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Setting Boundaries in a Relationship

couple holding each other on the beach

There a lot of misconceptions about what boundaries are and do for relationships. We may feel that boundaries are unnecessary because our partner is supposed to already know and act on our needs and wants, or that they ruin the relationship or interfere with the spice. In reality, all healthy relationships have boundaries! A relationship can’t be healthy until both partners communicate their boundaries clearly, and the other person respects them. Healthy boundaries in a relationship don’t come naturally, nor do they come easily. Below is a list of both healthy and unhealthy aspects in a relationship:



Feeling responsible for your own happiness

Feeling incomplete without your partner

Friendships exist outside of the relationship

Relying on your partner for happiness

Open and honest communication

Game-playing or manipulation

Respecting differences in your partner


Asking honestly what is wanted

Feeling unable to express what is wanted

Accepting endings

Unable to let go


Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem. In order to establish boundaries, you need to be clear with your partner who you are, what you want, your beliefs and values, and your limits. A lot of times, we tend to focus on adjusting to others, taking time away from focusing on ourselves. Setting boundaries for yourself that reflect who you are and who you ultimately want to be will only enhance setting boundaries with your partner in a relationship.

Our boundaries, whether they’re big or small, are important and deserve to be respected. Look at these examples of a "small and not serious" boundary and a "big and pretty serious" boundary to see what we mean! 

  1. Your partner has clearly communicated with you that they don’t want you to go through or use any of their belongings unless you ask them first. You get in your car to go pick up the pizza, but your car engine won’t start for whatever reason. Your partner is taking a nap, so you immediately decide to use your partner’s car instead because the pizza place is just down the street and it won’t take you long. You’re back in the house with the pizza 10 minutes later.
  2. You’ve set yourself a boundary that you will not let anyone control what you do in a relationship, and you’ve communicated this boundary with your partner. Your partner calls you and asks what you have planned that evening, and you tell them you’re going out with friends. Your partner tells you that you’re not going, and if they find out you did, there will be some kind of consequence. Because of what your partner told you, you don’t go out with your friends.

    In the first example, your partner communicated with you that they don’t want you using their belongings without their consent, but you disrespected your partner’s boundary by using their car without permission anyways. The reasoning behind going against your partner’s boundary may not seem like that big of a deal to you, but it COULD be a big deal for your partner.

    In the second example, you’ve set a boundary for yourself that you won’t be with someone who is controlling you or the relationship; not only was your partner disrespecting your boundary, you also weren’t being consistent with your own boundary.

    Regardless of how "big" or "small" the boundary or boundary violation, no one likes to have their boundary be ignored or disrespected. If you break your own boundaries because you are scared of your partner's reaction, that is HUGE red flag. In a healthy relationship, you should never feel afraid of your partner or their reactions.

    Image result for examples of relationship boundaries

    Here are a few tips to help you get started establishing boundaries with your partner in your relationship:

    • Communicate your thoughts with one another. Be honest, but respectful when sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner. It’s totally normal and okay to need time to gather your thoughts and feelings, but don’t use that approach to avoid the conversation.
    • Never assume or guess your partner’s feelings. Making assumptions can create a lot of misunderstandings in a relationship. You may feel like you know your partner very well that you feel you’re entitled to assume what they want or need without asking them, but it is always your best bet to ask rather than assume.
    • Follow through on what you say. Setting boundaries and not executing them lets the other person think they have an excuse to continue to overstep your boundaries. You shouldn’t make any exceptions to your own boundaries without careful consideration because you may soon find yourself on compromising things that aren't acceptable to you.
    • Take responsibility for your actions. Instead of immediately blaming your partner for the situation or how you’re feeling, take a step back and think about the choices you’ve made in the relationship and see if they may have contributed to the situation. Both partners should be doing this!
    • Know when it’s time to move on. You can only share how you desire to be treated in the relationship, and you can’t be responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and fairness. If your partner can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to end the relationship.

    Setting and establishing healthy boundaries is a skill, and it takes time! Remember, healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you trust your instincts, be open, and practice with your partner, the relationship will only get stronger over time.

    Contributed by Break the Cycle volunteer, Liz.