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Healthy relationships make life a lot less stressful and so much easier to navigate. We have family members and loved ones to share moments with and be there for each other. Though closely connected, it doesn’t mean they are entitled to invade your space or belittle you. That’s the reason why setting healthy boundaries in relationships is so important.
If you don’t, your partner or other loved ones will take advantage of your kindness and compassion. Draw lines in the sand to stop behaviors from others that cause you to feel emotionally distressed, anxious, fearful, or depressed.
Here, you’ll find a comprehensive list of practical boundaries for cultivating healthy romantic relationships. I’ve also matched them with example phrases you can use to express needs, dissatisfaction, or unwillingness to do anything your partner (or someone else) wants you to.
What You Will Learn
- What Is Considered Healthy Boundaries?
- Why It's Important to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
- Reasons Why People Fail to Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries
- 23 Proven Healthy Boundaries in Relationships that Work
- 1. Communication Styles
- 2. Communication Frequency
- 3. Name-Calling
- 4. Keeping Your Friends
- 5. Past Relationships
- 6. Conversations About Family
- 7. ‘Fighting’ Fair
- 8. Physical Abuse
- 9. Time for Yourself
- 10. Saying No
- 11. Showing Up Late
- 12. Extent of Sharing
- 13. Having Opinions
- 14. Owning Your Feelings
- 15. Sex is a Privilege
- 16. Changing Your Mind
- 17. Showing Up Unannounced
- 18. Everyone’s Responsible for their Own Happiness
- 19. Accountability
- 20. Making Decisions for Yourself
- 21. Referring to Past Arguments in Current Conflicts
- 22. Abuse of Kindness
- 23. Threats of Abandonment
- Final Thoughts on Setting Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
What Is Considered Healthy Boundaries?
Boundaries in relationships refer to imaginary lines that separate you from another person. The lines serve as a clear message of what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t, based on your beliefs, standards, and value system. You can use boundaries to communicate how you expect others to treat you overall.
Janet Park, MS, LMFT, a therapist at Healing Phoenix Therapy, says boundaries play a crucial role in establishing safety and trust in a relationship. Personal boundaries can also be implemented to guide your own behavior toward your loved ones.
Why It's Important to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
With boundaries, you’re able to protect yourself in your physical environment as well as your emotional space. They are particularly valuable when dealing with those who have an inherent dislike for or ignore the needs and feelings of others, such as narcissists and other toxic individuals.
Wait, there’s more to boundary setting if you desire a loving, supportive, and healthy relationship.
Reasons Why People Fail to Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries
All parties in the relationship are entitled to set and enforce boundaries. Fear of making their partner upset, being a people-pleaser, or having low self-worth (which they may not be aware of) are factors that tend to prevent people from asserting their needs or limitations.
In your case, it could be that you never really understood the importance of boundaries or don’t know how to establish them. That’s perfectly fine. Others have experienced similar challenges and went on to reshape their life experiences by learning to say things like, “No,” “Stop it,” and “I’m unable to do that.”
I recognized that I lacked healthy boundaries in relationships in the past. I had that to thank for the frequent chaos and unnecessary distress I experienced. Coming into that self-awareness literally improved my relationship experiences and emotional well-being.
I began putting a stop to behaviors I should have discouraged. We teach people to be kind or to mistreat us. They will disrespect, manipulate, or abuse us as long as we encourage bad behavior.
23 Proven Healthy Boundaries in Relationships that Work
When setting boundaries, think of those that satisfy the criteria of “healthy,” “realistic, and “reasonable.” Ask yourself if they cover your needs and rights as a human being, such as emotional safety and the right to privacy. The following boundaries cover those and other areas of your life you need to protect.
It’s necessary to communicate needs and limitations in a clear, concise, and supportive way as much as is practical. Consider using positive “I” statements, e.g., “I feel…” instead of those that can make others feel criticized or blamed.
For example, “You never…” I’ve suggested boundary-setting phrases you can piggyback off of. Feel free to tweak them to suit your personal circumstances.
1. Communication Styles
You may feel uncomfortable with a partner who persistently talks over you and won’t let you get a word in. They’re failing to recognize that a conversation is a two-way street. By not letting you speak, they’re being dismissive of your thoughts and ideas. Set up a boundary that allows both parties to speak and be heard and acknowledged.
Use a statement like, “I feel seen, heard, and acknowledged when I’m able to express my views in the conversation. Would you mind pausing and allowing me to share my thoughts?” You could agree to use a “talking stick” for taking turns to speak or an accepted signal for interrupting.
2. Communication Frequency
Some partners prefer to text or call incessantly. For those with anxious attachment styles, being in constant contact makes them feel calm or reassured in the relationship. However, it’s unreasonable for them to expect you to answer every call or reply to every text.
Surely, you love and care for them, but you are entitled to work, hang out with friends, and sleep without constant interruption. Perhaps you can express yourself by saying, “I love hearing from you, but feel smothered and distracted when you call and text frequently. Can we agree to communicate during my free time?”
Boundary-setting tip: I like to ask open-ended questions, in some cases, to see how the individual will react and give them a chance to agree to the boundary. To me, taking this approach is fair and allows them to share any concerns they may have about my limitations.
Calling you an “idiot,” “crazy,” “insane,” or “irrational,” or saying you’re overreacting are all toxic and belittling statements. They’re also emotionally abusive words. Use a phrase like, “It makes me uncomfortable being called those names. I’d like you to stop.” Notice that there’s no room for negotiation here.
Name-calling in relationships is emotionally damaging and leaves you feeling unloved or unworthy. You may lose trust in your partner and question whether they actually care about you. The behavior can also lead to a breakdown in communication and underlying resentment.
4. Keeping Your Friends
“And the two shall become one flesh” in marriage (Mark 10:8), or a love relationship. You should band together as a team, not lose yourself in each other or abandon your prior life. Maintaining your relationship with your family and friends ensures you have a support system apart from your partner.
Consider it a relationship red flag and a sign of emotional abuse if your partner attempts to isolate you from loved ones. Bring it to your partner’s attention and establish the boundary by saying, “I feel happy staying in touch with my friends and family and would appreciate it if you could support my need to stay socially connected.”
5. Past Relationships
Some individuals feel the need to dig deep into their partner’s past to try and find out what the dynamics were and what caused the breakup or divorce. You could decide to make past relationships off-limits. You may not wish to talk about your ex if the relationship was toxic or it brings up uncomfortable emotions.
If your partner is emotionally intelligent, they won’t feel offended or get suspicious. They’ll respect your privacy. If they keep prying, address the issue by saying, “I know you’d like to get to know me on a deeper level, but I’m not comfortable with rehashing old relationships.”
6. Conversations About Family
Discussions about your family should be off limits too, as far as it may infringe on their privacy. I shared something private about my family with someone I dated. He threw it back in my face during a disagreement and that caused me to develop trust issues.
Either that or your partner may criticize your loved ones based on their own interactions with them.
Ask your partner to stop the behavior. Here’s an example statement. “I feel hurt when you bash my family when you’re upset. Let’s limit our discussion to you and me when we’re dealing with issues concerning us.”
7. ‘Fighting’ Fair
Couples disagree in practically all relationships, no matter how much they love and care for each other. Disagreeing is human nature. How you go about expressing your dissatisfaction can make a difference in the outcome.
You can have differences in opinion without resorting to name-calling, yelling, issuing threats, or other kinds of aggressive behavior.
If this is happening in your relationship, tell your partner, “I’m feeling attacked and would like to return to the discussion when things are calmer.” According to counseling psychologist, Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., “You need to be able to identify what your feelings are, ask for a break…”
The fair way to fight is to confront the issue and not each other, and don't make it about winning.
8. Physical Abuse
Tell your partner “STOP doing that. I will not continue a relationship with you or anyone who is abusive, in any way, shape, or form.” Be blunt, as there’s no softer way to address physical or emotional abuse. Shut down their attempts to justify their behavior or blame you for their actions.
Things like pulling, pushing, preventing you from communicating with family, or initiating sex while you’re asleep are abusive acts. So is controlling how you dress, what friends you keep, or stalking you, as explained in 23 Emotional Abuse Red Flags in a Relationship.
9. Time for Yourself
A clingy partner can leave you feeling smothered or even resentful if they’re not respecting your need for time alone. While spending time together helps to strengthen your bond, time apart is as important. Say, “I love spending time with you, but I also enjoy spending time alone. I get a chance to clear my mind and regroup. Most of all, I get a chance to miss you.”
Remember you’re not asking for permission to take a break. The desire is part of maintaining your emotional well-being. Be sure to find that balance between time with your partner and time alone to avoid making them feel unwanted or pushing them away.
10. Saying No
“No” is by far my favorite boundary-setting statement. It’s a quick and easy one-word way to stop someone dead in their tracks. Interestingly, many of us are afraid to utter that word. Playing nice and denying your own feelings or needs to suit loved ones will make you feel annoyed. Just say, “No,” or “I can’t” if you’re not in the mood to socialize or do a task for them.
“No” is a complete statement for communicating that boundary. They should respect that as it is and not probe for an explanation. It’s up to you to provide more details or not. If they insist, set another boundary by telling them, “I feel happy when you respect my decision not to do something.”
11. Showing Up Late
Showing up late for dates or any other type of couple’s activity is something that irritates people. There’s no other way to communicate a lack of respect for your time if your partner does this habitually. Of course, emergencies can get in the way, but someone who respects your time typically apologizes and informs you that they’re running late.
Feeling annoyed is perfectly natural, but establishing a boundary instead of harboring those negative feelings is an effective way to solve the problem.
Here is an example boundary phrase: “I feel respected when you arrive on time. It would be kind of you to say that you’re running behind schedule. It shows that you value my time.“ Avoid threatening language such as, “If you’re late again, I’ll just leave!“
12. Extent of Sharing
In healthy relationships, the couple is allowed to share only the things they feel comfortable disclosing. You should be left alone to think and plan without needing to explain to your partner what’s on your mind.
Your partner might be genuinely interested in whether something is bothering you and try to pry. Their curiosity might be coming from a good place, particularly if they’re highly intuitive and want to offer support.
However, you shouldn’t be forced to reveal your innermost thoughts. Doing so is an invasion of your privacy. You can respond by saying, “I know you care about me, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing my thoughts at the moment.”
13. Having Opinions
Even the best couples have varying opinions on the same subject. Your partner isn’t allowed to tell you that you can’t voice an opinion or concern, or that you should see things differently.
They also shouldn’t force you to share the same ideas or opinions as them. It’s a sign they’re trying to control how you think and possibly behave the way narcissists do.
Call out the controlling behavior and express how you feel. Say, “I would really like it if you could let me share my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions in conversations. It makes me feel seen, heard, and validated.”
14. Owning Your Feelings
You have a right to feel how you feel whether it’s happy, sad, angry, or fearful. You should be able to own and express them. Your partner shouldn’t tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way. If they deny, disregard, criticize, minimize, or dismiss your feelings, it could be due to a lack of empathy or emotional maturity.
You could express how that makes you feel in this way: “My feelings are important. I’m not going to avoid, minimize, or dismiss them. It would make me feel loved and understood if you let me feel my feelings.”
Of course, you’re expected to deal with your feelings in ways that aren’t emotionally damaging to your partner.
15. Sex is a Privilege
Your partner cannot demand or take sex when and how they like. You’re not a commodity. Besides, there’s a thin line between consensual and non-consensual sex. You may feel fearful, anxious, unsafe, or re-traumatized. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time, according to laws protecting against rape.
Establish an intimacy boundary at the outset of your relationship. Feel free to phrase it this way: “I need you to ask me if I’m feeling up to having sex and allow me to say yes or no.” If your partner refuses to abide by your personal boundaries, then they’re not suitable to be your partner.
16. Changing Your Mind
My ex was livid after I changed my mind about something we had agreed to. I agreed to enlist in the US Navy, but I had a last-minute change of heart. He tried to force me to keep my word and that resulted in a breakup. To me, he was crossing a line, trying to decide for me.
No one should have the power to force you to think or act a certain way. Goals, circumstances, feelings, and intentions can change at a moment’s notice. You have the right to determine what’s best for you when that happens. Stop the controlling behavior. Tell them, “I know how much it means for us to do this as a team, but I don’t feel like doing that any longer.”
17. Showing Up Unannounced
Boundaries should extend to your home, workplace, and places you visit. Showing up to any of these places or when you’re out with friends is a big no, no and another relationship red flag. Call out the act the first time it occurs and state the consequences if it’s repeated.
Tell your partner, “I feel an invasion of my privacy by you showing up without notice. I’d feel better if you called ahead and notified me of your visit.” The behavior shows a lack of trust and may amount to stalking. Both are signs of a toxic person.
I’d quit the relationship if I felt unsafe and most definitely if they continued to disregard my boundaries.
18. Everyone’s Responsible for their Own Happiness
It’s unfair for your partner or family members to expect you to be there for them all the time or make them happy. The expectation can lead to co-dependency if you feel obligated and give in. You can say to them, “I love you, but it isn’t practical for me to satisfy all of your emotional or physical needs. Are you willing to work on meeting some of your own needs?
If they’re open to the idea, suggest actionable ways to help manage their emotions, become self-reliant, and find happiness within themselves. Emotional Independence: 5 Steps to Start Living the Life You Deserve provides ways for them to do just that.
People are responsible for their own actions and should be man or woman enough to acknowledge whenever they mess up. They shouldn't deny their actions, blame you for their mistakes, or gaslight you into thinking you’re crazy.
These behaviors usually erode trust and cause a loss of interest in the relationship. You may word your boundary to encourage accountability this way, “I feel hurt when you make me think I’m responsible for your wrongdoings. It would help maintain trust in the relationship if you could acknowledge your missteps.”
20. Making Decisions for Yourself
No one should have the power to decide for you, particularly major life decisions and matters that can adversely impact your overall well-being. The ability to control your own life and make decisions that satisfy your needs is a part of your Relationship Bill of Rights.
Use the following phrase to assert a boundary if your loved one insists on controlling your choices. “Making independent decisions gives me a greater sense of confidence. I hope you can see how much that means to me and allow me to decide for myself.”
You may welcome suggestions or advice. If things don’t go well, you won’t have to resent the person for making a poor decision on your behalf.
21. Referring to Past Arguments in Current Conflicts
I can’t tell you how much it irks me when someone reintroduces a previously solved disagreement into a current one. They may remind you of something that was said in a past argument to evoke fear, shame, or guilt.
Inform them that it isn’t fair or healthy to bring up past conflicts by saying, “I’m not going to continue the conversation if old arguments are going to be used to make a point.” Politely disengage and suggest revisiting the current problem at a later time if your partner won’t abide by your boundary.
22. Abuse of Kindness
Not because you’re in a relationship, it’s okay for your partner to take advantage of your kind or empathetic personality.
People who typically do this are those who are in the relationship solely to satisfy their own needs, such as narcissists. Taking advantage of your good nature is also a sign of a lack of empathy.
Check them on their behavior before following up with this statement. “I noticed I’m usually the one doing the giving and making sacrifices to make you happy. I’ve decided to place more attention on satisfying my own needs because I feel taken advantage of.”
Healthy relationships involve a balanced give and take of each other’s time, emotional energy, and resources.
23. Threats of Abandonment
Threats of abandonment by your partner only make you feel insecure or underserving of their love. There’s also a lingering fear of loss that can lead to anxiety. Threatening to leave is their way of saying you must please them at all costs or lose the relationship.
It’s time to state your limitations like this. “I’d like you to stop threatening to leave me. It makes me feel anxious and worried. If you truly wish to quit the relationship, you have my support.”
Some of your boundaries may be flexible, while others are rigid or non-negotiable, e.g., the right to consent to sex. Communicate your boundaries in a way that won’t make your spouse feel like you’re attacking them or casting blame. The phrase or statement you use will be unique to your circumstances.
Your partner may not fully understand what your boundaries mean. Provide further details if you can. Lay out potential consequences if the case warrants it. Note that some boundaries may require re-evaluation as the nature of your relationship changes.
Final Thoughts on Setting Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
Setting healthy relationship boundaries helps protect against mistreatment. Asserting them provides you with a sense of empowerment and physical and emotional safety. The best time to set them is in the initial stages of your relationship. Communicate what you will and won’t accept clearly, without threatening or giving ultimatums.
Introducing boundaries in an established relationship may come as a surprise to your partner or make them feel uncomfortable. Give them a chance to catch up with your current expectations. They’ll be willing to adjust their behavior if they truly respect you and want what’s best for you.
If they continue behaviors that cross your limits, have another conversation and decide how to move forward from that point. Some couples seek help from an unbiased person, such as a relationship therapist, who can help them understand the importance of setting and respecting each other’s boundaries.
Craving more tips on this topic? 75 Boundaries Quotes about Setting Limits in Your Relationships is our editor’s pick.