Today I want to write about setting healthy boundaries in relationships. Because being able to set healthy boundaries is closely linked to fulfilling, healthy relationships. And you definitely want to have these types of relationships! Because the opposite, unhealthy boundaries, will cause at least one person in the relationship to feel uncomfortable. Here are a few example situations that show it's important to address your own boundaries in relationships.
Lisa can't say no and accepts everything her partner wants to do or suggests. Actually, she would rather go to museums or the theater together with her boyfriend more often. But her boyfriend usually suggests doing a TV evening together. Over time, Lisa becomes more and more frustrated because she doesn't discuss her desire for cultural events with her partner. She sometimes feels overwhelmed by her boyfriend, who can clearly say what he wants. She is also unhappy to concede so often.
Anna's boyfriend often jokes about her weaknesses in front of mutual friends or criticizes her a lot. This makes her angry and sad. She has also tried to talk to her boyfriend several times, whereupon he says he will change. But after a short time he forgets about it and makes fun of her again.
In the examples, it becomes clear how much the ability to set boundaries is related to well-being in relationships.
But why is it so difficult to set boundaries in relationships?
It has a lot to do with what assumptions and beliefs you have internalized about yourself and others. For example, if you are convinced that you are of low value, then you may have a hard time standing up for yourself and representing your needs. Also, it's related to your fears: Are you very afraid of being abandoned? Or of disappointing your partner? Then maybe it's more important to you that your partner is happy in the relationship than you are. So you need to start getting to know yourself better if you want to find out why it's difficult for you.
How did we learn to set boundaries?
The ability to set boundaries is partly influenced by your own family. Because in your childhood you saw how your parents set boundaries. You also learned how privacy was handled in your family and how your parents, as close caregivers, reacted to your boundaries. What did your parents do when you closed the door in your room? Were you allowed to have your own friends and private conversations?
Are you currently having trouble saying no or setting healthy boundaries? Then it makes sense to look into your past and understand where your difficulties come from and how your parents dealt with boundaries.
What types of boundaries exist?
First, something about the theory of boundaries: You can broadly divide the areas in which you can set boundaries into
- Emotional boundaries: Responsibility for your feelings, not feeling responsible for others' feelings, no unsolicited criticism or advice, not taking things personally;
- Material boundaries: dealing with your possessions, such as lending a book, or your furniture, objects.
- Physical boundaries: this includes your body, e.g. hugs, but also your privacy, e.g. when you are in the bathroom and close the door;
- Sexual boundaries: This is how you determine who touches you sexually, where, how, when.
- Mental boundaries: Your opinions, values, beliefs;
- Boundaries of your resources: your time and with whom you spend how much of your time.
In addition, one can still distinguish three types of boundaries. There are
- Healthy boundaries: Being able to accept help, accept boundaries of others, value self and own opinions, make self-determined decisions about when and how much of personal information to share. Motto: I communicate openly and feel comfortable being dependent in relationships.
- Porous boundaries: Not being able to say no, sharing too much personal information, avoiding conflict, prioritizing difficulties of others over self, motto: I am fine when others are fine.
- Rigid boundaries: difficulty asking for help, being cool, avoiding intimate relationships, isolating self. Motto: I don't need anyone.
Why is it important to set boundaries in relationships at all?
Healthy boundaries help you a lot to have the relationships you want. Boundaries help you in various aspects.
This is why it is important to set healthy boundaries in relationships:
1. Boundaries are important because they make you more likely to feel good and have your needs met.
Boundaries help you feel safe in relationships. In doing so, you speak out clearly about what is not good for you. In this way, you set the minimum requirements for your well-being and your sense of security. This makes you feel safer in relationships.
2. When you learn to set boundaries, you also learn to communicate effectively.
In order to communicate what you want and what is not okay for you, you must also learn to communicate effectively. The two skills go hand in hand! It's great because you can learn two important, similar skills at once!
3. Your partner also benefits from you setting boundaries.
In relationships, your partner also benefits when you set healthy boundaries. Your partner has an interest in you taking care of yourself and feeling comfortable and safe with him/her. You can only guarantee this if you learn to set healthy boundaries.
4. Setting boundaries helps you to choose the right partners.
It's helpful for you to communicate your boundaries right from the start in dating or the developing relationship. Because when you meet someone new, there are many people with very different needs. Of course, you don't match with all of them! Therefore, you can see your boundaries along with your needs as a filter to select partners who are compatible with your needs and boundaries. For example, you can set a boundary by saying that punctuality is very important to you. If you meet someone who is repeatedly late and repeatedly disrespects your boundary after an open conversation, they are not the right partner for you. Better to know that earlier!
5. Boundaries can be an instruction manual for yourself.
When you book an event, or buy a product, you usually read up on it well beforehand. We are used to having manuals for things and instructions on how to deal with things. For relationships with people, however, this "instruction manual" is missing. Actually, it would be useful! Because actively set, healthy boundaries can be this instruction manual about you.
Conclusion on setting boundaries in relationships
The ability to set healthy boundaries is essential for successful relationships. They guarantee you to stand up for your needs and well-being in various areas. This is the only way you can feel comfortable and have set the framework for happy, fulfilling relationships.
I look forward to hearing from you what you think about the article and how you feel about setting boundaries! Feel free to leave me a comment!
Would you like to understand your difficulties with boundaries and learn to set healthy ones? Then I am happy to accompany you in this process!
Cole, T. (2021). Boundary Boss. The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free. Sounds True.