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Where Are Your Boundaries?

How to both determine and voice your personal boundaries in relationships

By Amanda Kippert | domesticshelters.org

When was the last time you thought about your personal boundaries? They are the non-negotiable lines that our partner cannot cross in order for us to feel respected and safe in a relationship. Boundaries keep us intact, and we should know and express them no matter how new, or not new, a relationship is. Boundaries protect our personal goals, dreams, values, autonomy and self-worth. If you haven’t thought about where your own boundaries stand, there’s no better time than the present.

What Boundaries Look Like

Physical Boundaries: Your body is your own; no one else’s. Think about the timeline that makes you feel comfortable for being physical in a relationship. How far do you want to go on the first date or at any stage of a relationship? Also, as LoveisRespect.org points out, “sex isn’t currency.” You should not feel pressured to exchange sex for dinner out at a restaurant or because your partner says he or she loves you. Your boundary for when you’re comfortable with sex should be firm and stated clearly if there’s any confusion.

Physical boundaries also extend to violent behavior. Most of us probably have a no tolerance policy when it comes to violence. But if your partner thinks a playful shove or aggressive bedroom behavior is no big deal, and it makes you uncomfortable, this is also where it’s important to speak up and lay clear what your boundaries are.

Emotional Boundaries: Just like your body, your emotions are yours. No one else can tell you what you should be feeling at any given moment. Your boundaries here may just be asserting that you feel a certain emotion, such as sadness or guilt or joy, and you don’t appreciate when someone else tries to dissuade you from that emotion.

Perhaps your boundary is emotional separation; in other words, you don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s happiness. Or, your boundary is when you’re comfortable expressing intimate emotions with your partner, such as saying “I love you,” or “I’m ready to be exclusive.”

Material Boundaries: Sure, you were taught to share your things as a child, but as an adult, when and how you share your material belongings is up to you. Do you feel comfortable lending your partner your car, your phone or money? If so, what are you conditions for doing so?

Spiritual Boundaries: Think of how comfortable you are in sharing your faith-based beliefs with others and whether or not you’re open to sharing different beliefs that your partner may have. This is up to you.

Mental Boundaries: Are your opinions or thoughts easily swayed by others? If so, you may have a hard time standing your ground, which means you should give some thought to your mental boundaries.

Creating Boundaries, Finding Your Voice

While we may know what are boundaries are in our minds, writing them down, saying them out loud and enforcing them in a relationship can often be a challenge.

But, why?

Irene van der Zande, author of Relationship Safety Skills, says that internalized beliefs, such as “It’s not worth it,” “I have no right,” or, “It’s dangerous to say no,” can be one reason we talk ourselves out of setting personal boundaries. She also cites a longing to belong, wishing to be accepted or loved, a fear of rejection or growing up in a home where boundary-setting was not allowed, can also make us afraid to speak up.

However, “Safe and strong relationships start from a foundation of understanding appropriate boundaries,” she writes. Therefore, taking time to create written boundaries and overcoming fears about speaking up are often vital to having a healthy, equal relationship.

Examples of Boundaries

So what exactly does a boundary look like? Think of them as simple concepts and phrases that describe your limits, tolerances and expectations, or a list that communicates who you are and what you want or require from your partner.

You may have some idea of your boundaries already. Whether you do or don’t, spending a few days thinking about them may bring new or refined boundaries to light. Creating and editing your list of boundaries will help solidify them in your mind, can be more clearly shared with a partner and can serve as an important reminder to you in the future.

To help you get started on creating your list of boundaries, we’ve created a few abbreviated examples below. But, don’t limit yourself. Creating your boundaries should be a uniquely personal endeavor driven by your needs, wants and specifics:

• I will have my own career and my partner will support it completely.

• I will have my own friends and you may or may not be part of that circle.

• I will spend time with my family because they mean the world to me.

• I am proud of my appearance and you will not try to change it.

• We will start our relationship slowly, unless I decide otherwise.

• I can change my mind for any reason and you will respect this freedom.

• If I say no, it means no; I can walk away from this relationship.

• I have my own schedule that must be satisfied within our partnership.

• I decide on what’s important to me.

• You will listen to me and respect my feelings/opinions.

You can find a list of more boundary examples here, for a total of 29 different boundaries to consider.

Assertive, Not Aggressive

Van der Zande also says that the way in which we communicate our boundaries can impact how they are received. How often do you tell your kids to speak up, please, when they’re asking for something? You help them find their voice, so it’s time to find yours, as an adult.

If you’re telling someone in a barely audible whisper that you don’t like the way they speak to you, chances are, that boundary will simply float away. On the other hand, van der Zande points out that speaking or acting aggressively, such as using insulting language, leaning forward into someone’s face or using an irritated voice, will make our partner feel attacked and isn’t the most affective strategy either.

Instead, she advises to use assertive communication, which will tell the other person, “Of course you are going to care about what I want once you understand what it is. What I have to say is very important to me, and I believe that you are such a good person that this will be very important to you, too.”

Having an assertive attitude can look like some of the following, says the author.

• Body language that is calm, confident and aware

• Eye contact

• A facial expression that matches your message: a neutral face if you are telling someone to stop or a friendly face if you’re asking for something you need

• A loud enough voice that can be easily heard (and nix the whining)

• Managing space. Move away from someone who you want to stop bothering you or move closer to someone if you want something from them