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Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

couple discussing shopping list

It is important to establish healthy boundaries at the beginning of a relationship. True intimacy occurs when you can communicate your needs in the relationship. It is also important to have the capacity to respond and not react during interactions with your partner. In a healthy relationship, you can express yourself freely without the concern of being judged, blamed, or that your partner me overreact, feel hurt or lash out at you. The other person should feel equally as safe. Boundaries also protect us from being manipulated and controlled.

In a healthy relationship, each person will have their own sense of self, which is impossible without healthy boundaries.

So, what exactly are boundaries?

As defined by Pia Melody, boundaries are a system of limit setting that protect a person from being a victim and contain a person so she or he is not offensive to others. The purpose of boundaries is to hold and support a person, in order to protect his or her reality and to establish identity.

There are both internal and external boundaries.

Internal boundaries protect your thoughts and emotions while acting like a filter. The external boundaries protect your physical body and personal property, also controlling distance and touch.

It is important that you realize that it is your right to control how close someone gets to you, whether sexually or non-sexually. Of course, the same is true for your partner.

Boundaries are not walls.

Many confuse having a wall with having a boundary. A healthy boundary is flexible and flowing. It may change in different situations and with different people. For instance, I may sit closer to my daughter than I would to a stranger. I would talk with my best friend about personal issues, but I would not disclose them to the person I don’t know standing next to me in the checkout line.

If you have been hurt in the past in your family of origin and/or relationships, you may have inadvertently built a wall to protect yourself from emotional pain instead of using boundaries. The problem with walls however, is that it is impossible to connect with others on an emotional and heart level this way. It keeps you separate and apart from everything that you truly desire and the connection that you seek. With a wall, there is nothing getting in and nothing getting out. When a wall is employed, you may get feedback from others that they are not quite sure about you, or don’t know the real you, because a part of you is concealed. This may manifest in rigidity and inflexibility.

A partial list of common signs of unhealthy boundaries:

Sharing personal information too soon

Inability to say no

Falling in love before you know a person

Feeling responsible for the happiness of others

Allowing others to make decisions for you

Feeling the need to explain yourself

Apologizing when not necessary

Difficulty setting limits

Letting others define you or your reality

Expecting others to anticipate your wants and needs

Being sexual for others and not self

Use sex as a substitute for love

Using sex to manipulate or control

Answering sexual questions too soon

Standing too close

Asking inappropriate questions

Allowing abuse

Abusing others

Not in touch with feelings

Going against your own belief system to please another

Feeling that you are responsible to take care of the needs of others (other than children, handicapped or elderly)

Another aspect of having healthy boundaries in relationship is to communicate your expectations of the behavior you expect from each other. For example, it is healthy to have time apart, your own friends and time to yourself.

However, you may or may not be comfortable if your partner engaged in certain behaviors with his friends, like going to singles clubs or strip clubs. This expectation would need to be communicated and agreed upon in the beginning of the relationship.

How you would like to be communicated with should also be discussed. Are you ok with text? Do you expect a response to your texts in a timely manner? What about timeliness for dates? Do you feel disrespected if your date is later than agreed upon?

Be sure to discuss exclusivity if this is what you desire for the relationship. If you have healthy boundaries, and an effective communication style with self-esteem, you will never assume.

Lisa Angelini, MAPC, LPC, ACCHT


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