So you just met this new person and they’re incredible! You like the way they talk, the way they act, the way they treat you - and you’re scared to ruin something that’s going so well by saying “no”.
Maybe you always go for the restaurant they suggest, even if you feel like something else. Maybe you’re really tired but stay out “a bit longer” because they ask you to. Maybe you answer all their texts even if they distract you during work. If you want to make sure that you're setting yourself up for success with a new relationship, it's very important to understand and practice healthy boundaries from the very beginning.
Boundary setting helps keep both partners happy and healthy and prevents any hurt feelings or resentment from building up over time.
Here's why it's so important to set healthy boundaries in a new relationship, plus some tips on how to do it.
First things first: what exactly are“boundaries”?
In simple terms, boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships - what we will and will not tolerate, what is okay and what is not okay. “Boundaries” can be a hard concept to grasp because not only they can be quite subtle, they can also change as you and your relationship change. Many times, we don’t even really know where our own limits are.
Boundaries can be related to physical contact, verbal interactions, personal space, or emotional well-being.
Boundaries can sound like:
- “I’m working now, so I’ll text later”
- “Let’s please put our phones away for a while”
- “I feel like this is a decision I should make by myself”
- “I want to go out for coffee alone, today”
Boundary setting helps us protect our emotional health, our physical space, our belongings, or our time and it applies to pretty much any social situation, whether it’s conscious or not.
How can boundary setting improve your relationship?
Establishing healthy boundaries early on is essential for a strong and long-lasting relationship. This is what will prevent you from being taken advantage of, becoming too invested in someone who isn't as invested in you, or dedicating your time to someone who is not willing to respect your limits - hello, red flag!
Boundaries help you maintain your sense of self and independence within the relationship, they help prevent friction and make sure your needs are being honored.
Setting boundaries means having your relationship defined, having your own friends and social circle, having your privacy respected, or being addressed in a way you find respectful and comfortable. It means fewer fights, fewer hurt feelings, more understanding, and more comfort.
Boundary setting is what will help you understand how both you and your new partner can be happy, or, at least, respect and be comfortable with each other’s decisions.
So how can you set boundaries in a new relationship?
1. Understanding your boundaries.
Let’s start from the beginning. This is mostly about knowing yourself. Only you can decide what works for you and what doesn't. What do you need from this relationship? What are your expectations? What are you comfortable with?
Identifying your boundaries means being in touch with your own emotions and trusting your instinct. What makes you feel emotionally triggered? What gets your stomach in a knot? What gives you a “wrong” feeling? That’s where your limits are.
However, one thing that is important to understand about boundaries is that they’re ever changing and they adapt to the relationship itself. As so, even when you do understand your own boundaries, they won’t always apply in the same way, as you and your relationship grow.
2. Communicating your boundaries
The thing about boundaries is that they’re tightly related to someone’s values, traits, and personality. This means not everyone has the same boundaries, and, most often, people won’t be able to guess what another person’s boundaries are. Your partner can't read your mind - especially if you’re in the early stages of dating - so it's up to you to clearly communicate what you need from them and from your relationship.
Communicating your boundaries can look like anything from a simple “Thank you for wanting to spend time with me, I really appreciate it, but I don’t feel like going out tonight” said in the moment, to sitting your partner down for a conversation after you feel like one of your boundaries has been crossed.
The important thing to remember is that, whether it’s a brief comment or a long conversation, open, honest, and kind communication is essential when it comes to setting boundaries. No need to be apprehensive, no need to feel like you’re being mean, just stay understanding and loving.
Of course, boundary-setting is a two-way street. Just as it's important for your partner to respect your needs and expectations, it's also important for you to respect theirs. So the cherry on top of that communicating boundaries is that it helps you and your partner get to know and understand each other better, which is particularly important in the early stages of a relationship.
3. Enforcing your boundaries
Boundary-setting doesn’t end in communicating boundaries: you have to follow through by enforcing the boundaries you've set.
If you've told your partner that you need more time apart from them during the week, don't cave if they start calling or texting you multiple times a day. If your partner expresses a need for space or privacy, don’t take it personally and try to impose your presence.
No one has the right to step on anyone’s limits, and if someone chooses to violate your boundaries after you’ve set them, it’s your right to distance yourself from them.
Ready to start setting some boundaries?
Setting boundaries is all about honoring your needs and making sure they’re being respected and addressed in the relationship - and doing it in a new relationship is setting yourself up for success.
When you’re in touch with your wants and needs and you communicate them, you’re able to talk about things before they become problems, and you set the foundation for a happy and rewarding relationship.
While boundary-setting in a new relationship may feel a bit scary, remember communication is an essential part of any relationship and when you normalize talking about your needs, talking boundaries is just “another Tuesday afternoon”. Know that, as your relationship evolves over time, so too will your needs and comfort levels. So don't be afraid to revisit the topic whenever you need and readjust as necessary.