One of the most important elements of a healthy relationship is the presence of healthy, well-established boundaries – the clear definition of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a relationship.
Boundaries are essential, but learning how to set – and keep – them is something we are rarely taught. For women especially, setting boundaries can be frightening, because we often worry about pushing our partner away. But, if you’re not able to ask for what you want, and explain what you don’t want, you will likely be left feeling resentful and unappreciated. So, it is critical that we develop and cultivate the ability to be honest about our wants and needs.
Setting boundaries tells your partner (and others) what you expect from them. It is not about changing your partner’s behavior, or even trying to gauge his or her reaction. It’s simply about being honest and authentic about what is important to you. Boundaries are the cornerstone of healthy communication, and a healthy relationship.
If you are feeling unheard unappreciated, disrespected, or taken for granted, there is a strong possibility that your relationship is lacking healthy boundaries. Here are seven steps to help you set healthy boundaries in your relationship.
1. Decide what YOU want. It is impossible to tell your partner what you want and need if you aren’t clear on that yourself. Take some time to think and write about what is truly important to you in a relationship. How do you want to feel? Is it important to you that your partner call you every day? How often do you expect to spend time together? How do you want to be treated? What behaviors are disrespectful or unacceptable to you? Get clear on what you truly want and need to feel happy and fulfilled in your relationship.
2. Then, work on trusting yourself. As you start to get clear on your wants and needs, you may start to question your own instincts. You may start to wonder whether you’re being too harsh or demanding. You may wonder whether these wants and needs are “reasonable.” And you may start to worry about how your partner may react when you express these boundaries. But, remember, setting boundaries is not about the other person – it’s about what is important to you. And if it’s important to you – it matters. Know that the only person who can decide what matters to you – is you.
3. Practice saying “no” to things you do not want. Learning how to say “no” is so critical to all relationships, not just romantic ones. For example, when your sister asks you to loan her money (again), but you really do not want to, it is okay to say “no.” When your child’s school wants you to volunteer again, and you really do not want to, it is okay to say “no.” And when your partner asks if you want to go see the new superhero movie, and you really do not want to, it’s also okay to say “no.” This isn’t about being selfish – it’s about standing up for yourself. And yes, it is okay to compromise and do things for others sometimes. But, if you aren’t standing up for yourself – at least as much as you stand up for others – how can you expect anyone else to stand up for you? Practice saying “no,” and be proud of yourself for doing so.
4. Get comfortable with healthy confrontation. One of the challenges of setting healthy boundaries is worrying about how your partner may react. But the fact is that you cannot predict or control their reaction. State your desires clearly and respectfully. If there is something you want your partner to stop doing, tell them. If there is something you want them to do, tell them. Accept that you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction. All you can do is be honest with them – and with yourself.
5. Be kind to yourself. Setting boundaries is a process. It may take time for you to get comfortable speaking up for yourself. Take it one step at a time, and be kind to yourself in the process. Each time you speak up for what you want, recognize that you have taken a step toward a healthier, happier relationship and life. Setting boundaries can be tough work. But it’s worth it.