Personal boundaries in relationships

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Being in a relationship is wonderful. You get to spend your time with someone you love and admire, whilst they treasure and respect you. However, having clear boundaries with that person is crucial for a successful relationship, because it establishes what you are/are not comfortable with and allows a closer intimacy as you and your partner get to know each other better.

Part of setting personal boundaries in a relationship is about clear communication. It’s fine (and encouraged) to have boundaries, but if you haven’t told your partner what they are then they probably won’t know them, and you’ll end up feeling betrayed whilst they’re confused about what went wrong. It’s much better to have a difficult conversation than to leave things ambiguous. If you’re struggling to tell your partner what you need, consider alternative methods: you could try writing down what your boundaries are, or you could speak with a couples’ therapist to start a conversation.

If you’re in a long term relationship, have a full time job, raise children, and possibly share a house with your partner, it can be difficult to get some ‘me’ time. Setting personal boundaries can be a really good way to do this. Start by discussing it with your partner so you can figure out the best time, and remember that your partner will also need some ‘me’ time. If you’d like one evening off from childcare and housework to go and explore a hobby or see some friends, make the same arrangement with your partner so they get the time off too. Establishing and maintaining your identity outside of a relationship is a good way to keep you happy in the relationship, because it decreases your dependence on your partner.

Personal boundaries are especially important during sex, and again, communication is really important. If there’s something new you’d like to try, ask them about it first, and be clear if you do (or don’t) want to do something. Enthusiastic, informed consent is absolutely imperitive, and you’re likely to find that talking about your sex life is actually a pretty decent aphrodisiac and can be a lot of fun. Having a sexual relationship with someone you trust and who respects what you do and do not like is much more rewarding than having sex with someone who you aren’t comfortable around.

Monogamy isn’t for everyone. Research shows that 4-5% of adults in the US are in open or polygamous relationships. So chances are you either are in an open relationship or you know someone who is… they just might not discuss it with you. But here’s the thing: polyamory is fine, open relationships can work really well for people, but you need to have clear boundaries for yourself and your partner. The most crucial is to practice safe sex, and always use condoms and get tested regularly. Some couples will have other rules, like they aren’t allowed to sleep with friends or acquaintances. Other couples might want any sex to happen outside of the family/shared home. Again, the important thing is to communicate with your partner(s) to make sure everyone is respected and understood.

Ignoring boundaries is a huge red flag. Your partner should not disturb you during your ‘me’ time (except in emergencies), or touch you in a way that you’ve told them you’re uncomfortable with. They shouldn’t go through your phone or mail, or try to break any rules of your relationship, whether it is open or otherwise. Doing any of these things shows a lack of respect for you and could actually end the relationship. Equally, you shouldn’t ignore any of your partner’s boundaries: doing this shows that you want to control your partner, not love them. If you don’t trust your partner, or they don’t trust you, it can be very difficult to salvage the relationship. Don’t forget that all relationships need boundaries, regardless of how long you’ve been together or how ‘serious’ it is.

We all know that relationships can be really hard work, and also incredibly rewarding. Sharing your life with another person requires a strong bond, a lot of trust and love, but it’s not going to be your whole world – nor should it be! Allowing yourself and your partner some freedom and boundaries, informed by constructive communication, is a great way to strengthen your pairing and keep you both happy, inside and outside of the relationship.

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