How To Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries and Goals
Falling in love is one of the most beautiful moments we experience in our lives. The beginning may feel easy, but as we spend more and more time with people, our spaces tend to intertwine and communication can sometimes become a blurred line.
Have you ever felt like your spaces overlap with people in an unhealthy manner? Ever felt that your closeness to a partner is too much closeness? We’ve all felt a loss of identity or sense of self at one point or another due to our shared intimate spaces. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if boundaries can save relationships rather than keep them away?
Over the past few years, a lot of us found ourselves spending a lot more time indoors than we would have ever imagined. While it was a beautiful time for many, it was also a time where we got up close and personal with ourselves and the people we shared our spaces with. And, a common side effect of overlapping spaces is that it can often leave us drained, tired, lacking in communication, and a general loss of our own selves and our identities. As it is with anything that’s too close together for long periods of time, relationships too can turn frictional if clear boundaries aren’t set early on.
What are boundaries?
Sharing a space with someone and being intimate is a liberating feeling when it is allowed to unfold in a manner that is healthy for both parties. Setting boundaries is not a one-off decision, but something that needs to be worked toward over a period of time. For people who aren’t used to setting boundaries in relationships, starting could be the difficult part. But as it is with most things, practice makes perfect. As you start to set boundaries, you notice yourself clearer and can understand yourself better as well the world around you.
If you want to harness and grow in your relationship, it is important to re-evaluate the boundaries you’ve already set. But if you aren’t in the habit of setting new boundaries for yourself, it is never too late to start. Boundaries can truly set your relationship free and allow you to explore newer depths of intimacy with yourself and your partner.
What are boundaries in relationships?
Have you felt that something is not right in your relationships with people, an intimate partner or a friend, but never quite know what it is? Do you struggle with saying no even when you mean no just because you’re too afraid of what others might think? Do you feel like you’re giving too much of yourself away or that your feelings aren’t being reciprocated? Do you find yourself playing the role of a savior even when you don’t want to?
Boundary setting as a concept was something that was popularized by therapists, psychologists and self-help experts in the eighties in order to help people deal with themselves and their interpersonal relationships more authentically. They came up with the concept as a more open and clear way for couples to assert their individual needs and values and request that they be met by each other. Boundaries help preserve the sanctity of relationships and helps individuals nurture their own identities rather than have their identities merge together and lead to frustration in intimate spaces.
Without boundaries, we can lose our sense of self in relationships and feel like we’re under the control of others, almost powerless. Boundaries are a great way to regain and retain your individual power and autonomy in any relationship and won’t leave you heavily bereft in the face of loss.
Setting interpersonal boundaries are one of the stepping stones to managing yourself better, having your needs met, and also respecting the needs of the person you are intimate with.
Importance of setting clear boundaries
Boundaries aren’t just for others, but for us to understand and exist truthfully and in harmony with ourselves and the world.
One of the things we all struggle with in our day-to-day relationships is the ability to say no when we mean no. In the process of not saying no, we often fail to realize that we give ourselves away. Setting clear boundaries protects and preserves the self by drawing an important distinction between what is you and what isn’t you. Without boundaries in place, the door is open for people to control and determine how you feel without ever intending to. With clear boundaries you dictate what behavior is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
Knowing what our limitations are can be one of the most powerful realizations for an individual to have. Once we know our limitations and what spaces feel safe, we can then choose how to indulge and engage. Knowing how to engage is just as important a skill as knowing how and when to disengage. Deep inside us, we all know when we should walk away from a situation and when it feels safe to stay. Having boundaries in place protects us from being manipulated and tossed with the wind. It gives us direction and a strong sense of purpose and self-identity, putting us right back at the driver’s seat of our own lives.
Relationships can often drain us, especially when we’re stuck in unhealthy patterns of survival within our own selves, as well as with the people around us. Setting boundaries is a practice of mindfulness and a deliberate choice you make to stay authentic to yourself. It promotes overall well-being both in terms of the physical body as well as the mind. Like the saying goes, a healthy heart is a happy heart, it is also just as much a mindful heart. Without making mindfulness a practice, one can easily slip back into old patterns and tendencies only to find themselves back at square one again. Boundaries are very important to preserve and protect ourselves from going into unnecessary overdrive.
Knowing how and when to say no is seldom practiced as well as it’s known or talked about. We struggle with saying no because we’ve been taught and conditioned to deny our own needs to meet the needs of others. Refusing to say no when we feel like it is an acute form of betrayal to ourselves and too often it goes unnoticed by us. A big part of setting boundaries is knowing when to say no, and at what point a certain situation is too much and avoidable. Trying to be a people-pleaser is a tendency many of us picked up early on in life because it gave us a sense of purpose and validation. But what we fail to understand is that we can’t please everyone, and the part where we try to is in itself exhausting and mentally draining. Boundaries help us be our authentic selves with no qualms about saying no and without shaming or betraying ourselves.
People-pleasing is a behavior we adopt at a young age in order to feel validated and accepted by the world. We are all guilty of it to some degree. The thing about people-pleasing is an illusion - because true happiness comes from within and not through mere gestures. Many a time we focus on the gesture and in subtle ways manipulate people into liking us due to a performative gesture like going out of the way for someone even when you don’t want to.
A lot of the time we find ourselves frustrated in relationships due to lack of proper communication. Clear communication is the foundation of any relationship, and when that is lacking, we multiply our problems by tackling it in other ways. If our needs are communicated effectively, there’s a higher chance of those needs being met. Being passive aggressive when
someone or something has overstepped your boundaries is not a noble thing, but rather the setting stage for more problems. Communicating our needs is one of the most important things that we all struggle with, but with each communication, the act of communicating itself gets easier.
How to set clear boundaries
Know your own boundaries & limitations
Before you can even begin to set clear boundaries for yourself, it’s important to understand yourself and what safe spaces and boundaries mean to you. If you find yourself constantly drained due to factors that are not in your control, you could definitely do well with boundaries. For example, if you’ve had a tiring day and a conversation that you aren’t very keen on has been forced on you, it’s okay to say no, it’s okay to choose yourself and it’s okay to request that the conversation be had much later when you’re in the space for it. Knowing what your boundaries and limitations are is the first step to actually setting boundaries.
Read & educate yourself
It’s important to read and educate yourself on terminologies like codependency in relationships or enmeshment. If you find that you share a codependent relationship with your partner, delve into the root cause of it to understand what leans you toward codependent relationships. Knowing what codependence can do to your own sense of identity and knowing how to break out of enmeshment are huge steps toward setting clear boundaries in place.
Ask for help
It is important to have a close group of friends or loved ones who can help you as you take those first steps toward setting boundaries for yourself. Reach out to your dear ones for support and help as you journey through boundary-setting as it becomes clearer to you that you need their support. Friends and loved ones who know us can help us through the tough conversations that could arise while attempting to set clear boundaries in place with our partner.
The freedom that comes when couples understand the importance of boundaries and begin to respect them is one like no other. We learn to love completely and not through the baggage of our past. We learn to communicate our needs effectively and in the process become better listeners to our partners needs as well.
“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.” - Anna Taylor
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