Setting Boundaries In A Relationship

stop sign on pavement

Ever seen one of those relationships where both people just 100% totally understand what the other person needs all the time, and both partners just effortlessly read minds and live in perfect harmony?

Me neither.

It’s hard to know what the healthy boundaries in relationships are.

Which is why here I’m going to discuss: (a) why boundaries matter, (b) how to practice setting boundaries in relationships, and (c) the best way to communicate them.

Why Boundaries?

The old myth goes that if you’re in love with the right person, everything will just feel “natural” and you’ll be so connected that you won’t have to discuss what is and isn’t appropriate.

But back on planet Earth, it’s probably likely that you have some different expectations, even if only a little.

For example:

  • How much independence do you both need? i.e. if he wants to spend every night at your place, whereas you need some private time a couple of days a week.
  • Behavioural boundaries: does he constantly show up late to things? How does he act with your friends? Does he flirt with other women in ways you consider inappropriate?
  • Is he thoughtful and caring in the ways you need?

How To Have The Conversation

To be clear: it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to sit down and hash all of your expectations out when you first decide to date a guy.

Maybe you’ll off-handedly mention some during your early dates, e.g. “I love being with someone, but I definitely value my time on my own some days as well”.

But in general, some boundaries in dating won’t be made clear until they’re violated. That’s when it’s time to set your boundaries and make it clear what you expect in future.

Step 1 – Be specific about the moment that bothered you

coffee with clipboard and pen

He shows up late again? He insults your friend by mistake? He does that annoying habit of always criticizing you for your opinions?

When this happens, be very clear about exactly what bothered you.

Don’t: go silent, ignore, call names, or make passive aggressive attacks toward him.

Do: Take time to say how you feel about it. E.g. “When you arrive late all the time, it makes me feel like you don’t value my time, which then makes me feel angry. Could you please come on time in future? I don’t mind it once in a while, but when it keeps happening it becomes really frustrating…”

That way you’re communicating, (a) what you’re feeling, and (b) how he can change to solve the problem.

If he cares about you, he should at this stage acknowledge he did something wrong, apologize, and resolve to not to do it again in future. 

Step 2 – Make it about the behaviour, not about personalities

couple having an argument

When you’re telling him what boundary he crossed, make sure you don’t stray into the common habit of name-calling.

E.g. “You’re so selfish”, “It’s just that you always think about yourself”, “You have no self-control”.

When you resort to giving someone a label, all you’re doing is killing their motivation to change. It makes them feel angry, unfairly treated, and less likely to take your criticism seriously.

So make sure you focus on what they did, rather than criticising who they are.

Step 3 – Use positive reinforcement when the change is made

couple giving gifts in bed

There’s no quicker way to show someone the right behaviour than when you reward it.

In fact, the more you use positive reinforcement to compliment your partner when they do things you like, the less you’ll have to communicate.

Does he do something thoughtful like making you dinner? Make sure he knows how pleased you are (and even tell him it turns you on – yes, it’s silly, but it works!).

When you use positive reinforcement, you are directly showing him what kind of behaviour makes you feel the most excited and loved, which is powerful motivation for anyone to improve in a relationship.

Just promise to use this ability for good. Seriously, promise ;)

9 Texts No Man Can Resist

16 Responses to Setting Boundaries In A Relationship

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  1. Tina says:

    I have been with my boyfriend for a little over eight months and I always go to his house and hang out with his family or go to meet his friends and hang out with his family. But he has only met my family once… I have invited him to my family events and even invited him to go out to dinner to meet one of my friends that I consider a sister but he says he isn’t ready yet…
    basically whenever he calls or texts me I’m there for him but I don’t feel the same reciprocation from him. I don’t feel as though I matter and have been feeling it a lot lately but I don’t know how to bring it up or rather I’m afraid to…
    I feel like I deserve someone that wants to give me 50 percent… or am I wrong to think this?
    On more than one occasion he has left me waiting for him for over an hour in my car because he fell asleep… I didn’t get mad I did voice that it hurt me considering the fact that we spoke on the phone when I arrived only to wait outside… it’s frustrating because I on the other hand would be ready and excited

  2. Cindy says:

    Me and my boyfriend has been together for 2 years 10months. Due to my character I did not put myself in his shoes and nagging him and I’m quite demanding. I mentioned break up with him and he actually agree, after a week I felt I lost him and realize my mistakes. Would like to have a chance to talk and get back together but it seems like he has moved on. Would like to have some advice.

  3. Julie MacKenzie says:

    Great advice…;)

  4. Sussa says:

    I had the same pro lem with my boyfriend. But instead of me, it was him nagging always on me. And in the and i felt the same as your boyfriend. But he said the same thing. I cant make you happy. And it was true.

    And i totally agree with him. If ever one person tries to change me again, i will go right in the same moment. I am who I am, Im not going to change.its like it is.

  5. Angela Martinez says:

    I was dating a guy for a year. First 6 months were absolutely amazing. We were extremely into each other. We both work for the same company. He works a lot of overtime, sometimes 7-14 days straight. During the first 6 months he would golf, mentioned he enjoyed golfing but didn’t say he was obsessed with it. After 6 months I noticed he was golfing more and more. Between work and golf, I felt like I wasn’t getting much time with him. He wouldn’t take a day off with me but would take a day off to golf. I mentioned to him how his actions made me feel and how I would like to spend more time with him. He would say I understand but nothing would change which led me to continue to nag him about not golfing as much and spend some time with me. I explained he didn’t have to quit golfing just balance work, golf and me. Compromise a little bit. His response was there is no compromising in a relationship, you have to accept a person as they are. After a night of arguing about this, I guess he got tired of me nagging because the next morning he woke up and said I can’t make you happy. I am who I am, Im not going to change so I don’t want to hurt you anymore so its best we break up. Good Bye. I was devastated. Im extremely hurt. He won’t answer my calls or respond to my texts. Was I wrong for wanting to set these boundaries? I feel like maybe I was asking for too much. I keep blaming myself for our break up.

  6. E says:

    Matt & Stephen

    Re: Boundaries in relationships

    Is “no sex before engagement/marriage” a boundary?

    I have watched a few youtube videos regarding this topic of “no sex before marriage”, in an effort to help me make up my mind on this topic. I’m still trying to make up my mind what my stance on this is, because

    a) I’m not in a relationship, but if I was I would need to know my boundaries/limits, because men usually push for sex.

    b) I’m 44 & still a virgin!

    c) Maybe I’m wasting my time worrying/thinking about this topic because I’ve never even been in a relationship in my entire life. I’ve only ever had a few dates in my life, that’s it!

    I was brought up that “sex before marriage is wrong” (my parents told me that when I was young).

    My granny told me when I was in my early 20’s that “men are only making little of women when they have sex with them before marriage, & when they have sex with you, while having no intention of marrying you”. It’s a vague recollection because she is dead 20 years or so now…but I have a memory of her saying something like this to me.

    I am also interested in boundaries between friends.

    I’m also interested in boundaries between parents & their adult children.

    P.S. It’s embarrassing admitting all this online but you don’t publish our email addresses, thank goodness, and I don’t really mind you & your team knowing this stuff about me ’cause they probably know all this about me already!!

    Also someone out there might reply to me with some insights!!

    I’ll live in hope lol!

  7. Jade says:

    Thank you for this helpful article.

    I just broke up with someone who I think I love because I realized that I may have been downplaying the red flags and magnifying the little things he did (especially in the beginning) that made me feel special.

    The little red flags seemed to be piling up even after I tried to establish boundaries. Two days ago, he said that I have a fat ass. Initially, I thought it was a language and a cultural thing (he is French) and he was trying to motivate me to lose weight because he cared about me. Then he said that perhaps he would “be more motivated” if I wasn’t fat and if I want to be with him, I need to be fit.

    We live 3 hours away and he has not seen me in almost 2 months and I was trying to get fit. Of course, I want to look good.

    This was the final red flag – I felt disrespected. I know I need to lose weight and have been working out but something about how he said it on top of the other red flags.

    Did I over react by breaking up with him? If I did, ugh… how do I fix it? Thank you in advance.

    • Wendy says:

      Dear Jade, if a man does not respect the woman you are he will speak to you and treat you disrespectfully. It is natural that he would desire you to be in shape, if that’s important to BOTH of you, then either one of you could have suggested meeting half way for a hike, or canoe trip, or plan a weekly dancing class, or any physical activity together. You did not over react by breaking up with him. You finally saw the red flags and got out. I’m 54, and it took me 30 years to figure out that I teach people how to treat me. Self love and self respect have to be established before I can ever ask someone else to treat me that way. Wishing you all the love in the world Wendy

  8. Stacey says:

    Hmmm… good points.
    One of the things that I’m dealing with and see very little info on, is meeting people thru dating sites. It’s a completely different animal. So much so that it negates most dating advice out there. It’s such an issue that I am trying to develop my own system for vetting potential dates. Datting site addiction is so real especially amongst men. It negates all dating applications. My number one priority now is to focus on only men who are willing to leave that virtual world enough to move the getting to know each other stage into the real world on multiple levels. And then to not return to that virtual world once the date has ended. Online dating has been a game changer for real life dating. It has created boundary issues beyond the normal spectrum that real life dating involves. No dating advice can be applied when one or more persons is being satiated with the attention they seek thru online encounters and continually return to that watering hole at a rate that matches a teenager with an Xbox controller in their hand. . The ambiguity alone causes people to behave so differently.

  9. Joy A Morgan says:

    I have a strange story to tell. Maybe it isn’t strange to you, getting all sorts of stories. But it is strange for me. I recently met someone on a dating site. He sent me his email address and asked me to contact him there instead of the site. I noticed he deactivated his profile. Hmmm.

    So we emailed back and forth and he gave me some sad stories of his wife dying and last GF leaving him for some oil sheik in the Middle East. I was a bit put off on dumping baggage on me right off the bat. He asked about my past relationships and I stated that I didn’t want to talk about the past. I was sorry for his losses and just wanted to know more about him. Things he enjoyed doing. Since he wouldn’t provide pictures but asked for mine, but denied getting my photos, I thought he was a catfish and I told him not to contact me anymore. But, later, I looked up his name on google and FB. Google didn’t provide anything but a FB profile did. With the same photo.

    Before I proceed with his story, I will digress to why this next story is related. At another dating site, I was contacted by a female giving me the email of a man (widower and army major) who saw my profile while she was visiting him in Afghanistan. Out of curiosity, I contacted the man, but he gave one picture and he had a wedding ring on. Again, more sad story about being a widower, daughter in boarding school, and he was in the US Army. I asked my daughter to check to see if his name was in the army any where. Nope. Name did not exist. So I blocked him.

    Back to previous gentleman that I found on FB. Very handsome man. That is why I allowed him to chat with me and I liked what I remembered about his profile. But then I was suspicious because of his lack of profile (taken down after contacting me). His refusal to give me more pictures. (Come on, you have pictures!) So I told him not to contact me. I later found his FB profile, yes, same as his dating profile picture. So I messaged him and told him I think someone stole his identity for a dating site. That I had been catfished on another site and think I was catfished on the site he had been on.

    Well, he asked why I thought he was a catfish and he was offended by me. That I judged him wrongly. Ooops!! Later, I sent a voice message apology on through FB because I felt awful for inadvertently offending someone. He later contacted me back. We started chatting and now the man is enthralled with me!! In just like 2 weeks the man thinks I am THE ONE and take me on trips and buy me things and well, he said be his wife.

    Of course I think he is very handsome! (Oh, man is he hot!) And well, he is well off! (No I didn’t ask. He told me.) And no, I have not allowed him to send me presents. No I haven’t asked for anything. I only chatted and asked about him. I wanted to see his character, but he hammered on the interview questions first. I guess since I passed, he continued chatting with me to come to this conclusion. (I sent photos and videos of me singing with my choir, our rehearsal of me singing, me having fun with my friends, etc.)

    But I did share alot of vulnerable information about me (my kids going to Afghanistan, my involvement with the homeless fundraising and music fundraising, etc.)

    I also asked him to slow down because we have not met yet. And that this is too fast right now. That as much as I was attracted to him, I liked things about his personality, I love his FB pictures (but I am not his FB friend) that he has posted publicly. I said I am a woman of standards and before I can give my heart to any man, I must at least meet him in person several times first. And I said that I do not give my body to just anyone, either.

    He responded with the completely gentlemen responses I was seeking. But he is on a project in another state and cannot leave until it is finished. I asked him to continue chatting with me, but slow down. I also asked him if he is truly intent on having me, he must meet me in person. Because he is in a security position, he cannot use his cell phone for many personal things, so he claims. So calling and video chats are out. FB chatting has been working, but not to the point after 2 weeks, I am ready to announce my undying love for him.

    Is this too soon for a man to decide right away? I know he lost the wife he loved and their child during child birth and he even asked me, “Where have you been all my life? Why did it take so long to find you?” He seems sincere, but I am still looking for red-flags because this is too fast, too soon. And have not met him in person because he lives in another state. At the time I am writing this, I last messaged him and asked him to please let me know he is real and not a dream by meeting in person. I told him to find a way.

    This may not be weird for you because you have probably heard all the stories, possible. But this is weird for me.

    Thank you!!

    Joy Morgan

    • Jessica says:

      No! Don’t continue. This is a scam. Stop giving him personal information about your life. Same story has happened to two of my friends.

    • Angie says:

      I’m sorry to tell you this, but he is a scammer. I once chatted with someone with the same story and he was a scammer. I googled this story before and yup here the story was the same. This scammers are not even on the states, they are in Nigeria. So be careful!

    • KayLynn Wessolleck says:

      Joy Morgan,
      You are being catfished. Catfishers are very, very prevalent anywhere they can post for free. This man may not be a man at all. A FB profile is no evidence that s/he is not a Catfish. Block that person right away. You are ignoring all the red flags. This man does not love you. He doesn’t know you. You are “in love” with a fake picture and a fantasy. I’m sorry to be the one to drop this bomb on you but have had these guys contact me all the time! One real clue is that they generally say the are “widowed.” They do their utmost to get people to feel empathy for them. Anyhow, hon, good luck. Watch the MTV show Catfish!!!

    • Wendy says:

      Dear Joy A. Morgan:
      I am just a single lady, who is looking for a companion that is compatible and loving. I want to share with you something that happened to me. It sounds very similar to your story.
      I was on Match.com, was approached by a very attractive man, who by the photos of him appeared to be well off, had his act together. With in the first 1-2 days we were talking he only wanted to talk off line, his dating profile was removed. We MS for a few days, he said he lived in Florida, I lived in Canada. We chatted for 2-3 weeks, building rapport, it was in December and Christmas was coming and I was single and lonely.

      His story was he was married and had a daughter but is now Widowed and both his 8 year old daughter and wife died in an accident. Of course I as heart broken for him (part of the pick up line and scam I discovered). We talked and he said he had fallen madly in love with me. He sent me a picture of himself holding a large frame while at a Photo Store and it contained my profile picture in it. He said he was going to mount it over his bed. He asked me for my address because he said he wanted to send me something. I was smart enough not to give him my home address, I gave him my general mailroom work address that didn’t contain the department I worked in for the Gov. he sent me 2 dozen roses. I was hooked! With in the week he said he was travelling to the Ivory Coast off of Coast of Africa to do some importing and exporting. He said he was selling Gold and would be back within about a week, he will miss me but will contact me when he’s back. Morning of 2nd day after I hadn’t heard from him when we had been communicating daily and I was missing our connection. He sent me a message. I’m here , but am having a problem, everything is closed it’s Sunday here. Within a week the story went to, could you help me, I’ve come all this way and my bank accounts are frozen now. He gave me and off shore bank account # and bank phone #. He asked me to call it to confirm that all of these 1000,000’s of dollars were there, just frozen and he needed a loan from me of a few thousand so that he could finish his business and get home. That’s when I got suspicious. I googled romantic scams and found miles of info of stories of women who had been scammed with pretty much the exact same story. I confronted him and challeng d him, he got angry and called me names like B*^%h and others. I told him I filed a police report and added my name and story to the list of women who had been played by this scam all over the world. He never contacted me again. Lesson learned for me.
      Just do your research, that’s all I would suggest.
      Wish you all the love in the world,
      Wendy

    • Kim says:

      It is a scam… DELETE AND DON’T LISTEN TO HIM AT ALL. I am paying a 7 yr term $15k loan I had to take out because he talked me into wiring him $$ after he paid down my credit cards an’t the payments were retracted after I withdrew on them for him! HE ISN’T REAL. Please don’t fall for it. Report him to Malescammers.com

  10. LJ says:

    Great article yet again! So important and relevant.

    I was wondering if you have a video listing several red flags? ie overly affectionate from the get-go and really laying on the romance when in fact it’s likely an overcompensation? Cheers

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