are.
That awareness should motivate you to make an effort to keep their desires front and centre in your life, and to let them know you’re doing so.
In other words, you do not intend to overlook what they desire, although this may occur occasionally.
As I’m sure you already know, but it bears repeating: mutual respect is essential if you want to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship.
Furthermore, respect and boundaries are inextricably linked and essential components of any healthy relationship.
But why is that?
Why are healthy boundaries important?
As I’ve already alluded to, healthy boundaries help maintain healthy relationships and promote stronger mental health and security in life.
And here are some of the main reasons why it’s important to set healthy relationship boundaries:
Healthy Boundaries Encourage Healthy Self-Care Practices
One of the primary reasons healthy boundaries are so important is that they are a necessary component of self-care.
Self-care can have a reputation for being self-centred, and those who are naturally empathetic or helpful may feel obligated to spend that energy helping others.
There’s no doubt that caring for others is a noble goal, but the adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” also applies here.
Those who continually expend all of their emotional, physical, and financial resources on others will eventually become depleted, stressed, and frustrated; it is only a matter of time.
They may even begin to experience feelings such as anger or depression, which may cause them to react in ways that harm others – the exact opposite of what they want to do.
Healthy boundaries, on the other hand, help a person avoid this by encouraging self-care practices, which include more than just going to the spa or shopping online.
Self-care entails taking care of one’s own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
It entails setting appropriate boundaries and listening to your mind and body when you’re pushing yourself too far or allowing others to push you too far, particularly when it comes to meeting the needs and desires of others.
Healthy Boundaries Allow You to Be Open to the World
On the other end of the spectrum, however, are those whose boundaries are extremely rigid and strict, posing personal challenges for many.
As previously stated, people with rigid boundaries frequently desire a high level of control in their lives, which can spill over into their relationships with others.
That means they don’t like being controlled by others and could be cautious of allowing people into their inner circle.
A person with rigid boundaries could also have a history of trauma or abuse, which explains their excessive need for creating over-the-top certainty in their lives through very rigid boundaries and rules.
They could believe that having strong personal boundaries will protect them from future trauma.
It’s understandable to want to isolate oneself after being hurt, but it can also prevent a person from living the life they desire.
Furthermore, those who build walls between themselves and others may succeed in reducing the likelihood of being hurt again, but they could also struggle to form deep and meaningful relationships with others as a natural byproduct of overly strict boundaries.
These relationships seem to be commonly shallow and unsatisfying, and others may interpret the barriers as indicating that the person is uncaring or uninterested.
Having healthy boundaries means allowing someone who is very strict with their boundaries to open up to the world a little more, but the challenge is finding ways to maintain personal boundaries while still allowing others in, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
At this point, for the sake of comparison, I believe it’s also necessary to consider what constitutes unhealthy boundaries in relationships in order to develop the ability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy boundaries in your own life.
But, once again, the goal is not to become overly focused on specific examples of healthy and unhealthy boundaries, but rather to learn the important underlying principles of boundaries.
What are unhealthy boundaries in relationships?
As you have probably already realised, maintaining healthy relationship boundaries entails respecting each other’s privacy, setting limits on acceptable behaviour, and communicating openly with one another.
In the same breath, unhealthy relationship boundaries are the polar opposite and frequently involve crossing privacy lines, disrespecting personal space, and displaying controlling or manipulative behaviour.
For example, one spouse may read the other partner’s text messages without permission on a regular basis or demand to know where they are at all times.
Another example is one spouse constantly putting the other down or making them feel guilty for spending time with friends or family.
It’s also critical to recognise and address unhealthy boundaries when they appear, as this often indicates a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.
Some of these deeper issues could be:
- feeling unsafe or unsupported in one’s life
- feeling insecure or unworthy of love and attention
- having difficulty regulating emotions and impulses
- feeling disconnected or estranged from oneself
- being raised in a family where there was little emotional expression or intimacy
Now, it’s critical to understand that if unhealthy boundaries are the result of deeper underlying issues, then there may be bigger issues that need to be addressed, such as unresolved anger, resentment, or hurt, because these deeper issues can lead to even more unhealthy relationships with others, such as a reluctance to let people get close or a tendency to push people away.
As a result, unless these underlying issues are addressed, unhealthy boundaries and unhealthy relationships are likely to persist.
So, with that in mind, the question is…
How can you tell if your relationship boundaries are healthy or unhealthy?
To be honest, determining whether or not a relationship boundary is healthy can be difficult because there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
However, some key considerations include whether or not the boundary feels equitable and respectful to both parties involved, as well as whether or not it allows both people to grow and feel fulfilled.
If either person feels manipulated, or if the boundary prevents either person from reaching their goals, it is most likely an unhealthy boundary.
Some examples include when one spouse consistently demands things like time, money, or sex and does not reciprocate, or when one spouse consistently makes all of the decisions in the relationship and ignores the other’s needs or input.
A healthy relationship, in my opinion, should typically be equal and balanced.
When a marriage becomes unequal and unbalanced, with one spouse taking the exclusive lead and making almost all of the decisions based on their beliefs, values, desires, expectations, and goals, while the other spouse is completely ignored, the relationship is on a downward spiral.
That naturally leads to the question of how to set healthy boundaries in a relationship, because no couple I can think of who genuinely loves each other wants their relationship to fail.
However, in order to avoid relationship disaster, a couple must learn how to set healthy boundaries and, more importantly, how to enforce them.
How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Any Type of Relationship
To begin, I’d like to emphasise how important it is to learn how to establish healthy boundaries in all areas of your life, including with your friends, family, coworkers, children, roommates, partners, and so on.
Having said that, each person’s experience will be unique.
At the end of the day, you have the best understanding of your relationships and which ones could benefit from stronger or more flexible boundaries.
If you have a toxic friend or relative in your life, for example, you may need to set very strict boundaries.
Others may find it as simple as learning to say “no” when they are not keen to do something.
In the following and final section of this post, we’ll look at some strategies for establishing healthy boundaries in two of the most common types of relationships: romantic relationships (i.e. marriage) and relationships with your parents (assuming you’re an adult child).
In my experience, these two types of relationships typically present numerous challenges for many people and can have a negative impact on a family’s well-being and happiness.
Each of these relationship contexts has its own set of dynamics that necessitate a different approach, but the principle of setting healthy boundaries is the same in both.
Take the tips that will help you and your relationships and ignore the parts that will not help you.
Setting Healthy Boundaries in Romantic Relationships
It is easy to blur healthy boundaries in the early stages of a romantic relationship.
We are also much more flexible and adaptive at the beginning of a romantic relationship because we are “in love.”
Our own biology isn’t our best friend when it comes to rational decision-making during the early stages of any romantic relationship because our brain floods our system with feel-good chemicals that cause us to overlook certain things much easier and make decisions we wouldn’t normally make.
During the infatuation stage of a relationship, our brains flood our systems with love chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin, making us feel happy, euphoric, and loved.
Dopamine is responsible for the excitement and pleasure we feel when we fall in love.
When we are in love, oxytocin is responsible for feelings of happiness, euphoria, and security.
Vasopressin is responsible for our sense of attachment to our partner.
However, these chemicals return to normal levels over time, and we tend to return to our default position, which is also often the time when we realise certain things about our new relationship, leading us to either continue, make some changes, or walk away entirely.
However, in terms of boundaries, during the early stages of a relationship, your romantic bonding with the person may cause you to overlook or accept things that would typically cross your boundaries.
But, as difficult as it is, if you do not establish healthy boundaries early in a relationship, it may become more difficult, and require more effort and communication to establish later.
Moreover, the longer you put off setting healthy boundaries in your relationship, the more likely it is that the two of you might end up in a marriage that is doomed after 30 years of unhappiness due to unaddressed unhealthy boundaries at the start.
So, in order to avoid all of that, you must work hard in a romantic relationship to communicate and set healthy boundaries as soon as possible.
Consider the following when establishing healthy boundaries in a romantic relationship:
Consider what you want out of the relationship.
Sit down and think about what you want from your romantic partner. What are your priorities, and what are your deal-breakers?
Explain to your partner what you hope to gain from the relationship.
Let your partner know what you want from the relationship as you get to know them.
Let them know, for example, if you want to take things slowly and get to know them better. If you want to get married and have children someday, tell them as the relationship develops.
Discuss your core beliefs with your partner.
This is something that is unlikely to change (or at least not easily).
It will be difficult to reconcile if you and your romantic partner have vastly differing fundamental values.
The most important thing is to be honest about your core beliefs so that they don’t come as a shock afterwards in the relationship.
Recognize that you are unique individuals with wide and varied ideas and viewpoints.
It’s impossible to find someone who thinks exactly as you do in every situation.
In fact, being in a relationship with someone who holds a different viewpoint is frequently a good way to grow.
Allowing your partner to have different thoughts and opinions, and them to do the same for you, is a good way to establish that you are separate people who are free to be different.
Clearly communicate your physical boundaries.
Intimacy and physical touch are important components of romantic relationships, but not everyone has the same needs or boundaries. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t keep it from your partner out of fear of hurting their feelings. When you don’t like something, please let them know.
Finances can become a huge source of contention.
One of you may be extravagant, while the other is frugal.
So, discuss your financial expectations with one another sooner rather than later.
Clearly communicate your emotional boundaries.
Certain things have the potential to hurt or upset you. You might try to keep these things from your partner, but it’s better to let them know when something bothers you.
Communication is crucial in almost every romantic relationship problem.
If there’s anything you would like to add here, please let me know in the comments below.
Now let’s talk about how to establish healthy boundaries with our parents.
Setting Healthy Boundaries With Your Parents
As you grow older, you will notice that your relationship with your parents changes.
They were once there to care for you and guide you in almost every aspect of your life.
However, once you reach adulthood, their role should lessen, allowing you to make your own decisions.
For some families, the separation process can be difficult and even painful for the parents.
The situation will be made even more difficult if one or both of your parents exhibit narcissistic tendencies and an excessive desire to be the centre of attention, remain involved, and exercise control over things in general, including your life.
Though in the best of circumstances, establishing healthy boundaries with your parents can be a difficult task.
Part of this could be attributed to the fact that they looked after us for the first 20 years of our lives.
Another factor could be that not only is it a transition for them when we move out, but it is also a transition for us, and transitions can be difficult at times.
As a result, we may reach out to our parents quite frequently at first, which keeps them involved, but this must change as we learn to stand on our own two feet.
So, when it comes to setting healthy boundaries with your parents, keep in mind that it will take some time and communication.
It may even take several uncomfortable conversations before you reach an agreement on how you want your relationship with your parents to look.
However, in order to maintain a healthy relationship with your parents and your own well-being, it’s critical that you recognise the importance of healthy boundaries and set them up from the start, just as you would in a romantic or marriage relationship.
Here are some pointers for establishing healthy boundaries with your parents:
Inform them of your availability.
Most parents expect their children to help around the house and to attend all family events.
Your availability will change as you get older.
You may still want to assist your parents on occasion, but you will develop your own responsibilities.
You may also discover that you are unable to attend every family gathering, especially as you begin your own family.
Let your parents know when you’ll be available and try to give them advance notice.
Allow time for them to process the fact that you will be missing a favourite holiday.
Be kind in everything you do.
There’s nothing wrong with being honest and direct with your parents about your boundaries, but it will go much more smoothly if you do so with kindness and respect.
Your parents have spent your entire life taking care of you.
Approaching this subject with respect and empathy will go a long way towards making them feel valued and loved.
Consider your boundaries.
Allow yourself some time to consider how involved your parents should be in your life and inform them of any boundaries you establish.
At the end of the day, as we’ve mentioned several times, boundaries help to protect our own well-being as well as the well-being of the relationships we have.
Setting healthy boundaries in marriage, in particular, contributes to the development of a healthy relationship in which each spouse feels respected and valued.
Setting boundaries with parents, on the other hand, can help to foster a more loving and encouraging relationship with them.
Boundaries ultimately aid in the establishment and protection of our personal space, as well as in conveying our wishes and preferences to others.
And when we feel safe and secure within our boundaries, we are more able to communicate effectively and build positive relationships over time.
All of this may be a lot to take in if you haven’t given much thought to healthy boundaries in your relationships or if you’re trying to establish them for the first time.
As a first step, you should consider what you want from your relationships with others.
What’s working right now, and what isn’t?
How would you like to strengthen your boundaries, or where are they too strict?
And, when it comes to setting boundaries, it’s probably best to start with those closest to you, such as your marriage and parents.
The reality is that you are unlikely to wake up one day with perfect boundaries with everyone around you.
Instead, choose one relationship to focus on first and begin working on it.
But, as you do so, don’t be disheartened if you encounter resistance, which is likely, especially if your spouse or parent is accustomed to having complete control over your life.
They will almost certainly object.
It’s natural for someone to be surprised or frustrated when you introduce new boundaries that they’re not used to, but this is all part of the process.
Just try to be patient and kind to those around you as they adjust to the changes.
Also, be patient and kind to yourself.
When someone crosses a boundary that you’ve set, it’s easy to feel defeated, but it takes time and effort to effectively set healthy personal boundaries.
Just take it one step by step, and you’ll soon find yourself with stronger relationships, less stress, and more peace of mind.