How Do You Set Emotional Boundaries When Dating? 5 Women Revealed Their Secrets & I'm In Awe

In talking about healthy relationships, one word that comes up again and again is boundaries. And it may seem counterintuitive, too: After all, isn’t the goal to become closer to the one you love, not distance yourself from them? So how do you set emotional boundaries when dating without putting walls up? The truth is, boundaries can be what ultimately strengthens your bond by bolstering your sense of self. When you set them, you make your needs, wants, and feelings known to your significant other, and in the process, set the precedent for how you’d like to be treated while also protecting yourself from emotional harm.

You may know what physical boundaries look like — they involve your sense of personal space, privacy, and what you do with your body. Emotional boundaries, on the other hand, which are equally important, involve preserving your identity and self-esteem by separating your feelings from your partner’s.

But defining boundaries isn’t always easy. When another person’s feelings are involved, we may get caught up in worrying about the consequences of our boundary setting. Will they be mad if I don’t want to talk about that? Will they still love me if I say no to doing that? Still, while we may struggle to set emotional boundaries at times, they are so crucial to ensuring that we aren’t compromising our own happiness to make our partners happy.

Need a little inspiration? Here are some tips from five women who have made an active effort to set healthy emotional boundaries.

She's Up Front About Needing Alone Time

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I’m really direct about how much alone time I need right from the beginning. I’ve dated people who want to talk multiple times a day or spend every weekend together, and I went along with it to make them happy. But I’ve learned that leaves me super emotionally drained and ultimately, kind of resentful. For the sake of my mental/emotional health, I need some time by myself to reset and recharge, and I make sure to communicate that to anyone I’m dating that pretty early on to avoid any misunderstandings.
Most of the time, they’re respectful. Occasionally, someone has acted cool with it and then gotten frustrated when I didn’t hang out but I didn’t have a specific obligation or reason why I didn’t. But by setting that boundary, at least I knew I did my part in communicating my needs from the get-go.

—Alex, 30

She's Got Scheduled Reminders

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Setting boundaries is super difficult for me, so I set a daily reminder on my phone that says “You can say no. You deserve to make your needs known.” Whenever that pops up, it reinforces the idea that no one else is going to establish boundaries for me or respect mine without me vocalizing them. I have to look out for myself, and the people who really love me will get that.

—Nina, 26

She Leans On Outside Support

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I have this tendency to second-guess my emotional boundaries in relationships. I’m constantly asking myself whether my feelings are normal or valid. Luckily, I see an amazing therapist who has acted as a sounding board for me when I’m questioning my boundaries. Not only does she reassure me that my emotional boundaries are understandable and legitimate, but she also holds me accountable to actually setting them. Basically, she rules.

—Megan, 29

She Has A Pre-Programmed Answer

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Occasionally, I go into panic mode when I realize I want or need to set a boundary with someone I’m dating. So now I have a scripted response I pull out when I’m not sure I want to do something. I just say “Can I get back to you later about that?” This kind of takes the pressure off, and it allows me some time and distance from the situation to calmly and honestly evaluate what I want to do. That way, I can answer with my real needs in mind and figure out the best way to voice that boundary.

—Shannon, 28

She’s Straight Up #sorrynotsorry

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I really make it a point not to justify, apologize for or over explain a boundary because that just fuels my feeling guilty about it — like it’s selfish or something. My mom always told me “the less said, the better.” So I just try to articulate whatever it is calmly and firmly and in as few words as possible.

—Justine, 27

Emotional boundaries may feel challenging to set — and they may not stick right away, either. Sometimes, especially in a new relationship, it takes time for both partners to understand each other’s boundaries. And like any other skill, it takes practice. The more you get comfortable with vocalizing your boundaries, the more your inner strength and self-respect will grow, which in turn will make it easier and easier to set boundaries down the line. Remember: Setting emotional boundaries is not meant to disappoint or hurt bae, it’s meant to protect you — and a loving, supportive significant other will always make an effort to respect them.