Boundaries for a Healthy Romance

by Gary Gilles

Having clear boundaries in relationships is like knowing where the fence divides your property from your partner’s

We live in a world full of property lines. If you’re a homeowner, a precise line marks the boundaries of your property. At work, cubicle walls define your space and your coworkers’.

We all know these lines distinguish what’s yours from what belongs to someone else.

Romantic relationships have these boundaries, too – invisible lines that define you just as a property line defines a parcel of land.

In romantic relationships, boundaries can be tricky. On one hand, it seems normal to want to lose yourself in your partner. On the other, it’s crucial that you hold on to your own identity.

Clear boundary lines help you determine where you start and where you stop. They help define which responsibilities in a relationship are yours, and which ones belong to your partner.

Healthy boundaries are your way of saying, “I’ll do everything I can to take full responsibility for what’s mine.”

Some of the things that belong to you include your:

  • Body
  • Words
  • Emotions
  • Attitudes
  • Values

When these lines are clear and respected by each person, emotional intimacy has a strong foundation to grow upon. But when boundary lines aren’t understood or honored, problems arise.

When your partner oversteps your boundaries, it’s usually accidental – but it’s often destructive just the same. Much is left unsaid, feelings are hurt, emotional distance widens and the result can be an unsatisfying relationship that has largely broken down because boundaries weren’t respected or discussed.

Here are some behaviors that can signal boundary problems in a romantic relationship:

  • Saying “yes” to your partner, when in fact you’d rather say “no” – this is usually done to please the other person or to avoid conflict
  • Saying “no” when it might be perfectly appropriate to say “yes” – this is often done to keep a partner at arm’s length, or punish him or her. Good boundaries require honesty. Neither of these behaviors are honest ways to communicate.

Other typical boundary problems include:

  • Making your partner try read your mind, instead of saying specifically what you’re thinking or feeling
  • Trying to control your partner’s thoughts or behavior through aggressive or subtle manipulation

Here are some tips that can help you establish and maintain healthy boundaries:

  • Communicate your thoughts and emotions honestly and clearly. When your

head says “yes,” but your heart says “no,” you don’t need to choose one over the other.  It’s better to tell your partner that you’re unsure, or that you need time to think about it.

  • Don’t try to guess your partner’s thoughts or emotions. Each of you has your own thoughts and feelings, and you’re responsible for putting them into words so you can be understood. This way, your partner doesn’t need to guess.
  • Take responsibility for your choices. Instead of blaming your partner for how you feel or for what’s happening, ask yourself how your choices – purposeful or accidental – contributed to the situation.
  • Express your feelings without blaming your partner. For example, it’s much better to say something like, “I feel hurt because of our misunderstanding” than to say, “You made me feel hurt because of the way you said that.”

With practice you will be better able to identify where the boundary should be in your relationship. Remember, boundaries help define what belongs to you and what belongs to your partner. To have healthy boundaries you should only take responsibility for what belongs to YOU.

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