When “I” becomes “we,” there’s an inter-dependency that arises which requires one to differentiate between which boundaries are independent, or unable to be compromised, and those which are inter-dependent, or capable of being negotiated or adapted in order to bond and collaborate with your significant other.
Having and maintaining boundaries requires a lot of self-awareness. You really need to know yourself, your core values and how to – perhaps subtly – maintain those values if they become compromised by your partner.
Those without boundaries run the risk of being taken advantage of by partners oblivious to their needs, such as narcissists who create one-sided, self-serving relationships and sadists who attempt to overstep boundaries out of sheer defiance and/or disrespect.
Narcissists and sadists aside, how do those in regular, largely desirable relationships maintain boundaries without turning them into ultimatums?
1. Vulnerability is a decision, not a demand
a) Getting to know your partner is a lifelong process, so there should never be a rush to admit your every perceived fault like you’re in a confessional. This is especially true of women who are subjected to higher moralistic standards in heterosexual relationships, expected to give of themselves freely without regard for their own needs, and taught to invest time, energy and resources without any guarantee of return.
b) There’s really no need to unearth every traumatic event in your life to your partner for the sake of “honesty.” Remember, as a biological means to prevent the repetition of unwanted behaviors, negative events are more impressionable on the mind than positive occurrences/recollections. Do you really want to fill your partner’s mind with negative imagery of yourself simply because it’s easier to recall?
c) Lastly, match your partner’s energy, if he only tells you certain things, you only tell him certain things. If he slams his fists and demands you release your inner demons in order to be with him, run for the hills.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “No”
If your partner does anything that violates your boundaries, hit him back at the point of contact with a big “N-O.” You don’t have to scream or be overly aggressive, but be assertive in your delivery and explain your boundaries. If he doesn’t seem to care or interprets your assertion as an ultimatum, find a partner who doesn’t expect you to cater to his every whim.
3. Don’t let your partner piss away your precious time
Just because you’re in a relationship, doesn’t mean your partner has the right to interrupt you with a complaint about the dishes while you’re in the middle of a conference call. Your career, desired schedule and free time should not be dictated by the needs of your partner. If your partner tries to use your time to meet his needs, that’s a definite red flag.
4. Don’t over compromise just to be in a relationship
Sometimes “no man” is better than “any man.” If you have to compromise your tastes, preferences, drain your bank account, change jobs and leave your pet/child with mom to be with a man, you’re better off alone.
5. Maintain control of your personal finances
Discuss your financial expectations with your partner. Just because you’re married and have a joint bank account doesn’t mean your partner can stock up on six months worth of organic hotdogs at Trader Joes or spend your stipend on phone sex. If your partner is a profligate spender, discuss a limitation of spending on certain items. And if you earn more than your partner, consider coming up with a percentage arrangement for what expenses you will each cover (i.e. 60/40) based on what you each can comfortably afford.
6. Talk to your partner about what you’re comfortable with sexually
Just because you’re willing to have sex with your partner doesn’t mean sex is a no-holds barred experiment at your expense. If there’s anything you’re uncomfortable with, whether it’s a sexual position or place of your body that you don’t want touched, make this known to your partner, even if you’ve already “got down and dirty.”
7. Define infidelity as a couple
Talk to your significant other about your feelings around interacting with exes and “hanging out” with members of the opposite sex (for heterosexual couples) and vice versa for LGBTQ+ couples. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of your husband messaging his ex on Snapchat, let him know. If it hurts your feelings when he likes/comments on pictures of other women on social media while you’re eight months pregnant, tell him how those “likes” impact you. Perhaps they mean nothing to him.
8. Demand respect
Sometimes people like to see just how much of a hold they have on you by being disrespectful. If you let the insults of your partner roll off your shoulder, he’ll conclude you’re desperate (or desperately in love) and walk all over you. If he makes snide remarks, insults your appearance/intellect, or never finds the time to be serious with you, point blank tell him that’s disrespectful, ask him why he doesn’t take you seriously, and GTFO.
9. Balance intimacy with personal privacy
Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to share all your passwords with your significant other. The same goes for your journal, you can keep it locked. Being intimate doesn’t mean you can’t maintain independence with respect to certain aspects of your personal privacy, if your partner makes you feel otherwise, consider his motive.
10. Create boundaries of equality
To ensure gender parity in a heterosexual relationship, create boundaries which ensure that the work each partner performs is treated with equal dignity/respect. That means women shouldn’t be expected to do house cleaning because of their gender and men shouldn’t be expected to do construction improvements on the house all day or defend the nest at the first sign of attack simply for being the “stronger sex.” The same goes for decision making, the power of large decisions does not belong to one gender or another in a relationship, decisions should be made equally, regardless of sex.