Boundaries are typically all about personal comfort levels—they are where we personally draw the line between what is and is not okay with us. Boundaries serve as guidelines for our relationships, and help us understand how to act in order to make our partner feel most respected and supported. It can feel awkward, maybe even selfish, to talk with your partner about your limits, especially if a relationship is just beginning and you’re trying to keep things cool and casual. However, this is actually a really important and healthy step! Remember, your partner is not a mind reader, so communicating clearly about what you like and want in your relationship (and what you don’t like and don’t want) helps make sure everyone is on the same page from the start.
When setting boundaries, it can help to get really specific. Are there certain ways you wouldn’t be okay with someone else touching your partner, or with your partner touching someone else? What words do you want reserved only for your relationship (for example, saying “I love you” or calling someone “sexy”)? While it can feel uncomfortable to think about these hypotheticals, it’s much easier to talk about these situations before they happen, rather than after, once feelings are hurt.
A person’s boundaries can look different from relationship to relationship, and even at different points in the same relationship. As things progress, it’s normal and healthy to get more comfortable around your partner, and you may find yourself opening up to new experiences that might have crossed a boundary for you when you first started dating. Revisiting boundaries in a mutual, respectful way can be a really healthy behavior for partners to engage in, and that’s where open, honest communication comes in again.
So, what happens if your boundaries don’t match up with your partner’s? Navigating these differences can be one of the hardest parts of being in a relationship. Most times, nobody’s boundaries are more right or wrong than someone else’s, but everyone goes through different experiences that impact personal comfort levels. In a healthy relationship, it may be possible to talk through your differences and mutually agree on what the boundaries will be at this point in your partnership, and possibly revisit those agreements down the road. If you really can’t find mutual ground, though, that might mean it isn’t possible for the two of you to be in a healthy relationship right now, and that’s okay too. Sometimes people just aren’t on the same page when it comes to what they want and need from a partner, and that’s a valid and healthy reason to end a relationship. What’s never okay is pressuring, coercing, or forcing someone to adjust a boundary they aren’t ready to change. Disrespecting a partner’s boundaries or forcing them to do things they aren’t comfortable with is definitely unhealthy and can even be abusive.