In any relationship, boundaries are essential for setting limits on what you can handle, what you’ll put up with, and what you expect from others.
Setting boundaries in relationships allows us to be vulnerable, feel safe, and grow as individuals. Additionally, boundaries help individuals gain independence and build self-esteem.
In this post, we’ll share the importance of setting boundaries for mental health, the types of boundaries that are important in relationships, and how to determine your personal boundaries for successful relationships.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are the physical and emotional limits, feelings, needs, and responsibilities that separate you from other people. Personal boundaries are the guidelines you set for the people in your life — how they can treat you, what you find acceptable, and what you don’t.
Setting boundaries is a form of self-care, and they are critical to emotional well-being. Personal boundaries not only create healthy relationships but they increase self-esteem and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Boundaries are shaped by our life experiences, family dynamics, culture, and where we grew up, among many factors. Some people have rigid, tight boundaries, where they tend to keep others at a distance and avoid close relationships.
Other people have flexible, wide boundaries, particularly with family members and friends, who may require more support and time than coworkers or acquaintances. Flexible boundaries can vary from oversharing personal information to getting overly involved in others’ lives.
Boundaries in a healthy relationship depend entirely on the two individuals. Setting healthy boundaries early on in a relationship can set both people up for success. You may have different boundaries than your partner, but you both should see eye to eye on the following:
- Understanding personal needs and how to communicate them
- Value your own opinions as well as theirs
- Respect the boundaries laid out by your partner without making them feel guilty
- Sharing personal information appropriately
Types of Boundaries in Relationships
There are five types of boundaries that help foster positive relationships between people to help them feel seen, heard, valued, and respected.
These boundary types include:
1. Physical Boundaries
Physical boundaries are categorized as personal space, privacy, and your body. This includes your personal preferences for physical touch, privacy within your own home, when you need time by yourself, and your physical needs, like rest and sustenance.
In intimate relationships, physical boundaries are important for each person to feel safe. They can help build trust and even improve physical intimacy as each partner feels respected and fulfilled.
2. Sexual Boundaries
Sexual boundaries include the activities you are comfortable with when having sex. Sexual boundaries should be clearly set once you become intimate with a partner so you are on the same page and they are aware of your personal limits.
Established sexual boundaries help individuals avoid feeling uncomfortable in real-life sexual situations with significant others where they may not know how to communicate otherwise.
3. Intellectual Boundaries
Your intellectual boundaries are the thoughts, beliefs, ideals, and personal values that exist at your core. In a romantic or platonic relationship, intellectual boundaries should be established so that each party knows what the other is comfortable sharing and discussing.
Whether it’s politics, religion, or any other polarizing topic, setting intellectual boundaries protects the opinions and beliefs of both people. In some relationships, intellectual boundaries include setting parameters on when to change the subject should a conversation get heated.
Healthy relationships set intellectual boundaries to ensure both people feel like their views, opinions, and beliefs are respected, even if the other person disagrees.
4. Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries protect the right to have your own feelings and thoughts without being criticized, invalidated, or shamed for them. Emotional boundaries also include your right to divulge personal details and information in a relationship at your own discretion without feeling pressured to overshare.
Emotional boundaries protect the personal space we need in situations. Additionally, they can help us feel respected, valued, and safe in any relationship.
5. Financial Boundaries
Financial boundaries relate to your personal views on saving and spending money. Your personal views on finances may be different than a partner’s or friend’s, meaning you may not be comfortable with spending large amounts or want to loan money to someone who has different financial values than you do.
Financial boundaries in relationships can be set by discussing financial goals upfront and communicating expectations about saving and spending money appropriately.
Why Is Boundary Setting Important For Mental Health?
Establishing healthy boundaries in any relationship, whether platonic or romantic, is crucial for our mental health and well-being.
The benefits of boundaries for mental well-being are:
- Preserving or improving self-esteem
- Prioritizing emotional energy
- Creating space for personal growth
Healthy boundaries in positive relationships are beneficial for mental health, and the opposite can be true as well. Poor boundaries in a relationship can lead to emotional abuse and many other problems that can negatively impact mental health and well-being.
How To Establish Healthy Boundaries
Not sure how to set or maintain healthy boundaries? It can be challenging to determine what boundaries feel appropriate for you. Boundary setting takes self-reflection to understand what matters to you in a relationship and how you feel seen, respected, and valued.
Here’s how to set healthy boundaries for personal relationships:
Set boundaries from the get-go.
In doing so, you’ll establish clear boundaries that are obvious and easy to follow for the people in your life. Blurred boundaries can occur when they aren’t initially set, and one or both people in a relationship let their partner’s beliefs and needs outweigh their own.
Be consistent with your own needs.
Once set, maintaining boundaries in any relationship is critical because it keeps your values and needs clear. If you let your boundaries slide over time, a partner may think your needs have changed.
Communication is key.
When setting boundaries with friends or partners, communication is essential to set your expectations on appropriate behavior by them and yourself.
For example, if you feel uncomfortable with the way your partner shares your relationship on social media, use clear communication to express your physical boundaries so they can understand your needs.
If you have family members or loved ones that repeatedly text or call you until you answer, clearly communicating your personal needs in regard to physical boundaries (“I will call you after work” or “Let’s catch up this weekend instead”) will create more balance in your relationship. Some family dynamics work with constant communication, but if that doesn’t serve you, don’t feel guilty about communicating it.
Keep your physical and emotional well-being in mind.
When setting and keeping boundaries in place, remember to trust your gut. You’re preserving your self-esteem and self-respect in relationships by setting boundaries, but it’s also possible to overthink it. Your personal and emotional boundaries protect your psychological well-being, but there’s also a time to trust your gut. Human intuition is a powerful thing, and there may be scenarios where your own boundaries aren’t working, and in that case, follow your instincts.
Learn how to set boundaries in your relationships. Clear Behavioral Health can help.
Unhealthy boundaries are more common in relationships than most people think. Boundary issues don’t just affect romantic relationships; they can trigger stress and anxiety in relationships with family and friends if you don’t feel like your needs are valued by loved ones.
If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of setting boundaries for the relationships in your life, you are not alone. A mental health professional can help you manage the discomfort you may feel by setting limits and boundaries for people in your life.
At Clear Behavioral Health, our mission is to help those struggling with anxiety and depression lead purposeful, healthy lives. In therapy, individuals will gain skills to set boundaries without guilt or shame. Contact us today for more information.