Communication. Trust. Patience. All of these things have been named at some point as the keys to a long-lasting, solid bond. They all also align with vulnerability and closeness — which are all well and good, obviously. However, protecting oneself with healthy relationship boundaries is equally important in ensuring a lasting bond, just ask any relationship counselor or coach.
“Boundaries in relationships serve a few purposes,” says Brooklyn-based therapist, Lauren Urban. “They create a line of demarcation between partners, showing where one ends and the other begins. Boundaries also show your partner what behavior and treatment is acceptable and unacceptable to you and what your partner will accept. They help establish each partner’s role and the expectations of that role in a relationship.”
Above all, it’s important to note that boundaries are about respect, for both you and your partner. As lovely as the concept of unrestricted, no-holds-barred love is, it’s just not an entirely healthy path to take. “With couples, I come from the premise that there are two ‘me’s’ and, that the majority of the folks that come to see me, crave to co-create a healthy and loving ‘we,’” says Laura L. Young, New York City-based therapist. “And that ‘we’ is different for every couple.”
The lack of boundaries, like the lack of communication or trust, can definitely lead to trouble and an eventual breakup if not discussed and established. The slightly alarming thing with boundaries, however, is that it’s hard to detect if they’re actually missing, particularly for those with an all-in or all-out mentality. “Have you ever experienced the feeling of ‘losing yourself’ to your relationship?” asks Urban. “That’s a sign that the boundaries in your relationship were not robust enough. When boundaries are too loose or weak, it leads to codependency. That lost-in-your-partner feeling leads to helplessness, dependence, resentment, and anger (often for both partners).”
On the flip side, if you feel disconnected from your partner or if your relationship is lacking in intimacy and bonding, that’s a sign your boundaries could be a bit too strong, says Urban. “[Disconnection] can lead to relationship dissatisfaction, feelings of loneliness and problems with intimacy and infidelity, as one or both partners may seek the connection they’re missing outside of the relationship.”
At the end of the day, the only people who can determine the best boundaries for your relationship are you and your partner. But a conversation and constant communication in establishing these boundaries are key. “I encourage everyone to be reflecting on their individual boundary needs and how best to share them with their partner,” says Young. “Also, be proactive and inquire about what your partner wants and needs. Boundaries are a necessity and ideally provide a sense of mutual safety, respect, and understanding.”
To help you get a better understanding of what healthy boundaries might look like in a relationship, both Young and Urban revealed their professional insights on the topic. Get ready to whip out your notepad.
Solid Understanding Of Monogamous Or Open Relationship Status
While monogamous, committed relationships might be non-negotiables for some, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Either way, having a clear understanding is essential, to establish trust and vulnerability. “If the couple decides to have an open relationship, this creates a need for even more discussion of what the boundaries around that would look like,” says Young. Having an open discussion about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not is crucial. Make sure you check in regularly to make sure you’re both happy with your current circumstances.
Extent Of Family Involvement
For many individuals, the consistent presence of extended family is incredibly important, while some might find it invasive. “I think important questions might include what is the role and significance of extended family,” says Young. “One party may envision a three-generation home and everyone in their family has a place to stay in his/her home at anytime, which might be an example of an overly open boundary — especially if their partner envisions a boundary where anyone coming into the home is discussed and decided upon ahead of time with a strong preference that no extended family ever comes to stay.”
Cases like this might lead to a very important “c” word: compromise. Discuss terms in which both you and your partner are equally comfortable and happy in your living space and relationship.
Although relationships are about uniting and functioning as a team, it’s still important for each individual to have their own hobbies, friends, and personal time. “Partners should feel comfortable having lives outside the relationship and interests of their own,” says Urban. “They should not rely solely on each other for everything. Additionally, partners should be able to exert their boundaries and speak up to defend their boundaries when they need to.”
“Sexual boundaries are important to know about and to honor,” says Young. This goes without saying, but ensuring both you and your significant other feel fulfilled, respected, and safe as it pertains to your physical intimacy is crucial to keeping your bond in tact.
“Another key boundary could be around finances — budgeting, spending, saving, investing etc,” says Young. Indeed, money matters in a relationship can make or break you. In a recent survey by Experian, 59% of divorced couples claimed finances played a role in the breakup. Again, discussing money, spending, and saving openly is beyond important in bringing you and your partner together and creating intimacy. As Urban says perfectly: “I think the most common misconception on the topic of boundaries in relationships is that having boundaries is for keeping people out when, in fact, boundaries are meant to draw parameters to enable people to come in in a way that feels safe and healthy.”