The Importance of Boundaries in Relationships

What are the benefits of setting boundaries in relationships?
on July 10, 2023
Read time: 5 min
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Love may seem limitless, but for romantic relationships to thrive, there are certain rules which must be respected. Basically, all you need is boundaries.

Rather than seeing them as constrictive, think of boundaries in relationships as an incredibly important ingredient in a healthy partnership. Boundaries are important for the success of a relationship as they lay a foundation of respect and trust from the outset. 

Setting boundaries in a relationship should also be a collaborative process — with both parties feeling loved and respected at all times. Think of them as a team effort. 

So, when looking at boundaries in a relationship, where do you start? We asked two experts about the importance of boundaries in a relationship — including how to spot healthy and unhealthy ones…

What are relationship boundaries?

Boundaries are measures or limits that people put in place to establish what is acceptable behavior in a relationship. Setting boundaries, whether emotional or physical, ensures everyone in the relationship feels comfortable, safe, and respected. 

“Boundaries are a way of being clear about what you do or don’t desire in your relationship and expressing how you will be responsible for your behaviors,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.

Discussing your boundaries helps the relationship function, accepting that both you and your partner may think differently or have different needs — and that’s okay. 

What is the difference between a boundary and a limit? 

“What often gets confused when talking about boundaries is that people often think of them as what the other person will or won’t do. This is why boundaries can come across as controlling, even though that is not their purpose,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Instead, boundaries should be viewed as measures that help the relationship to thrive — rather than as a restriction. 

Why are relationship boundaries important? 

The importance of relationship boundaries shouldn’t be underplayed. Choosing to set healthy boundaries ensures both partners feel validated and understood in a relationship. 

“Relationship boundaries are important as each person needs to feel respected,” says Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, a licensed counselor at Choosing Therapy.

“Feeling validated by your partner can make you feel safe and secure, and help to build a stronger foundation and connection.”

Communicating your boundaries with your partner helps to establish what kind of relationship you are looking for — making it clear what you need from your significant other from the start. 

"Be clear first on knowing what you want and need in your relationship, and embrace that with healthy emotional maturity, says Seeger DeGeare. "

Once you have set your boundaries in a relationship, they should be respected by your partner. If your boundaries are continuously violated, you should address them with your partner and ask yourself whether this is the right relationship for you.

“You can be deeply in love and care for each other, but without boundaries, you can easily hurt each other,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Boundaries are important to help prevent confrontation or misunderstandings in relationships, with your limits laid out for your partner to respect. 

What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries in relationships? 

Boundaries are a responsibility that shouldn’t be shirked, nor should they be diminished or belittled by your partner. Healthy boundaries should make you feel good about yourself and should not negatively impact your self-worth or self-esteem. 

So how do you know if you have good boundaries? Or perhaps more importantly, what do bad boundaries in a relationship look like? 

“Think about how you feel when adhering to the shared boundaries that you agreed on,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“Do you feel safer around your partner? Do you trust each other more? Healthy boundaries should leave you feeling like you have good communication, with the relationship feeling like a reflection of both personalities.” 

Despite the benefits of healthy boundaries, sometimes unhealthy limitations can be put in place that restrict and control a relationship. Boundaries should be mutually agreed upon in a relationship and should not be imposed by one individual. 

“Unhealthy boundaries can be recognized as one person feeling controlled, stuck, or like they can’t be who they truly are,” says Seeger DeGeare. “These boundaries grow from a place of control rather than collaboration.” 

 Unhealthy boundaries may be a sign of a controlling relationship, and you shouldn’t tolerate any boundary that makes you feel disrespected or undervalued.

5 key relationship boundaries 

it's important to put different types of boundaries in place to ensure that your own mental health and well-being are a priority.  

“Key relationship boundaries include anything that is important to and makes a person feel safe and secure in a relationship,” says Dr. Gulotta. 

To ensure the emotional well-being of both yourself and your loved one, these are a few examples of healthy boundaries which you should put in place to preserve your relationship.  

Emotional boundaries

When you are in love, it's easier to lose sight of your own needs. Emotional boundaries help prevent an unhealthy codependency from forming in a relationship by being clear about what is and isn’t yours to feel. 

“Express your emotional boundaries as what you will share, how you will share those things, and what you need to feel safe to be open with your partner,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Although it may feel odd to put an emotional barrier in place, separating your feelings from that of your partner allows you to prioritize your mental health. Fostering a healthy and emotionally secure relationship is easier if you preserve your emotional autonomy. 

Some examples of emotional boundaries include delegating tasks, voicing your relationship needs, and prioritizing self-care without feeling guilty.

Intellectual boundaries

Intellectual boundaries focus on preserving your sense of self in a relationship. 

“Boundaries should support your individuality and preserve your autonomy in a relationship,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Partnerships should involve two individuals coming together and complementing each other. Therefore, you should set boundaries to ensure both parties' views and ideas are respected. 

“It’s the difference between feeling like you are being swallowed in your relationship, compared to being with someone who celebrates you —  unlocking parts of you that you didn’t even know were there.”

Physical boundaries

Setting limits on your personal space isn’t something that you should feel guilty about. 

“Being clear on physical boundaries can help you avoid hurt, feelings of rejection, and even loneliness,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“From being around each other, it's easier to get clear on what feels good and what doesn’t in terms of physical intimacy or closeness.”

Physical boundaries constitute any physical touch — for example, hand-holding, cuddling, or anything that is in your personal bubble. Although they include physical intimacy, they are separate from sexual boundaries. 

These personal boundaries differ from person to person, which is why it's important to assess your partner’s comfort level at different stages of the relationship. 

Setting time boundaries can also help preserve your personal space, as privacy and the right to time alone are also important physical boundaries.

“Clear boundaries enable you to be on the same page about when you want to spend time together and when you need space. It gives people the opportunity to plan and avoid misunderstandings,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Financial boundaries

Talking about money in a relationship can feel like a huge intrusion or imposition — not to mention, awkward. However, it shouldn’t feel like a taboo, especially as your relationship progresses and you start planning your future together. 

“Whether you have joint finances or not, as you are growing your relationship it's important to have a shared understanding of your money habits or how you will make or spend money,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Some healthy examples of financial boundaries include creating and sticking to a budget (for example if you are saving for a house) or being mindful of how much money you spend on wants versus your needs. 

Sexual boundaries

Sex is a very personal experience, which is why it's important to be open about your limits with your romantic partner. 

“A great way to start these conversations is to talk about what your turn-offs or red lights are when it comes to sexual intimacy,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“It is important to talk about what you want to explore sexually but also to put clear boundaries in place regarding what each person considers cheating — as this will help you avoid conflicts down the road.”

If your partner doesn’t respect your sexual boundaries or is pushing you to do something you’re not comfortable with in the bedroom, this could be a major red flag in the relationship and even count as sexual coercion.* 

In toxic relationships, it can be difficult to set your boundaries as you attempt to please your partner. However, if you don’t put these limits in place, it can lead to unsatisfying and uncomfortable sexual experiences. 

How to have a conversation about boundaries 

For your boundaries to be respected, they have to be effectively communicated with your partner. If you’re having a hard time approaching the conversation with your partner, these helpful tips should give you a place to start. 

  • Be prepared: Before you speak to your partner about your boundaries, make sure you fully understand your own needs in the relationship. “Be clear first on knowing what you want and need in your relationship, and embrace that with healthy emotional maturity,” says Seeger DeGeare. 
  • Focus on the conversation: Even though it doesn’t need to be a formal meeting, you should set aside some time to make sure you can focus on what your partner is saying.  Try to eliminate any distractions so that your partner feels that their needs are being respected and validated. 
  • Honesty is the best policy: “The best way to discuss boundaries is to be open and honest, as well as to make sure you listen to what your partner is expressing,” says Dr. Gulotta.  Don’t shy away from the conversation! Be honest about your boundaries and what you find acceptable and unacceptable in a relationship — it will make things clearer in the long run. 
  • Ask questions: When listening to your partner’s boundaries, feel free to ask questions.  “Ask for clarification rather than assume, this helps make sure there is no miscommunication,” says Dr. Gulotta. 
  • Open communication: It’s important to remember that as a relationship grows and you learn more about each other, you may need to expand or change your boundaries. Remain flexible with your partner and allow for the conversation to continue naturally throughout your relationship. This is completely normal and by advocating for open communication, it's easier to deal with these changes as they evolve.

What to do if your partner oversteps boundaries 

The violation of relationship boundaries can have a huge impact on your self-worth and well-being. 

“If your partner oversteps boundaries, it's important to have an open and honest discussion while remaining patient and calm,” says Dr. Gulotta. 

“By asking questions and talking it out with the intent to understand, it will help to fill the gap as to why your partner may be overstepping.”

While there can be room for mistakes in any relationship, continuously ignoring or overstepping boundaries is a serious issue. Disregarding your partner’s boundaries communicates a level of disrespect that isn’t sustainable. 

“If you feel your partner is not showing mutual respect, you can always seek help from a professional to help resolve any conflicts and help provide healthy communication skills.”

*National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline:800-656-HOPE (4673)

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and ask for the police.

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