COUNSELING: How Do You Communicate Relationship Boundaries?

Closeup of couple holding hands

By Danny Churchill, LSW

The past year has brought unique challenges to couples and families everywhere. Forced adjustments to working from home and spending a lot of time together has affected the way couples communicate and prioritize relationships. Making quality time with your partner feel important can be tricky when it seems as though quality time has become all the time. 

Creating boundaries has become essential in learning to work from home, balancing relationships and responsibilities and taking care of ourselves. Communicating boundaries is the key to a successful relationship during these unique times.

Let’s first define what boundaries are. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” say boundaries help us determine what we are and are not responsible for. Without boundaries, relationships tend to be one-sided. One party crosses boundaries they are unaware exist, and the other party is affected negatively because they didn’t have the tools to communicate what is and what is not fair.

What Are Relationship Boundaries?

Relationship boundaries can take many different forms, but they always serve the same purpose as mentioned before: they help us determine what we are responsible for and what we are not in the eyes of our partner. Discussing your boundaries with your partner early on is necessary to building the foundation for success. As the relationship progresses and you face circumstances that challenge your boundaries or form new boundaries, it is important to always keep an open line of communication with your partner.

We are responsible for the words we say, but we can not necessarily be responsible for the way someone will react to those words. Couples may not say certain things out of fear their partner will be hurt by their words. This can is also taken in the opposite direction. Couples will say anything on their mind without regard for how their partner will take it. These can both be examples of communication without boundaries.

One relationship boundary you can set is honesty surrounding feelings. This may sound simple, but it is one that can be hard to set. We are responsible for our own feelings and if these feelings are not communicated, we cannot assume our partners will understand or respect them.

Another boundary to potentially set is for moods. The term “walking on eggshells” describes someone who determines the mood of the household. You may find yourself on either end of the spectrum. Again, we cannot be responsible for the way others feel, but we can take more responsibility over how we feel and how we communicate these feelings.

How Do You Set Relationship Boundaries?

Boundaries can be easy to identify but hard to set and maintain. The first step in setting relationship boundaries is finding the space to discuss them. That means finding one-on-one time with your partner where there are no distractions and where there can be productive conversation. Go out to dinner together, go for a walk in the park or find a time at home away from the children.

The next step is identifying what each person needs from the other. Talk this through to make both parties feel heard and know their needs are being met. While you’re doing this, keep the focus on yourself and try to not over explain. It is best to avoid blaming your partner. For example, per Positive Psychology, say “I need some time to myself when I get back from work” rather than “You have to stop bothering me after work.”

Some boundary setting examples are:

  • If you feel a lack of communication going on, set a boundary. Now, each partner is responsible for their own feelings and communicating them.
  • Boundaries formed around conflict by one or both parties allow resolutions to be calm and collected, as opposed to having harsh words and raised voices. When an argument starts, a couple who has previously discussed boundaries will take time to collect and process feelings and emotions before resolving the issue.

It important to stay simple and not over explain.

What Things Can Couples Do at Home?

Home has become more than just home since March 2020. It has become the office, daycare, elementary school and the gym amongst many others things while also still remaining the place to be for quality family time. It can be hard to differentiate what the home looks like each day. Work time has started to cut in to family time. Child care time has run adjacent to work time. It is paramount couples separate time for each sector of life now that it is occurring all under one roof. This will ensure there is clear structure that continues to exist.

Creating a daily schedule could be an easy way to alleviate stress and make it smoother to balance these sectors of life. These schedules can include work time, responsibilities with your marriage, raising your children and quality time activities.

Setting boundaries around technology use, particularly your smart phone, can also lead to a noticeable increase in your productivity and presence in each moment. Smart phones have made it easy for couples or families to be together in the same space without actually being together. Assigning times throughout the day, such as dinner time or date night, to be “no phone” times can help everyone involved to be more present with each other.

If you feel you need extra support navigating your relationship, Anchorpoint’s marriage counseling services can make bonds stronger, happier and healthier. Call at (412)-366-1300 or use our Digital Intake Form to schedule an appointment today. Hope is only a phone call away.