Healthy Relationship Boundaries

How To Draw Healthy Relationship BoundariesHealthy boundaries aren’t just good for your relationship. They’re essential.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to have a mature, healthy relationship without boundaries. The problem is that most of us think of walls when we think of boundaries, and that gives the impression of closing yourself off. But that’s not really what healthy boundaries do.

Deepak Chopra uses a powerful metaphor to describe boundaries in a relationship. He says they’re like a screen door. A good screen door will allow a cool breeze to come in while keeping leaves and bugs out. Said another way, well defined boundaries keep the bad stuff out while still allowing the good stuff into your life.

No one out there is perfect. Any guy you date is going to have flaws and imperfections, just as you do. And, there’s simply no way to check our baggage at the door when we start dating someone.

If you have no boundaries in your dating relationship, yes, the two of you will be close. So close, in fact, that his issues will become your issues. That’s not a good thing.

To keep that from happening, you need to make sure you have some healthy boundaries in place. That doesn’t mean you run from your partner’s issues. It means you accept the person, but not all his various moods, habits, and behaviors.

How do you do that?

How To Draw Healthy Relationship BoundariesBe willing to distance yourself from unhealthy behavior. For example, when your partner is having a bad day and seems to be wallowing in self-pity, don’t make the mistake of thinking your mood needs to match his. Empathize with him, but don’t join him. Just because he’s down in the dumps doesn’t mean you have to be.

You want the cool breeze, not the leaves and bugs. Encourage communication, but don’t embrace the negativity.

Here’s another example. You really like a guy, but the dog hair saturating the passenger seat of his car grosses you out. Don’t reject the entire relationship. Don’t reject him. Reject the specific thing that bothers you. Refusing to explain your discomfort does not protect the relationship. It just sets it up for failure.

Healthy boundaries allow your relationship to flourish. Boundaries allow you to be yourself while still embracing your partner.

Just remember the screen door metaphor. Love him and invest in him, but accept your right to do so without becoming a part of things that pull you down.


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39 thoughts on “Healthy Relationship Boundaries

  1. Lorine said:

    Very informative I have a friend who wants to dictate who I speak to when and where. Its stifiling. and he doesnt understand.

    • Mary said:

      Get out now! Your guy is controlling. Get away from him. Controlling escalates, and he will want to control everything in your life. Control ALWAYS turns into abuse, because there will come when there will be something he can’t control and that’s when he’ll get physical! Run and don’t look back.

  2. Andrea said:

    Great article James! I would add that a screen door allows a warm breeze as well as sunshine or sunlight through! We all need more love in our life. We want the love and light without the bugs! Love it!

  3. asha vora said:

    beautiful. just right. .need more tips like this from mr.Chopra and also need specific bounry ideas

  4. Chris said:

    I just LOVE your messages. I have been through so much, as many people have, and am trying to process it day by day, learn and grow. You help me in ways you will never know. Thanks for all you do.

  5. Madeleine said:

    Thank you!! Strangely has been feeling v dragged down by my childs fathers,behaviour. Freedom, I dont have to be.

  6. Teresa said:

    My man is a high functioning autistic, so I’ve learned to detach from some of his challenging behaviours and love the parts I can accept.

    • Felicity Benson said:

      I like this statement Teresa! Well put!

  7. Debra said:

    These moments from you are applicable to relationships with our grown children as well. When they were very small, I blamed their bad moods on something I had done or not done. It took a long time for me to realize that their bad moods were all about them and not at all about me.
    Have a great day!
    Deb

    • James Bauer said:

      Good point, Deb.

      • Arika said:

        I recieved this article a while ago and loved it! I am dealing with some issues that revolve around my teenage daughter and a dating relationship gone bad. I’m so sharing this with her!

        • James Bauer said:

          Great! Yeah, teens these days need the boundaries talk more than any prior generation that I have interacted with.

  8. Beggy said:

    Very good point. Offer to communicate. If got rejected, leave him alone. The best way is to chit chat on the phone with girl friends or going out to the mall to have window shopping, or watch a movie or something. Don’t let his mood affect us. Several hours later being left alone, he might have adjusted his mood already. When he sees you come home with good mood instead of being affected by his , he might feel guilty, and everything is OK. Wala..

  9. Jennifer said:

    Hi James,
    So how does one deal with an issue like the dog hair on the passenger seat? It’s seems it could be a very touchy issue with him as in “love me, love my dog”? I love dogs & would not expect him to get rid of the dog, and the dog is likely going to cont. to ride on the front seat when I’m not there, so what to do, without sabotaging things right at the start?
    Thanks, Jen

    • James Bauer said:

      Jen, I am a dog lover too, so take what I say next with that in mind. If he has to choose between hurting his dog’s feelings by making it ride in the back seat (and buying a new seat cover for the front seat) or hurting the feelings of a person, he should choose to put the person’s needs first. Dogs don’t care as much as humans, and even if they did, you don’t want to be in a relationship with a man who cares more about his dog than he cares about you.

      That comment aside, the best solution is to set a boundary that protects you from something that grosses you out but without forcing him to change anything (like suggesting you take your car instead of his…and just being cheerful and honest about it as a solution you chose because of respect for his bond with the dog).

      Great question by the way.

      James

      • Sasha said:

        I find this a very challenging concept because I don’t believe we have the right to inflict our will on others. And whilst your point is true about the dog’s feelings not being hurt as a person’s might be, it has nothing to do with the dog’s feelings and everything to do with what the man in question enjoys. And he enjoys the company of his dog next to him in the car.

    • Tully said:

      Get a pretty cotton cloth and put it over the seat, with as much grace and as little comment as possible. Then sit.

  10. Syndee said:

    LOVE this article.. Really helped clear the clouds of self doubt I had when my intuition told me not to go there with him, but felt guilty about “abandoning” him if I didn’t.. Thank you!

  11. MELDA ACHOLLA said:

    Like this and need more please.

  12. Felicity Benson said:

    Boundaries are very important. And we can easily loose them in the quest to satisfy our man, especially in this fast paced world. A good boundary starter for me is to slow down, enjoy the moment and then I can be a lot truer to myself and communicate better without trying so hard. Usually, in this not perfect world, circumstances change beyond my control, but to be able to laugh at adversity and make the most of the valued time you share can be the biggest challenge. Let’s face it, life has its challenges way beyond what we can plan or try and construct. Therefore, slowing down into bottom gear has really helped me to savor and enjoy all things when I’m with my exceptional, beautiful, wonderful man!
    In these times, for me, your tools really help me to evaluate my situation.

    Thank you James, for your helpful hints along the way. They really help to reprogram and set me on a path that is very helpful .
    Kindest Regards,
    Felicity.

  13. JJ said:

    James, as always a wonderfully insightful article on a topic which is not only of utmost importance but also confusion. How would one show compassion and understanding of one’s partner’s negative “down” mood without being dragged down, as well, without seeming like a cold, dispassionate person?

  14. bobbie rutkowski said:

    I’m a widow of almost two yrs.lonely.found a fella who I am very attracted to.He is divorced. His boss is very close w/ him.single as well.He is always in the picture.An entire weekend with his boss and J fails to send a text telling me he won’t be able to make our date.The boss is still occupying Js’ time.J feels obligated bc boss hired him..gives him gifts.basically hangs out w/ J everyday and after work.
    I have talked to J about socializing time w/out boss..He seems uncomfortable about it. Boss is a millionaire..lol
    Should I just wait and see or move on?

    Need so much help.new to the dating world

    Bobbie

    • James Bauer said:

      Wow, Bobbie. That’s a new one. I’ve never been asked what to do when your new boyfriend wants to hang out all the time as a threesome with his millionaire boss!

      Honestly, this does not sound like something that would make you happy long-term, so if he is unwilling to adjust now, you certainly should not expect him to pursue you with more vigor in the future once a commitment has been formed. I recommend you set some boundaries and tell him what you’ll have to do if he wants you in his life. Tell him you fully understand the benefits to his career if he maintains a relationship with his boss, but explain he will also have to carve out time to spend with you alone.

  15. bobbie rutkowski said:

    I really am in the midst of this now. It is painful for me..Can you help..Please..Bobbie

  16. Jengi said:

    Thank you James! This topic is one I’ve been thinking a lot about!

    I have a friend who has a 9 year old son that he primarily takes care of (he’s a good dad), and his child’s mom, who moved out from the house about a year ago, keeps my friend on this roller coaster of a life. Upon my observation she is taking advantage of his goodness and desire for a healthy relationship all for the sake of their son.

    He talks to me about it a lot – but I just listen mostly, I don’t like telling him what to do. I’ve gently mentioned a few things to consider – but I know he’ll have to work this out his self. One example of their situation: when she was dating a guy she could care less if my friend was dating someone. Then, when she wasn’t dating, and she realized how much my friend liked this other girl – she became angry, mad and needy. That caused him to cut off a relationship he was happy with and give in to her demands. He sees it as trying to have a peaceful relationship for the sake of his son. I get puzzled by this, and I think it’s a boundary issue….but again, I just observe.

    I’d like to understand more about this type of situation. Are there any books you can recommend or would you consider writing some materials on this subject???

    Thanks so much!!

    • James Bauer said:

      Yes, I would definitely say this is a boundary issue. However, it is very complex compared to most boundary issues because his deepest allegiance is to his son. There comes a point when you have to stop “negotiating with terrorists,” rather than walking on eggshells all the time to prevent someone from getting angry at you. He may benefit from a discussion of where that balance should be (for his own quality of life and his son’s).

  17. Jengi said:

    Very good point. You are exactly right.
    I see where that discussion could be very helpful. He grew up being rejected by his own father and some from his mother. Things are still uneasy for him. I remember him telling me that his dad called him a lot of things but called him by his first name for the first time when he was 10 years old. He has shared he wants the best for his son because of that. Your words “deep allegiance” is the perfect description.

    I wouldn’t mind having a discussion with him, he’s expressed admiration for the way I raised my son, but I want to be careful not to put him on the defense. Wording and timing…I need both I guess. : )

    Thanks again!! So appreciative of your response and of all the work you do. Your expertise and natural instinct have enriched me greatly.

  18. Marge said:

    I have a friend who is very busy and I am to sure how often I should email him. I would also like to see him in the courtroom, prosecuting, but is that stalking?

  19. Judy Pereyo said:

    Re setting boundaries, I have 3 books written by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend called BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES IN MARRIAGE; BOUNDARIES IN DATING. (Also includes workbooks if you really want to get into it). Amazing reading and insights. Recommend them highly if you want to throw the info out there James.

  20. Kits said:

    I’m dating a guy who has Asperger’s syndrome. I like him very much cause he’s got very many qualities I value in a man, and he likes me, too, but due to his special condition it is hard for him to open up and communicate sometimes, especially o express his emotions and demonstrate his love for me. Are there any books or resources that could help me understand how to better communicate with an Aspergerian person? Thank you very much in advance! I really need help!

  21. Shelly said:

    Ok I agree having healthy boundaries is essential…with that being said when I have these boundaries and communicate them to the other person whether it be family, dating or certain friends they either ignore what I said or stop talking to me completely and it’s very frustrating. I communicate in a healthy and loving manner…Your thoughts??

    • James Bauer said:

      Hey Shelly. I think a lot of us have shared your experience with negative reactions from others when we set boundaries. And they often do that even when you are very kind and gentle in the way you set your boundaries.

      The good news is, people who genuinely care about you will not simmer in their anger for long. They’ll come back. And those who never come back are people who just can’t deal with the boundary you set. In that case, it’s better to let them go.

      For people who ignore your boundary requests, you have to back away from them and help them to see that respecting your boundaries will be a condition for reestablishing interaction.

      James

  22. Susie Howard said:

    When you talk about boundaries what if you been married for 24 years and said vows but one of you broke the vow that you promise to cherish and love an honor till death do you part. wouldn’t that be considered a boundary?

    • honeybunch said:

      Yes that would sure as @3%& be a boundary! I have been happily married for 47 years and we raised four children. My husband wants a divorce because he found himself a 27 year old. To me fidelity is a boundary and we did not have that many set in stone boundaries but that was one!

  23. Susie Howard said:

    Sometimes I think I just want to walk away and start over I’ve even told him how I feel but than I see our boys and I just cant do that. Besides every time I tell him I’m leaving he talks about shooting himself he says he’s a piece of shit

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