How do you protect your emotions from being taken advantage of? Setting healthy emotional boundaries in dating is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner.
Boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits you create for yourself regarding your comfort level around people. They are drawn from a mix of past experiences, core beliefs, opinions, and values. These boundaries involve separating your feelings from your partner’s and having a defined limit that shouldn’t be affected.
Before dating, know yourself, understand your personal and emotional needs, and learn how to communicate.
Healthy vs. unhealthy emotional boundaries in relationships
Healthy boundaries create safety in a relationship. They are a reflection of your standards, morals, and principles.
You know you’re in a healthy and strong relationship if your partner respects you, appreciates you, listens to you, and validates your emotions.
Unhealthy boundaries on the other hand make you feel manipulated, pressured, overwhelmed, exploited, pushed, criticized, and controlled in a relationship.
Unhealthy boundaries in a relationship occur when you or your partner completely disregard each other’s values, wants, needs and limits. At its worst, unhealthy boundaries can result in abuse and emotional trauma.
Examples of healthy emotional boundaries
- You say “NO” if you’re uncomfortable with something and accept “NO” from your partner.
- You refuse to take your partner’s blame.
- You expect respect from your partner.
- You express your emotions freely.
- You are independent despite being in a relationship.
- You’re comfortable asking for help when you need it.
- You ask for space to spend time away from your partner.
- You refuse to take your partner’s blame.
- You can be vulnerable with your partner.
Signs you have poor emotional boundaries
- You do not feel like you have a voice when your partner is not treating you right. Basically, you can’t stand up for yourself because you’re scared of pushing them away.
- You let your relationship define you. Your partner dictates your life and tells you how you should be.
- It’s hard for you to say no even when it’s making you uncomfortable and do things even when you don’t want to.
- You let your partner touch you or have sex with you even when you don’t want to.
- You do something for your partner even when it’s against your values, morals, and ethical standards.
- You feel guilty when your partner is unhappy even though it’s not your responsibility.
- You feel like you have to “play nice” to earn respect.
How do you know when you need to set emotional boundaries?
You can tell if it’s time to set a boundary by performing a simple internal assessment that involves looking at the data from how you respond to emotions.
Here are some signs you need to set boundaries in your relationship.
- Resentment: it is a mix of disappointment, anger, disgust, and fear. You feel like your partner is taking advantage of you.
- Tension or pressure
- Frustration, especially due to being unable to change or achieve something or feel like your partner is holding you back in your pursuits.
- Constant exhaustion and burnout.
Benefits of setting emotional boundaries
Setting emotional boundaries is essential if you want to avoid being emotionally manipulated. It’s easy to fall into unhealthy relationships where you feel pressured to act a certain way or behave in ways that you don’t really want to.
Below I discuss some of the benefits you gain by setting your emotional boundaries, whether dating or in a relationship.
In all actuality, you can’t be in a healthy relationship if you can’t let your partner know when they are out of line. This level of communication needs a lot of understanding and compassion.
Compassion connects us with what’s difficult. Brene Brown explains the surprising connection between setting boundaries and compassion.
Assertiveness means standing up for yourself calmly and positively without being aggressive or undermining others.
If you set clear boundaries, you develop assertiveness to help you stand your ground and openly express how you feel without coming across as too strong or pushy.
Eliminate anger from your life
Anger and resentment can drain your energy. If anger is a constant feeling in your relationship, you probably notice how it constantly brings negativity into your life.
Healthy boundaries communicate what lines cannot be crossed—as a result, protecting you from having to deal with feelings of anger and resentment. When you have a boundary, you can tell when someone is about to cross the line, and you can stop them by telling them that it’s not okay.
If someone cannot respect that, walk away and stop putting effort into the relationship to get rid of constant anger.
Self-awareness means understanding your needs, desires, habits, and everything that makes you the person you are. Boundaries help us with self-monitoring, contributing to increased self-awareness. You know what is okay with you and notice what makes you uncomfortable enough to set your limits.
It helps you remain true to your principles
Setting emotional boundaries ensures that you stay true to your principles no matter who you are dating.
Of course, as time goes by, your conversations with your partner can pave the way to new ideas. But you shouldn’t feel pressured to adopt their ideas to avoid upsetting them.
It helps you keep your identity
Relationships can sometimes become your whole world. You barely hang out with your friends, you stop doing activities that you love, all because you are dating this person.
Boundaries can help you decipher between the “I” and the “We” and help you maintain your sense of self.
How to set emotional boundaries
Creating boundaries is not about other people but about your safety and what you stand for.
Step 1: Write down existing boundaries (or lacking boundaries) in your life.
Step 2: Communicate with your partner assertively. Let them know what the boundaries are and when they have crossed them. Keep it simple, focus on yourself and say what you need/expect.
Step 3: Enforce your boundaries by setting consequences. You can’t set boundaries without setting consequences. Ensure that you can follow through on the consequences, or they won’t be effective.
How to know if your boundaries are getting crossed
Unfortunately, some people will never respect your boundaries. One of the greatest challenges regarding personal boundaries is figuring out what to do when boundaries are crossed, especially by the people we love.
It’s vital to ask yourself these questions if people constantly cross your boundaries.
- How long has the boundary violation been going on?
- Is your partner willing to change? Are they working towards improving your relationship?
- Is your partner sensitive to your feelings?
- Are your boundaries clear and consistent?
- Has your partner been abusive? Either physically, verbally, or emotionally.
These things can help you get more awareness of what has been going on. When your partner crosses your boundaries, you must deal with that situation immediately.
Suppose you discuss your boundaries and continue to have regular feelings of anger, resentment, stress, anxiety, and discomfort. In that case, it’s pretty apparent that boundaries are getting violated, and it’s time to have a conversation with your partner.
How to communicate and set emotional boundaries
If you dare set boundaries, you can’t control how other people react to them. But there are ways to communicate what you expect from others assertively to reduce the chances of being faced with aggression or defensiveness.
Pick the right time
Timing is everything. It would be best to choose a time when both of you are calm, relaxed, sober, and not distracted by other activities. Choose the best possible time to communicate.
Focus on your feelings and expectations
When communicating your boundaries with a partner, focus on how you feel, what you need, and expect from them. You can call out someone’s hurtful behavior in the process, but this shouldn’t be the focus as it may make them defensive.
When communicating boundaries, don’t beat around the bush or expect your partner to know somehow what you want and need. Be as direct as you can and clearly state what you expect.
Vague boundaries don’t work. A good boundary can look like this:
“I’m not okay with raised voices during a conflict. If you continue to raise your voice, I will walk out or ask you to leave the room.”
See how specific that is in terms of input and output? If you want your boundaries to be effective, make them crystal clear.
Speak in a calm and neutral voice
Your tone of voice is more important than your choice of words during conflict resolution. Pay attention to what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Shouting, yelling, and cursing are not effective when communicating boundaries.
This communication requires a lot of patience, self-control, and self-talk to allow you to work through conflict.
Validate your partner’s point of view
When sharing your boundaries with your partner, try validating them. Get into the experience with them, and listen to their thoughts and emotions while observing your limits.
Unfortunately, sometimes other people may violate your boundaries anyway, no matter how you communicate. If you continue to feel uncomfortable or suffocated in the relationship, you may cut them off completely to protect your peace and maintain your sanity.
Emotional boundaries are not walls to keep people out. Instead, they create emotional space between you and others.
The world is a better place when we respect each other’s boundaries. The people who care about you will do whatever it takes to make you feel heard, understood, and appreciated.