When you start dating someone new (or even if you've been together a while), it's important to make sure you always feel comfortable in the relationship and are being true to who you are. The start of a new relationship is a good time to begin laying down some ground rules with your partner (and we don’t only mean physical boundaries, either). And what about if you’re already in a relationship? Communication is key, and you should still broach the topic and have an honest conversation—no matter how long you’ve been together for a while.
What Are Boundaries in Dating?
Boundaries in dating are a person's limits in a relationship. They allow each person to maintain their needs, space, individuality, and health.
Although we can always change our mind and some of our boundaries become more flexible when we get closer to someone, it’s key to start a relationship with clarity, says relationship psychotherapist Leslie Malchy. “A hand on the arm can be a welcome source of intimacy and comfort to one person or a privacy violation to another,” she explains. “Communicating what we need is a way of protecting ourselves in relationships and protecting others from the pain of hurting us.”
Meet the Expert
Below we’ve rounded up five healthy steps for setting boundaries in dating, explained by Malchy and self-love coach Jennifer Twardowski.
Decide How You Feel
Take time apart from the person or people you’re dating to think about what sort of boundaries are most important to you. (How often you’ll communicate with one another and how frequently you’ll see each other are just two simple boundaries to start to get your wheels turning.) “The problem with many of us who have weak or leaky boundaries in relationships is that we become so enmeshed, so encompassed by the other person’s "stuff" that we have no idea what it is that we ourselves are feeling,” says Twardowski. “By taking the time to break away, reflect, and really check in with yourself, you are then consciously making the distinct difference between yourself and the other person [or people].”
Find a Neutral Playing Field (or Time)
When you’re having a serious (and private) conversation like this, it may be best to do it at one of your places, especially if the topic of physical intimacy is going to be brought up. Although a neutral place like a coffee shop would be ideal, it doesn’t necessarily make sense here. And since it’s sometimes challenging to keep the place neutral, you can try to keep the timing neutral. For example, if the talk is premeditated, have it while you aren’t already disagreeing about something else and when you’re both feeling level-headed.
Come Prepared With Nonnegotiables
Brainstorm the boundaries that you have to set in your relationship for it to work for you. Think: What do you need without a doubt to keep you comfortable and confident while dating this person or these people? Are there things that physically you will never feel okay with? Is there a certain number of times per week you want to touch base with the person or persons you’re dating? These nonnegotiables can run the gamut, but identifying them early on will help you learn whether the two or more of you are compatible in the first place. Here’s the truth: If a potential partner isn’t okay with respecting your nonnegotiables, then it’s time to walk.
Listen, Listen, Listen
After you’re done discussing your needs, it’s time to listen. There are two or more people in every dating scenario, and each deserves to be heard. If you don’t understand what you’re hearing, it’s time to ask some questions. Chances are that it’s not going to go over well in a few weeks (or months) if you said a boundary of your partner’s or partners’ was okay but you never understood it in the first place.
Be Good To Yourself
Realize that by trying to set boundaries in dating, you’re protecting yourself, and that’s a good thing. If your discussion brings up any backlash or feelings of guilt, then you need to take care of yourself, says Twardowski. Leave and go outside or practice yoga if that’s more your style. “Do something to help yourself get re-centered, and don’t spend too much (or any) energy focusing on what happened,” she says. Speaking up for yourself should never make you feel bad, and if another person makes you feel this way, they don’t deserve to be dating you.