When you begin a new relationship, your instinct is probably to size up your new partner: you want to know what they’re like in company, whether they fight fair, whether or not they have a short temper, if they’re affectionate, or perhaps what their love language is. These are just some of the questions that may arise, and they’re ones you’ll figure out as you go along.
One thing that shouldn’t be left to fate is the issue of boundaries in a new relationship – it’s beneficial to both parties to be clear about what their expectations are before embarking on a serious relationship. Setting boundaries involves both partners acknowledging differences (or similarities) of opinions, beliefs in some cases, convictions and ideas. More importantly, it means finding balance and being respectful of these elements.
Why boundaries are important
Clinical social worker and relationship expert Toni Coleman says boundaries help to differentiate between individuals and their respective views and expectations within a relationship. “Boundaries serve as a reminder that there are two distinct people in the relationship with their own perspectives, needs, feelings and interests,” she told online lifestyle publication The Cheat Sheet. “Therefore, even though they function as a team, boundaries help to create a balance between them as individuals and them as partners, and the differing and, at times, conflicting needs and wants that come with each of these.”
How to start the conversation
The first step to setting boundaries is acknowledge your partner’s needs, desires and views. In some instances, the conversation will flow naturally; in others, you might need to spur it on. Raise the topic when both of you are relaxed. Start the conversation by talking about your beliefs, things that make you happy and things that make you tick. Open up and ask your partner what their deal-breakers are. But be your own point of reference. Don’t mention an ex if you don’t absolutely have to. It’s possible to have this conversation without constantly referring to previous relationships – no one wants to be compared to a blast from the past. By resisting the urge to bad-mouth an ex, your partner will get a better view of you as a person and what you stand for, rather than view you with your ex, who isn’t there to defend themself.
If you have “non-negotiables” in a relationship, make sure you aren’t evasive about them when communicating with your partner. Instead of expecting him or her to guess what your boundaries are, be assertive, clear but polite about them. It helps to offer context. It might be easy to gauge from their reaction what their views are, but don’t assume anything. Ask as many constructive questions as you think you need to.
At this point in your relationship, it’s vital that both parties are good listeners.
What to do if your boundaries are violated
Be realistic, and bear in mind that your partner might not take in everything you’ve told them in one conversation; they shouldn’t expect the same. There’s immense power in growing together and getting to know each other’s highs and lows.
“Whenever a partner needs to convey a difficult truth, using ‘I’ statements can help them to be heard because they keep defences in check, which is necessary to keep the lines of communication open,” Coleman advises. “An example of this is to say: ‘I was upset when you went ahead with making a plan without checking with me first.’ If instead a partner were to say something like: ‘You completely disregarded my feelings and did what you wanted to do,’ it comes across as an attack that will often shut the person down and/or result in them going on the offensive and attacking back. Using ‘I’ statements and focusing on a partner’s behaviour rather than attacking their motives or them personally is the best way to avoid conflict and have a more productive conversation.”
If you feel your boundaries are constantly being violated, it may be best to move on from that relationship. Know when it’s the right time to walk away.
Additional reporting: The Cheat Sheet