What you will learn from this blog:
- Boundaries are not harsh “walls” to separate you from others, but about self-awareness and identity
- Healthy boundaries can help you and your partner build deeper understanding, respect and love
- Practical ways to set healthy boundaries yet maintain closeness in relationships
Boundaries are an essential part of every healthy relationship. During our relationship counselling sessions, we explain to clients that by not having boundaries, they will “lose themselves” in their relationships, and in turn, lose intimacy and connection with their partner.
There is a common view that boundaries are “walls” that distance us from others. As therapists who offer marriage counselling in Singapore, we have observed that clients fall into two categories during our relationship counselling sessions:
- Those who find it hard to set boundaries because they are afraid boundaries will push their partner away
- Those who set fierce boundaries to push others away only to end up feeling lonely
However, these do not represent what boundaries actually are.
In reality, boundaries are not about separating yourself from others. It is about defining yourself. Boundaries are about knowing & expressing your wants, needs, core values, and priorities.
Healthy boundaries can bring you closer to your partner by:
- Helping you understand each other better
- Creating safety in the relationship
- Allowing both parties to better address each other’s needs
Here are three ways couples can communicate boundaries with each other in a healthy way:
1. Focus on what you want, rather than what you do not want
When you set boundaries by saying what you do not want (e.g. “I don’t like it when you stay out late”), this tends to put your partner on the defensive as they might feel blamed for doing something wrong.
Instead, if you focus on telling your partner what you actually want (e.g. “When you stay out late and do not let me know where you are, I worry about you; what I need is to know you are okay so I feel assured.”), it makes your partner feel safe and makes it easier for them to know how to address your needs.
To do this, instead of reacting to situations, try to be more intentional about setting boundaries.
Consciously reflect on your needs and express them to your partner. For example:
- How much time do I need alone vs. time with my partner
- How important is family vs. other things to me
- What makes me feel energised vs. what drains me
- What makes me feel safe vs. unsafe
When you reflect on these things, you may find that you and your partner have contradictory needs – for example, one may need more personal space while the other may need more connection.
However, from our experience through marriage counselling in Singapore, the more couples address each other’s needs, the more they get their needs met.
For example, the more personal space you get, the more you are able to be present when you are with your partner; the more you are able to connect to your partner and the more secure you feel in giving each other personal space.
2. Focus on what you can do, rather than controlling your partner
Boundaries are not about controlling what your partner does or does not do (e.g. “I don’t allow you to hang out with this person”).
It is about focusing on what you can do when your boundaries are crossed.
For example, you can share how you feel with your partner and find a common ground. It is about giving your partner space to consciously choose to take your interests to heart. The irony is the more you try and control, the more your partner will harden their position and the more you will lose control.
At relationship counselling sessions at Intracresco, we tell our clients that ultimately, it is about taking responsibility for addressing your own wants and needs, rather than placing the responsibility on your partner.
3. Be clear on your intention of setting boundaries
It is important to reflect on and express your intention for setting boundaries with your partner.
Are you setting a boundary from a space of anger, of wanting to hurt your partner for hurting you? Or are you setting a boundary from a space of respecting yourself and your partner, and wanting the best for the relationship?
Your intention plays a big role in how your partner will respond to your boundaries.
Pro Tip: From our experience in marriage counselling in Singapore, it is common that when we start to set healthy boundaries, we can struggle at first to find the right balance.
Someone who is not used to setting boundaries could swing to the other extreme and start aggressively setting boundaries, fueled by resentment built up over years of being stepped on.
It is important to be kind to yourself. Do not expect to get it right or to have a positive response from people who have been used to your silence. Take responsibility for when you have gone too far and caused hurt to others. Keep going, with every step you will learn and get better at it.