Here's How To Talk To Your Partner About Setting Boundaries In Your Relationship

by Lily Rouff

The other night, my boyfriend picked up my laptop and asked for the password. My first thought: Are you bonkers? I offered to enter it for him (instead of saying what I was thinking out loud), and he honestly seemed a little jilted. For me, the idea of sharing passwords to devices is totally off limits, but that's based on my past experiences with relationships that were too controlling and were without respect for personal privacy. While I know my POV is valid, and I have the right to draw my lines, setting boundaries in your relationship can be a challenge.

It is really easy to fall into the habit of letting little things slide when you are totally into someone. Enter: boundaries. But why is establishing them so important to a healthy relationship? "The erosion of our boundaries means we've lost our sense of self, and identity," says bestselling author and relationship expert Susan Winter. "Now, we're at the whim of our partner." Being with another person should not mean you give up who you are, but rather, you learn to respect and compromise (even cherish) each other's differences.

And those differences could span a variety of topics. Dr. Grant H. Brenner, MD, psychiatrist, consultant, and psychoanalyst in NYC says that boundaries should be brought up in relation to finances, professional lives, space, living situations, dealing with family and friends, having kids, commitment level, and illnesses. In fact, he says, "Boundaries should cover all aspects of a relationship." But that can feel a bit overwhelming.

When we talk about boundaries, we usually talk about setting them. And the word "setting" might be the culprit as to why it can sound like a harrowing task. Shouldn't my guy just know that I don't want him electronically logging in to my stuff whenever he pleases? The reality is, no, because I'm not dating a mindreader. "Your partner is a different person, so unless you clarify what you want and don’t want in your relationship, they may have no clue," says licensed marriage and family therapist, Anita Chlipala. The fact of the matter is that you need to address your boundaries for another person to understand and honor them.

But telling someone what you need (and don't need) from them is a sensitive subject that could very well lead to hurt feelings if you don't approach it with care. These are the ways to tackle the subject of boundaries with your partner that should lead to meaningful, mutually appreciative compromise.

Be Kind And Gentle

Chlipala says that being kind and gentle will help to prevent hurting your partner's feelings. "How you bring something up is crucial in the success of a conversation, so I recommend phrasing it as a positive need versus a demand," she says.

Validate Your Partner's Side Of Things

Lori Salkin, senior matchmaker and dating coach suggests coming to the conversation with a positive perspective to let your partner know you value and respect them helps start things off on the right foot. "Then, you can add that you feel differently and strongly about certain things, and the only way for the relationship to work is to acknowledge those differences," she says. Let your partner know that you are willing to compromise with them (it's not all your way, after all), but that these boundaries are important to you.

Don't Place Blame

Sure, tone can help a lot, but be mindful of your phrasing as well. Brenner encourages referring to your feelings and your needs, instead of focusing on blame or critiquing your SO. Pointing a finger usually puts the other person on the defensive, which is inherently unproductive.

Come To The Conversation Prepared

Having an idea of what you want to say before entering the conversation will help you stay on topic, says Brenner. Effective communication, like taking turns listening and speaking, help a lot, too. And if the conversation turns to conflict, resume it at a later time. You can easily set this conversation up for success with the right framing. Brenner offers this tip: "It often helps to have an initial conversation in which you say you would like to discuss boundaries, and then, pick a future time to do so."

Leave The Conversation Open

"Boundaries themselves should be established collaboratively and subject to revision when appropriate," says Brenner. Rigid boundaries do not help anyone. Rather, boundaries should act as guidelines that are able to be amended and are open for future conversation and discussion. That doesn't mean you should push someone else's boundaries, but just leave room for spontaneity, when fitting.

If you approach the topic of boundaries with openness, kindness, respect, and positivity, your partner should be receptive to hearing you and working with you to give you what you need (and vice versa). And if they're not? "I always remind individuals that if you stay firm and do not compromise, and your significant other dumps you over it, he or she is not someone whose character you should respect and want to [be with] anyway," says Salkin. Amen to that.

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