Keys To Setting Healthy Boundary In Relationships

Distant Couple

How to set healthy boundaries that won't push your partner away.

The word "boundary" sounds harsh to many ears. After all, countless countries have gone to war with each other over them. When you even consider setting a boundary with your partner in your relationship, you might break out in a cold sweat.

The last thing you want is to start a "war" in your relationship or to say something that will escalate tensions and push your partner away from you. From a place of hesitation and worry, you choose to remain silent. You cross your fingers and keep wishing that the situation will resolve on its own. You gripe to your friends about it. You drop subtle suggestions, hoping that your partner will get the hint.

But nothing changes and it may even get worse.

What's clear is that you're going to have to face whatever is bothering you and be upfront about it with your partner. All of this probably means it's time to set a healthy boundary.

Notice the adjective, "healthy," because that makes a big difference. Regardless of how powerless you feel about the stressful situation in your relationship, you DO have all the power when it comes to how you'll communicate about it with your partner.

See how the same relationship issue is handled in these two scenarios below. Pick the one that's an example of healthy boundary-setting (and which one is not):

Scenario #1: "You know I can't stand it when you watch porn! You're looking at all of these naked women (doing all kinds of things) and getting turned on by them. I can't compete with that! Either you totally cut out the porn or I'm leaving!"

Scenario #2: "I feel upset when I hear that you've been watching porn or when I come home and find you watching it. I feel ignored and afraid that you don't find me attractive enough and I worry that you aren't satisfied by our lovemaking. I respect your right to make your own choices about what you watch, but I don't want to see or hear about porn. I don't want you to watch porn on the computer we share and I don't want you to watch porn when I am at home. I would like to talk about how we can make sure our lovemaking is exciting and satisfying for us both."

Whether it's pornography, texting with an ex, spending money, parenting habits, how you talk to one another, or anything else, the way you set a boundary matters. A lot!

As you can see, Scenario #1 involves allegations and an ultimatum while Scenario #2 offers an alternative approach. In the second example, "I feel" statements are the means by which the person expresses her (or his) experience of the other person's porn habit. She (or he) speaks about the effect it has and is specific about the boundary.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with laying down an "Either you ____ or I will ____" statement, but make sure you're willing to follow through if you do. Think long and hard before uttering ultimatums like this. When you do, you risk losing credibility...or your entire relationship.

Know when you're dealing with a non-negotiable issue. It could be absolutely true that if your partner won't honor the boundary you're setting, you will leave the relationship. That's a valid choice to make, but be sure that's where you are. Too many people make the mistake of threatening to leave when they don't intend to actually do so.

Boundary-Setting Rules to Live (and Love) By:

1. Know What The Real Issue Is For You.
Frequently, the thing that you think is bugging you is not the core issue. Take the time to identify exactly what that is and why this is upsetting you.

2. Don't Assume You Know Your Partner's Motivations (or feelings).
It's okay to talk about your partner's observable words and behaviors. Anything beyond that is a guess, so ask if you don't actually know.

3. Be Honest About The Effect This Is Having On You.
Here's where "I feel" statements come in so handy. Let your partner know the consequences of his or her actions and how you feel about it.

4. Pinpoint The Behavior.
Get specific about the different behavior you're asking for. Whenever possible, speak affirmatively about what you DO want and be specific. If there's a time frame you'd like for a particular action or change, include that too.

5. Stay Open And Flexible When You Can.
Where are you willing to discuss and compromise? To listen to and consider what's true for your partner and to what he or she wants is NOT a sign of weakness or "giving in."

6. Follow Through And Watch For Compliance.
It's a huge trust-builder to intentionally look for examples of your partner honoring your boundary and making the change you requested. Acknowledge this and use it as way to connect more deeply.

Finding the right words to say when setting a boundary can be tricky. We explain how certain words and phrases shut your partner down and how other words and phrases help open your partner up and encourage him or her to respect your healthy boundaries. We share what to say (and what not to say) in our free video.