Dating & Relationships

A Guide to Creating & Keeping Personal Boundaries in a Relationship

04.01.2022

By Avril Louise Clarke, Clinical Sexologist

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Welcome to TPC Dating and Relationships, a column in which we will give advice and information on relationships, sex, consent and more. No question is off limits.

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What are personal boundaries? 

Personal boundaries are about understanding and respecting our own needs by creating a physical or emotional space between ourselves and others. Simply put, boundaries are a form of self respect.

Why are boundaries important?

Boundaries allow you to feel respected in relationships, whether it is with a family member, a friend, or a partner. Setting boundaries is important in all relationships in life.

Depending on the type of relationship we have with the other person, boundaries take different forms.

Physical boundaries refer to your personal space, your body, property, and your privacy. For example, your comfort level with receiving physical touch like a hug, a kiss, or holding hands. You may also want your physical possessions like your phone to not be touched by others. 

Emotional boundaries refer to your emotions and feelings. For example, you might take a while to open up to a new friend, partner, or family member about certain topics. Having good emotional boundaries means never feeling forced or forced upon with words that make you feel uncomfortable.

Sexual boundaries refer to what one feels comfortable doing in a sexual relationship. For example, one may choose to only engage in non-penetrative sex in a relationship, like kissing, cuddling, and having oral sex. Sexual boundaries are necessary to talk about in any sexual relationship and using sexual consent is a great way of learning about you or your partner's sexual boundaries. 

How do I set personal boundaries?

Sometimes a person can feel afraid to set boundaries with others - as Professor Brenee Brown puts it, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others." But know that the only way to ensure your boundaries are made and kept is by communicating them to others, even when it might feel hard! Everyone is allowed to set their own boundaries - whenever and whenever. So, how exactly do we make boundaries - and make sure we stay true to them? Let's break it down a bit more:

Follow these 3 steps to set and keep a personal boundary

  1. Defining what that boundary is. 

Example: “I feel uncomfortable with kissing and holding hands with my partner in public.” 

  1. Communicating the boundary. 

Example: Telling your partner, “Hey, I have been feeling a bit uncomfortable when we are intimate in public, we will need to keep our physical contact like kissing and holding hands for when we are in private.”

  1. Set consequences if that boundary is crossed.

Example: “If you don’t respect this boundary, I will end this relationship."

Examples of setting boundaries

  • Choosing to silence notifications from applications on your phone.

  • Scheduling days to hang out with your partner that give you time with family and friends.

  • Putting social media accounts on private and not sharing passwords.

  • Setting a time limit to how much time you spend with a friend per week. 

  • Sharing with a sexual partner that you are not ready to have sex.


How do I find out what my partner's boundaries are?

You simply ask! When setting boundaries, it's a great time to ask your partner what theirs are too. Depending on the relationship you have with the other person, you can ask, "What are your limits in a relationship?" or "Can you share with me what is off-limits for you sexually?"

Are there such things as disrespectful boundaries?

Yes! If a partner is setting boundaries for you that seem controlling or abusive - this is considered a disrespectful boundary. For example, if your partner says you can't use TikTok or Instagram to communicate with friends or doesn't allow you time to be yourself outside the relationship - this is a big sign that you may be in a disrespectful relationship. Boundaries are meant to keep ourselves safe in all relationships and know that you are in control of what you want and don't want in a relationship. You, not anyone else in the world decides what your boundaries are.


How do I keep personal boundaries?

Keeping up with personal boundaries means having to rely on our own internal “alert systems” to determine when boundaries have been crossed. Do I feel angry? Upset? Overwhelmed? Perhaps a boundary was crossed. Deciding in that moment how you can reaffirm your boundaries is key to keeping yourself feeling safe and respected. In respectful relationships, we respect each other's boundaries - no questions asked.

Have any other questions on how to create personal boundaries in your life or in your relationships? Let’s keep the conversation going by sending us a message here.