- When we’re in an intimate relationship with someone, our worlds get mixed—but it’s important to maintain individual boundaries.
- We can have healthy boundaries around time, privacy, activity, friends, sex and other areas.
- Healthy boundaries aren’t selfish.
- By being direct and clear we can have a good conversation with our partners about boundaries that make us feel respected and valued in the relationship.
Blending vs boundaries
When you’re in an intimate personal relationship, there’s usually some blending between the two of you. You share time, space, activity, thoughts, feelings, and you start to merge into what can feel like a single unit—a couple. That’s good, and a part of intimacy.
If this blending doesn’t happen, it can become an “Are you into this or not?” problem in the relationship.
But successful blending can present a different kind of problem, which is merging so much that you lose sight of your own worlds—inner, outer and even body.
This can lead to both people making big assumptions about each other and trampling over the other person’s needs—or it can lead to individuals making excessive sacrifices to please the other person. Neither of these is good!
It’s good for your own personal health and wellbeing, as well for the relationship, if both of you can define boundaries and maintain parts of yourselves that are truly independent.
Healthy boundaries should be clear and simple, and should focus on preserving your own autonomy rather than trying to control the other person.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to define your own boundaries, but here are some suggestions:
You should be able to have your own friends:
- “I’m going out with Bassem and Christine. See you later.”
You should have some time to yourself:
- “I’m going out for a couple of hours.”
You should be able to define what you want to keep private from each other:
- “I want our phones to be treated as private spaces.”
But also private from people outside the relationship:
- “I don’t want you telling other people about my mental health issues.”
You might have boundaries about how you communicate and how much you communicate with each other:
- “I get exhausted texting all day. I just want to check in at the beginning and end of the day.”
You get to say no to sex and physical intimacy if you don’t want it:
- “I don’t feel like sexytime right now.”
You should have activities that you enjoy doing just for yourself, or with other friends. This could include work, sport, hobbies, travel, whatever:
- “I don’t want to look after the kids full time. I want to get a job so I can earn some money and spend time with other adults.”
You might want boundaries around having your own money, savings or bank accounts:
- “I want us to have a shared account for our shared expenses, but also have private accounts for just our own personal spending money.”
You should have boundaries around how you argue and resolve conflicts:
- “I’m not going to have you yelling at me. I’ll listen to what’s making you upset, but you need to explain it to me calmly.”
Vague boundaries can be confusing for your partner. “I need my own space.” How would your partner know what that means? It helps if you can be clear, or at least work it out together as you go.
Are boundaries selfish?
Setting boundaries so you can preserve your own inner and outer worlds, and your own body—that’s healthy and good.
Setting your boundaries but ignoring your partner’s boundaries—that’s unfair and selfish.
Setting boundaries that don’t allow any room for your partner—that’s a different kind of selfishness, one that might make your partner wonder why they are in the relationship at all.
Relationships are about balance, and boundaries should be part of that balance.
Talking about your boundaries
In a supportive and respectful relationship, it shouldn’t be hard to talk about boundaries.
- Think about what you want and don’t want. Start with the healthy boundary suggestions above. This will help you get some clarity.
- Tell your partner that you want to talk about what you both want from a relationship. (You don’t have to be as direct as, “I want to set some boundaries” or “We need to talk about rules”.) Set it up as a conversation about what you both want and don’t want in a relationship, what makes you feel good, safe and wanted, and what you find overbearing or alienating.
- Make sure your partner knows that you love them, and this is not about trying to punish or control them, but about balancing your love for them with your need for some personal freedom and identity.
- Try to describe your boundaries as specifically and directly as possible.