Importance of Boundaries in Relationships

Importance of Boundaries in Relationships

For most people, the idea of setting boundaries in relationships seem to be a bad one or something that is unnecessary. The reason why they think boundaries in relationships are bad is that they think boundaries keep people apart. However, this assumption is very incorrect.

On the contrary, it is imperative to have personal boundaries in a relationship in order to have a loving relationship. The truth is that a relationship cannot be healthy without establishing and respecting boundaries.

For the most part, we usually don’t give much attention to the existence of boundaries in our daily lives. But there are actually all sorts of boundaries all around us. Some of these boundaries are unspoken or unwritten, while others have regulations backing them.

For example, you would not expect to climb over a neighbor’s fence at an odd hour without someone reprimanding you. Also, civility requires that when driving on a two lane road, you should stay to the right of the center line. Cubicle walls and office spaces also help to mark boundaries in a work environment.

Boundaries are definitely all around us. Their purpose is to help us maintain a well-balanced and functional society. This is vital because everyone is different and in general, our needs, wants, and idiosyncrasies don’t line up.

The question that begs answering at the moment is why should romantic relationships be treated differently in terms of setting boundaries.

It’s interesting that most people in romantic relationships feel that their partners should be able to anticipate their wants and needs. Others feel that setting boundaries will interfere with the romance and spontaneity of their relationship. In essence, people tend to feel that boundaries defeat the essence of love in a relationship.

What are Boundaries in Relationships

Young friends sitting opposite each other near large curtain window

In a very simplistic way, boundaries show us where one thing ends and another begins. In a relationship, a boundary can take the form of a limit you set about what you are comfortable with and how you would prefer to be treated by others.

Boundaries define who you are in a relationship. They define what is you and what is not you. The boundaries created in a relationship are meant to show you where you end and someone else begins. Thus, boundaries help to create a sense of ownership.

Healthy boundaries in relationships also mean accepting responsibility for your feelings and actions. It also means refusing to accept responsibility for another person’s feelings and actions.

The overly nice person lacks assertiveness and the ability to confront, so he attracts controlling and aggressive people.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

In essence, boundaries are really about a relationship you have with yourself. It is like having self-love for yourself. Healthy boundaries allow you to stay true to yourself by honoring your own needs, goals, feelings, and values.

Boundaries in relationships work both ways. Just as you want other people to respect your boundaries, you should also respect their boundaries.

Why Are People Averse to Boundaries?

Truth be told, creating healthy boundaries in relationships is easier said than done. Healthy boundaries are an expression of your self-affirmation about what feels “right” for you and what doesn’t. It is a process which often takes time.

Also, finding the middle path between succumbing to a codependent habit of always wanting to help other people and being overly focused on one’s self can present a difficult challenge for a lot of people.

And while boundaries help to create emotional health, it is people who are emotionally healthy that can readily establish them.

This is why developing healthy boundaries in relationships need inner strength and wisdom. It also requires a kind of compassion that allows you to effectively balance other people’s need with your own.

The overly angry person can’t allow herself to feel helpless or sad, so she finds empathic people who won’t confront her moods.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

Given the above, a lot of people tend to shy away from the responsibility of setting healthy boundaries in relationships. They instead raise questions when confronted with the issue of setting boundaries.

People’s lack of understanding or averseness to boundaries in relationships is often highlighted by the following questions:

  • Are boundaries not selfish?
  • Can I really set boundaries and remain a loving person?
  • Won’t I upset or hurt people by setting boundaries?
  • Is there any connection between boundaries and submission?
  • What do proper boundaries consist of?
  • Why do I feel guilty or afraid when thinking of establishing boundaries?

Importance of Boundaries in Relationships

African-American couple having relationship problem

Setting personal boundaries in relationships is important because it allows you to establish how you want others to behave around you.

In a romantic relationship, setting clear boundary lines help to define where you and your partner begin and end as individuals.

Boundaries create natural limiting lines that help you to distinguish between what is your responsibility and what isn’t.

Also, setting boundaries help to ensure that a relationship is mutually appropriate, respectful, and caring. Thus, healthy boundaries help partners to take each other’s feelings into account, seek permission from each other, and show gratitude.

The rigid, black-and-white person is not able to let go of control, so he seeks out spontaneous, creative people who won’t try to control him.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

Setting healthy boundaries is also a great way to respect your partner’s feelings as well as their different opinions and perspectives.

Healthy boundaries in relationships help partners to communicate and work together more effectively. So, the establishment and respect for individual boundaries in a relationship forms a good foundation for the development of strong emotional intimacy between partners.

Healthy boundaries in a relationship also help to reduce the tendency of partners fighting or wanting to breakup. Also, a partner’s repeated violation or crossing of established boundaries helps to paints a more realistic picture of the health status of the relationship.

Boundary Against Bad Elements

Once again, contrary to the assumptions people have that boundaries in relationships will keep them apart, boundaries are instead intended to stop bad elements from entering into a relationship. Some of these bad elements include abuse, cruelty, harassment, and manipulation.

Thus, healthy boundaries in relationships help to keep things that nurture you inside and keep things that will harm you outside. In essence, established healthy boundaries help you to keep the good in and the bad out.

For instance, certain people might always make you feel uncomfortable, confused and anxious. Such feelings might be a sign that such people are violating your boundaries. This is especially true when you interact with someone who has poor boundaries. Setting proper boundaries lets you keep such individuals out of your space.

Elimination of Blames

One of the benefits of establishing healthy boundaries in relationships is the elimination of blames. This greatly reduces the tendency of one partner blaming the other. This is because boundaries leave no room for the deflection of the ownership of a problem.

The set boundaries allow each partner to take responsibility for their part in any misunderstanding, conflict, or harsh treatment. This way, conflict resolution becomes a lot easier for the partners.

Improved Self-Care and Integrity

The essence of boundaries is to help you first take care of your feelings and what has to do with you. It is only after doing this that you can start thinking about those of other people. This is important because failure to take good care of yourself can easily cause resentment, dissatisfaction, and burnout.

Setting healthy boundaries also prevents you from becoming a doormat for others. It also lets you avoid setting up unnecessary barriers or becoming resentful.

The overresponsible, guilt-ridden person lacks self-care, so she finds self-absorbed people who care for no one but themselves.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

Another beautiful thing about boundaries is that they allow you not only to say what is not OK but also to define your “space”. You feel safe and are better able to protect your integrity and well-being within that space.

Through setting healthy boundaries, you are thus able to differentiate what you want from what other people want from you. As a result, you are able to more effectively control how you respond to the people around you.

Boundaries in Early Romantic Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships - Angry couple backing each other

New lovers generally experience an all-encompassing and overwhelmingly positive feeling in their new relationship. Generally, the personal boundaries between the lovers tend to melt and dissolve during the early infatuation phase. As a result, the lovers generally lose their individual identities and merge together.

However, this initial melting and merging during the infatuation phase is very important. As a natural process, it enables the lovers to bond and build an attachment.

But as is inevitable in any relationship, the quarrels and arguments soon kick in. With time, the lovers start seeing the need for some kind of boundaries in order to keep the relationship from falling part.

Thus, beyond the infatuation phase of an adult romantic relationship, the partners need to start setting boundaries. This will help them to reinstate and maintain their individuality as they build their relationship.

It is thus necessary for the partners to acknowledge each other as separate individuals. Also, they need to develop respect for each other’s boundaries, wants, and goals. Likewise, they need to avoid trying to fix or change the other person.

There is this Jerry McGuire’s “You complete me!” ideology which a lot of people have about intimate relationships. But the truth is that relationships are healthier and more sustainable when partners establish healthy boundaries.

Overall, romantic relationships fare better when the partners preserve their own identities. Together, they can focus their energies in working to build their relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and growth.

Thus, setting healthy boundaries in a romantic relationship help to develop partners who are supportive of themselves on their distinct individual journeys, instead of partners who are lost in one another.

The person who can’t connect or trust easily goes through life without love and attachment, so he finds a warm, caring person who is somewhat helpless and dependent.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

Emotional Boundaries

Of the four types of boundaries – material, physical, mental, and emotional – the emotional aspect is very fundamental to the success of any romantic relationship.

When in romantic relationship, it is important to separate your feelings from those of your partner. The point is that your feelings should not be dependent on your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or moods.

You need to be the custodian of your own feelings without taking on your partner’s feelings. What you are responsible for to your partner is the way you treat them and not to carry the weight of their feelings.

You also need to understand that your feelings are a choice and that you have control over them. By the same token, your partner makes his or her choices about how they feel. Thus, they should take responsibility for them.

Controlled Feelings in Boundaries

Healthy and flexible boundaries in relationships help you to move towards your partners while staying connected to your true feelings.

Allowing other people’s feelings to rule your life makes you vulnerable to manipulations. But this does not mean you do not allow people to influence you. Influence from people has its proper place in helping to build thriving relationships.

Yet, allowing people to influence you doesn’t mean you have to consider other people’s need at the expense of fulfilling your own needs. You also don’t need to compromise your integrity in order to keep harmony in a relationship.

Also, always feeling that you “don’t want to be mean” to others may put you at risk of others violating your boundaries. Having an attitude of not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings often makes you to put your own needs on the back-burner.

When you become really in tune with your feelings, you’ll be better able to take other people’s requests seriously but carefully considering such in the light of your own well-being.

Being in control of your feelings allow you to pause and reflect. This reduces the feeling of having an obligation to immediately respond when people ask you for favors.

So, instead of acting in a knee-jerk manner, you’ll be better poised to more effectively weigh your own needs while still seriously considering those of others.

Setting boundaries in relationships lets you to be more authentic in how you treat other people. This helps to create a climate for more intimate, trusting, and loving relationships.

Setting Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

Having healthy boundaries in relationships entails everything from letting your partner know when you feel disrespected to requesting for time to be alone with yourself.

The first thing to do when trying to establish healthy boundaries in relationships is to know what you’re experiencing. This helps you to identify the limits you can take in the relationship.

The boundaries you are attempting to set are simply an external expression of what you have internally affirmed are important to you. So, your boundaries are an expression of your inner self-affirmation.

This self-affirmation is a process that begins by taking a good long pause. This pause period is for you to try to notice what actually rings true for you and what doesn’t. Yet, becoming clear about what actually feels right for you and what doesn’t can take some time.

Asking yourself certain questions can help to point you in the right direction. For instance:

  • What behaviors would be acceptable to you in the relationship?
  • Are there things you would like to keep private?
  • Do certain things make you feel uncomfortable?
  • What are the things that are very important to you?
  • Do you have any possible deal breakers?

Secondly, you need to communicate these affirmed boundaries to your partner in a respectful way. There is one major reason why a lot of boundary violations occur in relationships. And the reason is the misunderstandings between partners.

There are often instances where one partner has problems with certain behaviors of the other partner but doesn’t let them known. At times such partners keep quiet because they don’t want to rock the boat.

Thirdly, it’s also imperative that you stick to the set boundaries. You should also try to have a plan in place in case of any violations.

Communicating Boundaries in Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships - Happy Couple discussing at table

The root cause of most relationship misunderstandings is the lack of effective communication. The essence of setting boundaries is for your partner to understand how you want them to treat you in the relationship. So, communication plays a vital role in setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships.

This is important because there are a lot of situations where some partners don’t communicate their boundaries. Such partners feel that the other partner ought to understand their boundaries.

This is an unfair and ineffective way of dealing with boundaries in relationships. At the same time, it has the tendency to create confusion and could harm the relationship.

Thus, partners need to develop good and honest communication skills. This will help them to effectively set and keep healthy boundaries in relationships.

There’s also the vital need to be specific and direct in communicating boundaries. The more specific your communication is, the better the boundaries that will be set.

So, the parameters of each partner’s boundaries need to be spelt out in a clear-cut manner.

The healthier your defining boundaries are, the less you will need your protective boundaries.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

For instance, what exactly does cheating as a boundary violation mean? Is cheating just about the physical contact, or is it about going on a lunch date with the opposite sex? Does it entail sharing personal secrets with others, watching porn, or even fantasizing about someone else?

When communicating your boundaries in a relationship, try to be open to hearing how the boundaries affects your partner. Also try to discuss the issue as openly as possible so that both of you feel heard, respected, and cared for.

Once your partner has communicated their boundaries, it is obligatory of you to respect such boundaries. And if you are not too clear about what they said, do yourself a favor and ask for further clarification.

Communicating Personal Boundary Changes

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships is an ongoing conversation between you and your partner. This fact is important because boundaries change over time. And this can go either way.

For instance, as you gain life experiences, you might become comfortable with things that you were earlier uncomfortable with. Conversely, a new or even an old experience might suddenly cross a boundary and you might need to attend to it.

Just as noticing the boundary changes is important, communicating them is also very important. So, you must ensure that you keep each other updated of any possible boundary changes at all times.

So, set healthy boundaries by clearly communicating to your partner what is acceptable and unacceptable to you. Then, make sure you follow through on them. And if your partner should step outside the boundaries, try to call their attention to it.

But if you find yourself reluctant to talk about either initially setting boundaries or about new boundaries changes because of fear of your partner reacting angrily or violently, then you’ve got a red flag to watch out for. In fact, it is a warning of a possible unhealthy or abusive relationship.

By setting such clear-cut boundaries entailing the rules, goals, and expectations for your relationship, you stand a very good chance of having a fulfilling and thriving long-term relationship.

Great relationships are fulfilling.

Great relationships involve risk.

You can’t have the first without the second.

Great relationships require that you be open to taking risks — risks of being misunderstood, of alienation, of someone being hurt by you as well.

Dr. John Townsend Author, “Beyond Boundaries”

In Conclusion…

To establish true healthy boundaries in relationships calls for partners to be flexible. They should be able to pause and consider what they really want and also how it is going to affect their partner.

In retrospect, healthy boundaries require having an impressionable mind and heart. Setting boundaries is never about being mean to other people and it is not selfish. Rather, it is about being present and sensitive to others while not ignoring our own needs.

Setting healthy boundaries takes time and experience to find that middle ground where we can gracefully dance in the space that exists between ourselves and others. A space wherein we can allow others to influence us without dishonoring ourselves as we engage in respectful dialogues.

Mastering the art of setting healthy boundaries in relationships is therefore an essential skill to develop for creating more fulfilling and engaging deep connections in life.