How to Set Boundaries in Dating and Relationships
The Value of Healthy Boundaries
One of the most painful and difficult experiences we can have as humans is setting boundaries with people we care about. We would never want to limit them or our relationships, but healthy boundaries are absolutely crucial to mental health for both sides of the parties.
When we don't have healthy boundaries, we can find ourselves being taken advantage of or hurt emotionally. In this hub, I'll describe different types of relationship boundaries for friends, romantic partners, and relatives, so scroll down for more specific details!
"Who are you to talk?"
Despite my short years on this planet, I've always been really good at knowing my limits with other people. I understand what each party wants and needs in life, which then allows me to see what is too much for that specific union.
People regularly ask me for advice regarding their relationship issues. In my own life, I tend to be too good at building boundaries, so they should balance out for you!
Plus, I'd like to reiterate the value of healthy boundaries. Even if the relationship is good otherwise, it is never okay for people to take advantage of others. This can be very difficult for close relationships since the lines often blur, but I'll help you get a handle of these very confusing and ambiguous lines of contact.
An Exercise in Self-Acceptance
It's very difficult to learn self-respect, but self-acceptance is one path you can take towards that final destination. None of these are easy, but listen to your feelings. If you're going out with a bunch of friends and someone says something that offends you, sit with that negative feeling and unhappiness for a moment.
- Why does it offend you?
- What feels bad about it?
- Did they say it to hurt you or others?
- What sort of life would they have to live to believe saying that is okay?
- Do you feel like this person is a good or positive influence in your life otherwise?
Make a mental note to watch for similar behaviors in the future, or to remember to let them roll of your shoulders if they would never mean to cause harm.
And yes, I do know that line of thinking is rather complex and lasts more than a moment. At first, it will take a lot of contemplating to figure out the answers, but eventually, it will become second nature.
1. Have self-respect.
This is, perhaps, the most challenging facet of developing strong, healthy relationships. Often, we feel so driven by a need for closeness that we will overlook very bad, dangerous behaviors.
It's sad to say, but you can't expect others to treat you the way you want to be treated.
Now, this isn't always a bad thing. It comes from the fact that you're the only person who can really know you. Other people might think that one particular behavior is good and friendly, whereas you find it mean and hurtful.
Without knowing who you are and respecting that, you cannot have healthy relationships. It would require the other person to be psychic to give you what both you and they need!
By learning to accept and respect yourself, you'll be able to learn more about the inner motivations of your friends and loved ones, which will allow you to have stronger, better relationships.
Although introspection is similar to both self-respect and self-acceptance, there are subtle differences. First, you can't have self-respect without introspection. You need to learn who you are before you can truly internalize a love of yourself.
That means that you really need to spend time identifying what matters to you, and why. Believe me, I know that's difficult. As a perpetually introspective person, I never understood why people struggled to know who they really were. After decades of discussing identity with people, I learned to appreciate the beauty of learning who you are throughout a lifetime.
Some of the best ways to learn who you are and what matters most to you is to reflect. This can be done in countless ways, but I often focus most when I'm somewhere kind of busy and have time for quiet. This could be a room with a really loud, distracting wall paper that gives me a thousand and one ways to focus or a busy restaurant or cafe. With so much stimulation around you, it's easier to just grab one image or sound and just follow it.
If you tend to focus best in silence, consider lighting a candle and watching the flames (or watching waves roll in on a beach). Giving yourself something to watch that is natural and continuous can really spark deep introspection.
It can also be great to ask yourself key questions like:
- "Who am I?"
- "What do I really want in life?"
- "Am I on a healthy path?"
- "What needs to change for me to live the life I'm dreaming of?"
Write out a list of the top 5 things that matter most to you and another 5 things you want to do before you die. Reflect on these often, and make them happen! Healthy relationships are only possible with people doing their life's work.
3. Know the other person.
Just like you must reflect upon and accept yourself, you also need to spend time inside the head of the other person. How did they get to this point in their life? What drives them? Do they need an emotional crutch to get by, or are they independent and self-reliant?
Without getting into their head and considering what really makes their human machine run, you won't be able to understand the dynamics that come into play when you're together.
4. Learn to recognize bad behaviors.
This is both one of the easiest and most difficult of the healthy relationship building practices. Why? It requires you to look outside of your immediate situation and reflect on the big picture.
Many unhealthy relationships tend to be codependent in some ways. Look for behaviors that fit into the following categories from both you and the other person. For more information on these different types, including specific behaviors, please read more from Codependents Anonymous.
Patterns of Codependency
This is often emotional denial of the self. You often don't know what you really feel or want.
You might not ask for what you really need in life because you don't believe you're good enough or deserving of it.
You push away your own needs and desires to make sure other people have everything they need or want, even when that's dangerous or unhealthy.
You need to be "needed," and find ways to ingratiate yourself into the lives of others.
You avoid understanding who you really are, creating close relationships, and showing any signs of weakness (whether that comes from showing emotions or exposing your insecurities).
Fighting like these birds?
4. Accept that love is messy.
When you first start looking into relationship advice, it can become overwhelming. If you look at the list of codependent behaviors above, you might be able to see pieces of yourself in each element. How can you ever be healthy and happy if you've got all of these dangerous ways of thinking and being??
Here's what you need to remember: It's okay to have issues! With the right people, you can work through some of your problems. With the wrong people, these problems will flare up and become unbearable.
Love is messy. Relationships are rarely clean cut or simple. Know who you are, what you really want and need, and match those with good people.
5. Take your own medicine.
If you hold people to high expectations, you need to do the same for yourself. Instead of drawing out improbable and unrealistic maps of human behavior, cut yourself (and everyone else) a break. Accept yourself, accept other people, and focus more on treating people right.
Another way to gauge if a relationship is healthy or not is to ask yourself, "Would I let my brother/sister/parent/friend be in the same sort of relationship I'm in?"
If you would tell your sister to ditch her jerk of a husband for the same behaviors your spouse demonstrates, you need to make a change. Be honest with yourself!
"Do I have a healthy relationship?"
How to Build Healthy Friendships
One of the best ways to build healthy friendships is to start off by establishing boundaries early on. Pair up with good people, and make sure you stick to your guns from the get-go!
Sometimes, we need to end unhealthy friendships, even if we've had them for years. Those breaks aren't always permanent, and part of being a good friend is sticking through the bad times, but no one deserves to be abused physically, emotionally, or financially.
Do you think your relationships are healthy?
The Need for Healthy Boundaries in Romantic Relationships
Romantic relationships are often more volatile than friendly ones. When sex and love get into the mix, you're really playing with fire. Good judgment wanes and you might want to do everything to help the other person, even when you probably shouldn't.
Since your judgment and reason tend to fly out the window when love is involved, you need to establish parameters of healthy behaviors from the very beginning and then maintain open, nonjudgmental lines of communication from then on.
You need to be able to share your expectations, needs, and desires, and also express your insecurities and discomforts in a safe, understanding way. This is often where the trouble comes in. Maybe when you first met you acted differently (for a variety of reasons). Maybe your partner is insecure and jealous (very natural feelings), and becomes controlling when you discuss past relationships or other topics.
You must build a solid, secure foundation before you can add anything to it. If you can understand where your partner is coming from at all times and if they can do the same for you, you're on the right path!
Family Relationships: There is some flexibility.
The difficulty with family relationships is that those bonds are rather difficult to break when need be. You don't pick who you're born to (well, according to most), and that means you have to play the hands you're dealt.
But, that doesn't mean there isn't wiggle room when it comes to family relationships. The best way to manage familial problems is to listen openly and honestly. Recognize that your family members have hopes, dreams, insecurities, and fears just like you. Whatever they say comes from some primal part of their identity, especially when they say or do hurtful things.
If you can listen non-judgmentally and understand where they're coming from, you can then show you hear their concerns and appreciate them (sincerely). Never throw accusations around; forgive the past.
Always remember that you don't have to communicate with your family. There's always another option, even if it doesn't feel like that's true. If you have a sibling who keeps coming to you for money or calling when they're drunk, you do not have to take those calls and you do not have to say yes.
The situation differs for every individual and every relationship, but accept the power of no, and listen to your gut.