For the second article in our setting boundaries series, Becca Luke gives advice on setting boundaries to benefit yourself and your relationship.
Establishing boundaries is necessary in relationships. Without them there is nothing stopping you and your partner morphing into one co-dependant blob. Boundaries set expectations, tolerances, and help self-preservation, as well as allow respect to grow between partners and encourage a healthy relationship. They can be physical, mental, and emotional, and vary greatly.
In a romantic relationship it’s very easy to fall into spending all your time together, encouraging your friends to become their friends, or choosing to stay home with them when your flatmates go to Hive. It’s important to remember that not all relationships will last, and you should always be more than the sum of the parts. Boundaries help to ensure that you have an identity and interests outside your partner, allowing you to maintain relationships with the other people in your life.
“Boundaries help to ensure that you have an identity and interests outside your partner, allowing you to maintain relationships…”
Whilst it may be a little forward to ask someone on a first date if they put the toilet seat down or if they would be keen to move to Australia and adopt four dogs, you can learn a lot about someone from the get go. Dating at university can be a minefield of people seeking different things, and the easiest way to make sure you aren’t wasting your time is to know their intentions. Conversations are especially important surrounding sexual health and, in this current climate, their stance on Covid-19, so outline your boundaries around these issues in the beginning to avoid issues later on.
If it’s your first relationship, knowing what boundaries you need can be tricky. How can you know what to expect from a partner when you have never had someone fill that role before? Often it has to be a case of trial and error; express when something upsets you, but equally make it clear when your partner does something you like. As with most aspects of relationships, communication is key. When the “honeymoon stage” fades, a relationship becomes much harder to maintain when expectations have not been set initially. In my first relationship we found ourselves a year in with no idea how to look after ourselves or each other because we had no idea what the other wanted. Ultimately this became very unhealthy as we fought to implement tolerances that had already been broken.
“Often it has to be a case of trial and error; express when something upsets you, but equally make it clear when your partner does something you like.”
Setting boundaries when you have been in a relationship before can be equally difficult. Past baggage can be very difficult to negotiate in a relationship, but it can mean that you and your partner have a clearer insight into what you want and what lines cannot be crossed. When I started dating my boyfriend, we were both terrified of letting ourselves get hurt again and of hurting each other – the way we got through this was understanding, respect, forgiveness, and time. Ultimately, love may not be a choice, but relationships are. Choosing to be with your partner everyday has to mean choosing to respect and care for their boundaries; and to receive the same in return.
“Choosing to be with your partner everyday has to mean choosing to respect and care for their boundaries…”
So, how do you actually set boundaries? Firstly, you have to know your own, and be honest with yourself about what your needs are. Next, discuss these with your partner. It’s important for this to be a continued discussion as the relationship grows. You don’t have to tell them your full life story on date three, but explain how something makes you feel. For example, if you are expressing that you like to have alone time, describe how this allows you to recharge your social batteries and give an indication of how much ‘time’ you require (whether that be getting up an hour earlier than them in the morning or a trip to a museum and coffee shop every Friday). These discussions are especially useful when deciding how much of your relationship you want shared with others and online.
In order for boundaries to work, watch out for red flags that they are being ignored; some indicators are not listening when you speak about boundaries, constantly overstepping lines, and being unwilling to signpost their needs but being upset when you can’t predict them. This can also manifest in your partner implementing measures you feel are controlling under the pretence of boundaries – your partner can express that running into your ex at a party upset them, but cannot demand you stop going out with your friends.Sometimes you may need to compromise, but if it’s always you having to compromise, it’s probably a sign that this relationship isn’t the most healthy. Ultimately no one is infallible. There will be slip ups, and clear, open communication is necessary in these instances. Be steadfast, however if it’s a continued offence, remember you set these boundaries for a reason.