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?
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.
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.
- 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
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
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
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 ;)