In romantic relationships we often think of boundaries as a bad thing or simply unnecessary. Isn’t our partner supposed to anticipate our wants and needs? Isn’t that part of being in love? Aren’t boundaries callous? Don’t they interfere with the romance and spontaneity of a relationship?
Many of Ryan Howes’s clients assume that having boundaries means not having loving feelings toward their partner. But it’s actually the opposite.Relationships Relationships Relationships Relationships Relationships
All healthy relationships have boundaries. Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, Calif, defines a boundary as “the line where I end and someone else begins.” He likens boundaries in relationships to the boundaries around states.
“Without any line the distinction becomes confusing: Who owns and maintains this ambiguous space? Which rules apply?”Relationships Relationships Relationships Relationships Relationships
When the boundary is clearly defined and respected, you don’t need walls or electric fences, he said. “People can even cross the boundary occasionally when there’s a mutual understanding.” However, when the boundary is violated in order to do harm or take advantage, then you’ll likely need walls, gates and guards, he said.
In healthy relationships partners “ask permission, take one another’s feelings into account, show gratitude and respect differences in opinion, perspective and feelings.”
In less healthy relationships, partners assume their partner feels the same way they do (e.g., “I like this, so you must, too”), Howes said. They ignore the effects of violating their partner’s boundary (e.g., “They’ll get over it”).Relationships Relationships Relationships Relationships Relationships
Boundaries in romantic relationships are especially critical, because as opposed to other relationships, partners inhabit each other’s most intimate spaces, including physical, emotional and sexual, he said.
This is why communicating your boundaries clearly is key. But what does — and doesn’t — this look like?
Below, you’ll find insights on boundaries that don’t work and tips for setting boundaries that do.