Setting boundaries in relationships is something we often read and hear more about than actually setting some in our own relationships. Setting boundaries in a healthy relationship can be a tricky business, but is very important. Boundaries not only define how your partner can or cannot treat you, but it also gives both of you a guideline to follow to make your relationship a lasting one. To actually understand the need for boundaries and how to set those guidelines in your relationship, we first need to understand what a personal or relationship boundary means and why every relationship needs them.
What are boundaries?
When someone sets boundaries, they are deciding the limits of how others may act toward them and how they will deal with transgressions of those limits. These are the set of rules that say what you are going to accept or not in a relationship and what you committed to give to the relationship and where you stop yourself. It’s a means of identifying the difference between your personal needs and your role in a partnership. Defining boundaries does not mean you are not willing to contribute or put in effort into your marriage. It means you will not bend backwards to accommodate another person’s needs and demands.
Boundaries can be different for different couples based on their individual faith, beliefs, core values, and family history. This set of rules applies to every relationship you come across in life, be it with your parents, friends, colleagues, partner, or kids and also sets the course and direction of your respective associations in life.
How do you know if you need to set boundaries in your relationship?
Every relationship needs some sort of rules or guidelines to make sure both the partners feel safe and flourish as well. If you’re unsure whether you need to define boundaries for your marriage or not, go through the list below, and see how many of these get ticked for you:
- You find yourself bound to say “yes” at times you have wanted to say “no.”
- You cannot say “no” without feeling guilty every time.
- You feel blamed for another person’s feelings or actions.
- You try to blame others for how you feel.
- You feel you have a lack of personal space or scope to grow as individual.
- You feel guilt-ridden and uncomfortable taking out time for yourself.
- You find yourself more invested in your marriage than yourself.
- You feel like you are losing yourself in your marriage.
If you can relate to any or all of the above, it is about time you sit down with your partner and come to a mutually agreed set of healthy boundaries to define your marriage and lead in growing direction.
Benefits of setting boundaries in a relationship
Having a clear set of boundaries and guidelines helps in maintaining a healthier and mutually beneficial relationship, which in turn leads to less anxiety or stress. Here are some of the ways you and your relationship will benefit once you start drawing and respecting these boundaries:
- You will start spending time and effort on yourself again.
- You will find comfort in saying “no” to things you don’t agree with.
- You will become more in sync with yourself
- You will increase self-esteem.
- Your relationship with flourish
- There will be reduced friction in your relationship and personal stress levels.
- You will feel reduced anxiety, anger, and resentment.
What are some healthy boundaries for my marriage?
Each marriage is unique. Every individual has different requirements and expectations from a relationship and different capacity for and dedication to what they can contribute in that relationship as well, which implies that every marriage needs a unique set of guidelines aka healthy boundaries. If you’re unsure where to start from and how to decide here are a few generic boundaries relevant to almost every marriage and relationship. You can work around these to derive the rules that works best between you and your partner.
1. Personal Goals
No doubt you two are a team in your marriage and function together as one with or against the rest of the world, but don’t forget you 2 are separate individuals with your own individual faiths and principles. It is of utmost importance that you make your partner aware of your core values and your personal goals in life and at the same time, let your partner share his/her values and where they come from as well as what they wish to accomplish in life. It is easier to sail together in the same boat if both the partners are aware of the final destination and course of the journey.
It is not necessary that you both want same or similar things in life; what is important is that you both are aware of each other’s individual aspirations and no big surprises shake your boat. Be clear while explaining your ambitions and goals and be all ears to your partner’s aspirations.
2. Financial boundaries
Many couples choose to keep their finances out of their marriage and that’s a personal choice. The idea is to be clear on how you wish to portion your accounts and budget. Will it be a shared and open wallet where both of you deposit and withdraw with no caps or will each of you have to fund your individual bills? Some couples opt for a semi-shared system where they share bigger and common overheads like house rent, electricity bills, groceries, kids’ school fee etc., while paying individually for their personal spending like the gym, travel, or that Gucci bag! What is important is the agreement beforehand.
3. Comfort with saying “yes” and “no”
You will find that this basic rule exists in every healthy relationship and had been preached and pushed by every counselor as a key to happy marriage, or for that matter, every healthy relationship. And rightly so. The comfort and liberty of saying “yes” to your partner’s demands or ideas without feeling obligated to do so is one of the basic requisites in any alliance. Another pre-requisite all the happy couples hold with is ease in saying “no” without feeling guilt about hurting another person’s feelings and be able to express your honest opinion (you have to be polite, of course).
4. Family and friends
Both of you may have planned on creating a world of your own, but there will always be a constellation of family and friends revolving around your world, and it is very important to decide and agree on these boundaries early in a relationship. If you don’t wish to be a part of his/her over the top family functions or he/she doesn’t like to hang-out with your friends at late night parties, be clear in communicating that and also be considerate in understanding of your spouse’s external relationships.
5. Personal boundaries
Define and decide what’s okay for you and what’s not acceptable like how often you wish time alone, how comfortable you are sharing your passwords and bank details, how you feel about PDA, and certain areas or places you don’t like to be touched etc., which brings us to our next point.
6. Physical boundaries
Deciding how far you can go and what territories are off-limit is crucial and respecting each other’s physical boundaries is non-negotiable. Communicate clearly in the beginning about your preferences and what you’re comfortable with in the bedroom and also understand and respect your spouse’s liking and dislikes in bed.
Once you’ve decided to be open about expressing your views and opinions honestly to each other and have the liberty to agree or disagree with their opinions, it is also important to decide the tolerance for these boundaries and how much slack you can cut your partner if the line is crossed. While it might be OK once in a while to binge-watch his/her favorite Netflix series you can’t stand, going through your social media accounts or bank details might not be acceptable. It is important to be clear on how much buffer you both can give for your boundaries.
How to set boundaries in a relationship
Now that you know where and what lines you wish to draw, let’s see how to get it done without inducing a family war:
- Think twice along the imaginary lines you wish to draw and imagine how you expect your partner to react to them. If possible, structure the conversation in your head before sitting down with your significant other.
- Choose the right time to have the dialog. If you know your spouse had a long tiring day, ending that with a “serious talk” might not be the best idea. Instead, wait for right time or better plan for a good moment like Saturday morning when you both wake up fresh and have time for actual conversation.
- Be clear and specific about what you’re asking and also tell them how that’s going to help you both and your relationship as well. Knowing where you are coming from will help them understand and respect your safe space better.
- Be compassionate while having the talk. Remember this is not a business deal where you have to win the negotiation with biggest margin. Be open for discussion and try to be assertive without being aggressive.
What else to keep in mind?
You have done the introspection and came to it with the ideal set of lines to draw for yourself. You have moved forward from the difficult part of having a “serious heart-to-heart without getting into a row.” Now comes the time to put words into actions. These tips will help you stick to your side of boundaries:
- Rule number one here is to recognize that both your and your spouse’s boundaries are equally important and need to be respected.
- Hold on to what you want without being oblivious to what your partner prefers.
- Don’t get into a revenge mood if your partner knowingly or unknowingly crosses the line. Breaking your partner’s boundaries to compensate if your partner violates your limits will only lead to further misunderstanding. The best way to deal with it is to talk about the issue and make it clear how you feel.
- As mentioned before, deciding on tolerance for every boundary will help solve such trespassing issues peacefully.
- Two-way communication is the key. Keep the channels open to communicate what you feel about their lines and share your hesitations if any.
- Revisit these boundaries and go over it whenever one of you feel the need for it.