It’s so easy, when you first fall in love, to forget what the word ‘no’ means. You’re so loved up and happy that you agree to every request and do everything you can to make the new person in your life happy. You can forget where you and your partner begin and end. However, if you want a happy and healthy future, drawing boundaries between you and your loved one is essential. It’s a difficult conversation, but the earlier you have it the better chance you have of remaining happy together. Leaving these things unsaid can lead to huge problems later on – burning resentment, confusion and inexplicable arguments can all be symptoms of a relationship without effective boundaries.
Obligation vs Desire
In that haze of early love it’s easy to agree to everything, but eventually you are going to start resenting the person you’re with if your life has become about fulfilling their desires at the expense of your own. Don’t do this! Although compromise is a wonderful thing, it’s important that both partner’s needs are met, and the way to ensure that is to say no to anything you don’t desire to do, at least half of the time. Sure, sometimes you’re going to have to suffer through that boring work dinner for your partner – it’s not all sunshine and roses – but if you find yourself spending every weekend doing something you hate to make your partner happy, eventually something will break. Do you find it hard to say no? Maybe this exercise will help you to work out what you do out of desire, and what you do out of obligation.
What Boundaries Do I Need to Define?
Without well-defined boundaries your interactions can become negative – you might start to feel responsible for your partner’s happiness and disempowered in your own life. So what do you need to think about when setting boundaries? Well, psychotherapist and life coach Terri Cole argues that there are both physical and mental boundaries and you’ll need to consider both. There might be certain types of touch you do and do not like – verbally express these physical boundaries very early on in your relationship. Emotional boundaries are also incredibly important. Consider, for example, privacy – your partner’s email and texts are their own and you need to respect this and vice versa. Similarly, have you found yourself sacrificing your goals and pleasures for your partner? This behavior is violating a healthy emotional boundary.
How to have a conversation about your boundaries
Firstly, when you’re having a conversation about boundaries, remember to come from a place of self-worth. Know that your partner loves you and they should – and most likely will – be delighted to know how to make you happy. This is a discussion about how to make your relationship better, so it doesn’t need to become an argument. When you’re discussing your boundaries, try to stay calm. If you’re angry, something that is a reasonable request can sound like you’re trying to pick a fight. Also – and this is important – understand that your partner is unlikely to be as angry with you for saying no as you suspect. Researcher Dr Vanessa Bohn found that we imagine the word no is going to hurt someone far more than it actually does. If you firmly, gently and clearly tell someone what you will and will not accept, the majority of people will happily accept these guidelines.
It can be hard to be forthright in a relationship, for anyone. But the key to long lasting love is to be honest and giving, and if this ideal is at the centre of all conversations about each other’s needs, the results will be a relationship in which all needs are met.