How to Set Boundaries in Relationships

Sometimes, boundaries in relationships feel like a no-brainer. When you and your partner really click in most ways, it’s easy to think that you’re on the same page about everything – only to find out down the road that you don’t follow quite the same rules after all.

No matter where you are in your relationship, it’s always a good idea to have a proactive conversation about setting boundaries in different areas of your life together. Here are three kinds of boundaries that we especially recommend discussing, along with questions to ask each other and scenarios that might come up.

How to set social boundaries

Yes, your relationship is about you and your partner – but it’s also about everyone else in your lives. "Open communication can be really helpful when it comes to setting social boundaries with partner," says Cassidy Litvack, a therapist in New York City who frequently works with clients on relationship issues.

To get on the same page about how you expect each other to navigate this wider social network, make an ongoing effort to talk through these points and see what you learn about each other:

If your partner is more social, or likes to spend more time with friends, try to validate their needs, while also setting your own boundary. Litvack suggests wording along the lines of "I can understand it’s important for you to see your friends. And it’s important for me to rest at home tonight."

Doing this helps avoid friction which can come if one person’s needs are seen as more important or “right."

How to set emotional boundaries

This is – you guessed it! – a big one. It might seem obvious, but different people have very different ideas of what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to emotional boundaries.

It’s common for couples to hurt each other completely without meaning to, simply because they don’t have a clear sense of what is and isn’t okay with their partner.

So in order to set proper emotional boundaries, make sure to work through the following together:

How to set logistical boundaries

It’s easy to underestimate the role of simple logistics in your relationship, but the nitty-gritty of your day-to-day lives determines so much about your connection with each other.

Getting on the same page about these seemingly simple points can clear up boundary mismatches before they become a problem.

Give yourself extra support when having boundary-setting conversations

Boundaries can be difficult to set, especially with our loves ones, Litvack points out. For some, they may even feel harsh or insensitive to others’ needs. So if you find yourself struggling to set a boundary, it may be helpful to employ self-validation and positive self-talk.

Litvack suggests giving yourself encouraging reminders, such as “Even though this is difficult, my need for this makes sense and is reasonable," or “I may feel anxious initially during this conversation, but ultimately I’ll be really glad I made this choice.”

Don't be afraid to explore the boundaries as time goes on, too; after all, boundaries can shift if we want them to. Of course, adds Litvack, there are emotional, social and physical boundaries that, for safety and comfort reasons and due to our unique histories, do not shift. Having a partner who can honor and respect these limits is important.

At the end of the day, boundaries are about respect – both for yourself and your partner. It can be incredibly empowering to listen to yourself about what you need in a relationship, and to have that need validated by the person who makes your world go round. Plus, understanding each other's needs will strengthen your connection and prevent long-term resentment that can form your needs aren't met.

And remember, if these conversations feel a little heavy for you and your partner to handle on your own, couples counseling can also be a great resource for navigating boundaries – and set yourself up for harmony going forward.