Setting Boundaries
by Kat Richter

Lego woman caught looking at dirty photos at the office.

It's natural to want to be close to your partner - physically and emotionally - but all relationships require boundaries and romantic relationships are no exception. This can be tough for new couples. You're in the honeymoon phase! You just want to be together. But without clear boundaries, you and your partner will have a hard time communicating about your preferences, your desires and which sorts of behavior are and are not acceptable to each of you.

So, what exactly is a boundary? When we're talking about relationships, boundaries are the concerns, preferences and points of view that make you who you are. Boundaries can be emotional or physical, and in some relationships also spiritual and mental as well. More importantly, boundaries are what enable you to maintain your own distinct identity even as you and your partner start to share more than you ever have before.

The word "boundary" has a slightly negative connotation, but think of where this world would be without them. Your socks would be mixed in with your pants, your toothpaste would be oozing all over your bathroom and forget about trying to make a cup of coffee. We need boundaries to keep things in their proper place, whether were talking about cream and sugar or our new partner and his horrific ex-wife.


One of the most important boundaries to establish is that of acceptable behavior. Let's say for example that you're self conscious about the size of your nose or your little sister's constant unemployment. If that's the case, it is not okay for your partner to tease you about these things. Sure, you don't mind a laugh or two at your expense when it comes to your inability to turn on the fancy new TV with its fancy new remote controls, especially if you can tease your partner about his or her growing collection of comic books too. But your sister? Your nose? Those things are off limits. Make this clear from the get go and if your partner crosses the line, let him or her know that your feelings have been hurt so that they'll learn how to avoid inadvertently pushing your more sensitive buttons.


Family can be another tricky one, especially if you're close to your family and your partner is not or vice versa. Take the time to explain that your family is (or is not) important to you. Let your partner know when family commitments may affect your schedule and invite your partner to join you when possible. Be clear that your family is a priority and don't be afraid to let them know when family issues are weighing you down.

And while we're on the subject, make sure you set some boundaries between your family and your relationship as well. Let Mom and Dad know that you're not going to be joining them for dinner every Sunday night anymore, and that if you do, you're going to be bringing a date. Consider whether or not public displays of affection are okay in your parents’ house and if your family is more formal, be sure to let your partner know ahead of time. Communicating your boundaries will allow you to remain committed to all of the important people in your life: your partner and your family.

Personal Space

One of the biggest issues in a new relationship is the invasion of your privacy. If you're not yet living together, chances are you're still spending and awful lot of time together. And most likely, you're probably spending quite a bit of this time in each other's bedrooms. If it drives you crazy when your partner dumps the contents of his or her overnight bag all across your floor, let them know. If you'd rather they didn't leave the toilet seat up (or down), let them know. Be polite but honest. It's the only way they will learn how to respect your space. And the pendulum swings both ways: make sure that you're respectful of their personal space needs as well. If your partner is spending more nights than not at your place, give them a shelf or drawer of their own so that their "stuff" can be contained.

Me Time

Oftentimes in relationships, one party is independent while the other is bit more needy. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, until you stumble upon the issue of "me time." Let's face it: you may love the person you're with, and you may love spending time with them, but you may not want to be with them 24/7. That's okay. Especially if you take the time to sit your partner down and explain that you need some alone time to maintain your cheery disposition. Let them know that it's not just them - you don't want to spend time with anyone after your yoga class on Thursday nights - and plan an activity together once you've had your time alone to compensate.

Work vs. Play

When you're in a new relationship, it's tempting to want to show your partner off to your friends, especially your co-workers. But if you're introducing your partner to your colleagues, you definitely need to establish a few boundaries beforehand. Public displays of affection are a big no-no in the work place so keep it clean. And if you're the one being shown off, be polite and respectful of your partner's colleagues and supervisors, even if you think they're total jerks.

Talk about what sorts of communication are and are not appropriate during the work day as well. Maybe a phone call during your lunch break is okay but sending naked photos during a board meeting is not. Be respectful of the corporate culture at your partner's place of employment and schedule your sexting accordingly.

When in doubt, just say no. As Dr. Phil is so fond of saying, you teach people how to treat you. This is never more true than at the start of a serious relationship. So take the time now to set your boundaries; you'll be glad you did.


  • Talk to your partner about your feelings the next time he or she does something that pisses you off. Trying using statements like "I feel…" and "when you…" to avoid sounding accusatory.
  • Ask your partner what types of workplace communication are appropriate. If you can't call them during the day, can you email or text?
  • Discuss the possibility of spending time apart at least once or twice a week. If you feel this would be beneficial to your relationship, go for it but then plan an activity together to let your partner know that you still care about them and want to be with them, even if your independent side needs to get away once in a while. Copyright © 2009-2012 Hot Date Ideas. All Rights Reserved.

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