Let’s start by debunking a potential misconception about relationship boundaries: Boundaries are not barriers.
A barrier separates you from something or someone. An emotional boundary cements a loving, respectful relationship.
As soulmate coaches and YourTango Experts Orna and Matthew Walters wrote, “[Boundaries] allow you to define what is your responsibility, and what is not your responsibility.
“They help you define the difference between what you feel and what your partner feels.”
Why are healthy boundaries an important factor in a loving relationship?
Honest communication is paramount. To communicate honestly with your partner, it’s vital to maintain your sense of self and to understand your own goals and needs — without becoming disoriented by conflict.
Boundaries help you do that by creating a safe “cushion” between your vulnerabilities and the potential emotional weight of the relationship.
Below, you’ll find suggestions from marriage and family therapists, life coaches and other healing professionals for thirteen emotional boundaries loving couples can set to help them build long-lasting relationships.
Thirteen boundaries loving couples set to stay together, according to experts
1. Your sex life is private — keep it that way
Sex is often the most complicated part of a relationship. Unless otherwise agreed, your sex life is held between you and not to share with the public, friends or extended family. A violation here can destroy a relationship. Your therapists and doctors are the exceptions.
– Merle James Yost, licensed marriage and family therapist
2. Be mindful of outside ‘help’
People in happy relationships understand that every person outside of the relationship that is brought in via the sharing of personal information, disagreements, or the taking of sides in the relationship often results in uncomfortable spacing between the couple.
Each person brought in creates a space that can become insurmountable challenges for the couple to overcome when there are problems in the relationship.
– Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, psychologist
3. Protect and honor your need for personal space
In this hectic world, we all need breathing room to keep a connection to our own heart and soul. The boundary of space allows us to continue to feel connected to our personal feelings, beliefs and goals.
I have a daily practice of a 45-minute meditation that allows me to recharge and feel in touch with my inner being. I also have time for daily hikes and often that means alone time.
As a therapist, I listen to many people for long periods of time in our sessions. I believe giving myself that personal attention allows me to be more present for my clients, my family and my friends.
The need for personal space is an individual preference and communicating openly to your partner can help each of you find and honor whatever space is needed. The time together can feel so much more intimate when we take time for ourselves.
– Janet Whitney, licensed marriage & family therapist
4. Carve out some ‘alone’ time
Having alone time for recharging, personal development and exploring the world. Having something that is uniquely yours, even if it is something small and not time-consuming. This creates the pull for your partner to keep re-discovering you as you continue to evolve and makes sure you don’t lose yourself in the relationship.
– Inga Nielsen, intuitive healer
5. Work together to define boundaries
Boundaries for people in sustainable, happy relationships are usually mutually agreed upon and mutually beneficial.
– Ruth Schimel, Ph.D., career and life management consultant
6. Don’t keep secrets
Keeping secrets can be the ultimate demise of a relationship. To preserve a healthy relationship, both must be particularly forthright about friendships and money.
With friendships, whether it’s with the same sex or the opposite sex, there is something strange going on if that friendship needs to be a secret. Examine why you are truly keeping it a secret and you are sure to reveal something with your marriage that needs to be addressed.
And even if the money you are spending is money you earned through the work you do, there is a serious problem if you feel the need to keep your expenses a secret.
– Julia McCurley, professional matchmaker
7. Stick to what made you happy before you were a couple
Some people are happiest not sharing a bedroom with their partner and having their own space. Some couples enjoy taking separate vacations. Some couples do regular “boys night” or “girls night.”
Whatever made you happy before you entered the relationship shouldn’t be eliminated simply because you’re in a relationship.
– Erika Jordan, love coach
8. Know when to listen and when to try to fix things
It’s taken me a lot of years as a husband to learn that when my wife is upset and shares her feelings, she doesn’t want me to solve the problem. She wants me to listen. In those moments, she doesn’t need a rescuer. She needs a sincere, listening ear.
– Brent Roy, career and personal development coach
9. Make time for yourself (but make sure to spend time together, too)
Have your own interests, hobbies, time alone, and separate friends. You can enjoy the world the two of you have built together by spending time periodically outside of it. On the flip side, be sure that are also spending quality time with just the two of you.
– Cyndera Quackenbush, author, speaker and educator
10. Empathize but don’t own your partner’s anger or frustration
Don’t take on the upset of your partner. This is very different from empathizing with them and having compassion for the situation they are in. Doing this is called being supportive, and that’s helpful.
But having two people upset about the same thing that does not belong to both of them doesn’t lead to resolution and it doesn’t reduce stress. It actually can intensify the angst your partner feels.
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– Patricia O’Gorman, psychologist, life coach and author
11. Keep your arguments clean
This means staying on topic without making it personal during fights or disagreements.
– Jean Walters, transformational coach and author
12. Establish shared boundaries
In the spirit of deep mutuality, a boundary set by both partners that says, “if it’s not good for you, then it can’t be good for me,” serves something bigger than one’s individual life — it serves the relationship. This boundary and agreement support the foundation of long-lasting loving relationships.
– Eva Van Prooyen, marriage & family therapist and relationship specialist
13. Keep other family members at arm’s length
One of the biggest mistakes couples can make is sharing their personal problems with their respective families or friends. You and your partner may get through the conflict or make up, but these other people will still remember the hurt your spouse caused you and may not be as forgiving.
Therefore, a firm boundary with others you’re close with helps to create a happy and healthy relationship. When there’s a need to bring in an outside perspective, hire a couples therapist instead of going to someone in your inner circle.
– Dr. Marni Feuerman, marriage therapist
Carter Gaddis is YourTango’s senior editor for experts & wellness.