Love is not about completely merging with another person. Love is choosing to be with someone else while retaining a healthy sense of your own self. That's why it's so important to have boundaries in relationships. They keep your priorities clear even when you are falling in love. They make certain that, in the process of wrapping yourself up in another person, you won't be letting go of yourself. But we aren't often taught how to have healthy boundaries in relationship, and why they are so important.
Think of the boundaries in your relationship like a set of teacups. The tea is your love, and the cup keeps it from spilling. There's enough in the pot for both of you, as long as you keep your teacups level and balanced.
Not having boundaries might feel good, because you're letting someone else in all the way. But if you go too long without guidelines in place, you can wind up feeling like your spirit has been sucked dry. If you've ever felt absolutely drained by your relationship, it's probably because the boundaries were either broken, weren't well-established in the first place, or were not well-maintained.
Here's how to avoid neglecting your own boundaries, according to some experts:
1. Learn Your Needs Through Self-Reflection
In therapist Nicole Richardson's opinion, the most difficult part of clearly articulating your needs is knowing what they are in the first place.
"Journaling and meditation are really good ways to explore what you need and why," Richardson says.
Getting into the routine of journaling about sources of conflict in your relationship can help you find out where your own edges are. And taking time to ground yourself and clear your thoughts through meditation can help you tune into your subconscious channels that will tell you what you are really after, not only in your relationship but in your whole life. There are lots of apps and resources on getting started with your own meditation practice. The app Headspace is a good place to start.
2. Stop Second-Guessing Yourself
Richardson advises against spending too much time dithering about whether or not what you want is right.
"Second-guessing if your needs are 'weird' or 'too much' is a great way to shut yourself down and add road blocks in your relationship," says Richardson. "If you have a need, suppressing it will not make your relationship better."
In fact, according to the therapist, denying what you want will have the opposite effect on your relationship.
"[Self-denial] will cause resentments and fights that are painful and confusing," says Richardson. "It is far more efficient to be open and honest about what you need."
Sex expert Polly Rodriguez, who works with the sex-positive company Unbound, also voices the importance of validating your own boundaries.
"Without believing that your boundaries are worthy of respect, it becomes impossible to demand that respect from your partner," says Rodriguez.
She also adds that it's good to anticipate that your feelings might change because they probably will. When change happens be flexible with yourself and within your relationship. Return to the tools you have developed for self-exploration.
3. Give Yourself Space And Time To Explore
Part of articulating boundaries involves sharing your desires with each other, and that's the really fun part. Treat the process of identifying your boundaries as a journey of self-discovery. Don't focus on what you might lose in this process, and instead take stock in what you will discover. It will get easier over time and with practice.
"When you've taken the time to explore yourself, sharing your desires and and boundaries with a partner becomes so much easier," says Rodriguez. "It's easier to know how to interact with others when you fully understand yourself."
Whether your boundaries have to do with your body, your sexual preferences, or the way in which you define your relationship, exploring them will only benefit you in every arena of your life. Don't forget to have fun along the way.