How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship


What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries exist so that we can teach others the expectations, rules, and limits we have.  Boundaries also communicate what our emotional needs are.  They exist to keep bad things out of our relationships and good things in.

Boundaries allow us to say “I’m ok/not ok with that”.  They provide a layer of protection to a relationship.  If boundaries have never been discussed or established, there is a good chance that invisible lines have been crossed many times.  There may be a lot of hurt and conflict in the relationship, but very little understanding on how to resolve it.

How many times have you said “Yes” to something and really meant “No”?  Boundaries help us to say “No” and mean “No”—and stick to it!  If you and/or your partner struggle to set and keep healthy boundaries, read below for some ideas on where to start setting boundaries in your relationship:


Communication is often the biggest issue that couples come to counseling for.  How often do you talk to each other?   Think about the quality of conversation the two of you have.  Do you ask your partner about their day?  How often does the cell phone, TV, or computer interfere with your conversations?

The way that you communicate with one another can be an issue as well.  Think about how much time you spend talking versus listening to your partner.  Do you make eye contact, say please and thank you, and do you allow your partner to talk without interruption?  Make sure that you both are feeling heard.  Are you both deliberate about being respectful and using an appropriate tone of voice?


Spending time with family can be a sore spot in a lot of relationships.  While your partner’s family may do everything together, you may have grown up in a family that sees each other only a few times a year.  How involved do you want to be in family activities?  You and your partner need to have conversations about saying “No” and turning down invitations.  What might that balance look like for the two of you?

Another piece to setting boundaries with family is how much you talk to them about your significant other.  Do you call your mom up to complain every time your partner does something that drives you crazy?  How would your partner feel about that?  You and your significant other need to have discussions about how comfortable you are about sharing details of your relationship.  Where do you draw the line?


Money causes the most arguments with couples.  It’s no surprise that many couples struggle to set appropriate boundaries when it comes to finances.  You and your partner need to work on setting and achieving financial goals.  Think about how the bills get paid and decisions get made with spending money.  Does one partner have all the control?  If this is how it works with you and your partner, there is a very good chance that there is a lot of miscommunication or disagreements with where and how money should be spent.

Are you a saver and your partner a spender?  This can often cause a lot of grief in a relationship and disagreements on prioritizing spending.  Make sure that you are constantly having conversations with your partner about bills, big purchases, and how you are establishing a savings, rainy day fund, or retirement.  Not doing so can cause a lot of big problems both now and down the road.


Think about the last time you talked about your sex life with your partner or checked in with them.  Have you both communicated your comfort level, limits, and expectations?  Are you both on the same page with the frequency of sex?

Do you give and receive enough affection from your partner?  Are you comfortable with PDA (public display of affection) and where do you draw the line?  Think about the last time you spent cuddling, holding hands, or kissing your partner.  If it’s hard to recall, you probably need to work on increasing the frequency and being deliberate.  How do you let your partner know you are thinking about them?


Think about the last time you went on a date night—a real date night.  Are you carving out time to spend together?  Make sure that the time you are spending together is quality time.   Attempt to “unplug” from the technology (no phones, computers, tablets, etc.) so you can spend uninterrupted time together.  It’s amazing how beneficial that can be in a relationship.

Reflect on the amount of alone time both you and your partner get.  Is it enough for each of you?  Are you comfortable with how your partner chooses to spend their free time?  Another topic would be the amount of time you each spend with your children, and whether you feel it is fulfilling each of your expectations.

How to Set Boundaries

You may have a better idea of where you need to set some boundaries in your relationship.  The next step is to actually set them.  Take some time to think about what you need from your partner.  Don’t assume that your significant other should “just know” what you need from them.  Your partner is not a mind-reader!  Make a list if you need to, and slowly start to address your needs.

When establishing boundaries, communication is key!  Set some time aside to have a conversation with your partner.  Approach the situation with a calm, level head.  Avoid using “you-messages” and work towards compromise.

A side note to this: Please don’t start a conversation about setting boundaries with your partner when you are angry with them.  If you are stewing about something, you will approach them with contempt and they will feel attacked.  Nothing will be accomplished if you both become defensive.

Give your significant other alternatives.  Don’t just communicate to them what you don’t want; make sure to verbalize what you do want.  Again, don’t assume that they should “just know”.  Problem solve with them to find understanding and compromise with different topics and situations.

Allow your partner the opportunity to retort and express what they need from you.  You may find out that they feel the same way with a lot of the issues you brought up, or they may feel very differently.  Either way, get in the habit of having frequent conversations with your partner about where boundaries need to be drawn.  No matter what, compromise!  It is truly the only successful way to set boundaries with your partner.

Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW

*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.

Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.