How Boundaries Actually Enhance Intimacy in Relationships
By: Alyssa Cohen
Often when we talk about setting boundaries in relationships, we refer to creating metaphorical walls or lines that are not to be crossed or tampered with in order to protect ourselves. This idea may appear to create distance in a relationship, perhaps in one that requires nurturance and closeness. In reality the opposite can be true and, in most cases, is true.
Boundaries not only serve to protect ourselves in relationships, they also create healthy structure, promote predictability and safety, and are a form of self-care. A boundary can be as simple as setting guidelines with your child around phone usage at the dinner table or more complex such as telling a parent or family member that discussing certain topics are NOT OKAY due to emotional discomfort or the unhelpful consequences that result from these conversations. In either case, we set a boundary with the people we care about to increase the safety, intimacy, and long term sustainability of such relationships. Setting boundaries can be appropriate in any relationship – a child, parent, sibling, partner, friend, coworker, the list goes on. If it’s a relationship you care about, it can certainly benefit from healthy boundary setting.
It is important to note that setting boundaries can be really challenging, particularly if this is something new we are trying. It may feel awkward, it may create some short term confusion/anger/resentment, and it may take several tries before it feels authentic. Be patient with yourself and this relationship. If you care enough about this person AND yourself, allow the time and space to work out the kinks in setting boundaries.
See below for some helpful tips when setting interpersonal boundaries:
- Practice saying no/yes regarding your needs/desires AND reflect on how you manage hearing “no” from others; practice tolerating any uncomfortable emotions that may come up
- Reflect on your sense of identity; practice accepting and respecting yourself
- Practice speaking up when you feel you have been taken advantage of or disrespected in this relationship
- Take time to reflect on your wants, needs, and feelings. Practice using direct communication to share your wants, needs, and feelings in this relationship
- Identify personal limits and allow others to define their limits
- Value your own opinions and feelings AS MUCH AS you value others
- Ask for help when you need it
AND remember we set boundaries out of love and not punishment! Practice compassion for yourself and this relationship 🙂