Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Hannah Fuhlendorf M.A, LPC
How To Set Boundaries In Relationships That Are Long-Term
Published May 28th, 2021 & updated on Jan 19th, 2022
When you’re in a long-term relationship it can feel like your boundaries are almost non-existent. I mean…that’s the way it should be, right? That means you’re as close as can be, right? NOPE! Even though you and your partner spend a TON of time together, share forks and drinks and maybe even live together, it’s still important to establish boundaries in relationships that are long-term.
Boundaries are necessary for a healthy relationship. They help you and your partner know what lines not to cross, and basically give you each a yes and no list of what is okay and what isn’t. Everyone’s boundaries are different and you just have to learn to communicate them to your partner.
Types of Boundaries
Get your pens and pencils ready because it’s time for a fun fact! Did you know that there are different types of boundaries? There are typically 5 different kinds (but we’ve added one more). Don’t worry, we’re going to dig into alllll of them.
When we think of boundaries, we usually think about people invading our physical space, but boundaries actually transcend into all areas of our life! Knowing and understanding these different boundaries in relationships helps set you and your partner up for success because they can help you navigate sticky and uncomfortable situations. So, let’s dive in!
1. Physical Boundaries
Okay, you’re probably super familiar with the concept of physical boundaries, but we’re going to talk about it anyway! It’s important!
Physical boundaries in relationships are clearly about your space and body. But did you know that your privacy is also an important physical boundary? Even though you might be in a relationship with someone you love and trust, you are still entitled to your privacy. You also are entitled to your personal space, and to choose whether or not you want physical touch or intimacy (that’s HELLA important).
And btw, it’s totally okay for your boundaries to change over time! Maybe you’ve sent sexy nude pics in the past but now don’t want to. Or, you were uncomfortable with being touched a certain way and now you’re not. Just make sure that you communicate these boundaries and changes to your partner so that they know how they can respect you and your space!
Here are some things that you can say:
“Can we just cuddle instead?”
“I need some space and time to myself. ”
“I have the right to my privacy and that includes my phone.”
“Can you not touch me there? Thank you.”
2. Sexual Boundaries
We’ve already talked about nudes, but let’s talk about sex baby! You might think that you’re not entitled to have sexual boundaries with your partner, but YOU TOTALLY ARE.
This might mean not being okay with some things in the bedroom, or wanting to explore some more exciting ways for you to have fun with your long-term partner(s). The important thing is that you communicate your boundaries as soon as can. Here’s how you can work on establishing these boundaries (whether they’re new or being re-established) with your partner:
“Are you okay with this?”
“This doesn’t feel good.”
“How does that feel?”
“I’m interested in trying ____. Would you be open to that?”
3. Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries in relationships are all about not feeling responsible for another person’s feelings AND taking full responsibility for your own. With these boundaries you should be able to separate your feelings from someone else’s, avoid sacrificing your own needs, and avoid blaming others for your uncomfortable feelings.
Separating yourself from another person’s feelings might be suuuper hard for you — especially if you’re very empathetic. It’s natural to not want to offend anyone. But, if someone’s advice hurts you, if you’re not emotionally ready to communicate, or if they’re taking out their frustrations on you then it’s important to stand up for yourself and the boundaries that you’ve set.
A big part of setting emotional boundaries is also knowing to ask for what you need. If you’re sad, angry, upset, or anxious and your partner isn’t responding how you need them to then tell them what you need from them to help this emotion pass. (A cuddle or two never hurts either!)
“When you criticize me for how I’m feeling, it makes me want to totally shut down. I want to share how I feel with you, but I need you to respond to me respectfully.”
“We should talk about this later. I’m not in a good place to discuss this right now.”
“I understand that you’re frustrated, but it’s not okay for you to take it out on me.”
“I’m not doing okay. Can you help me? I need ____”
4. Material Boundaries
Let’s talk about money, money, money! *Cue ABBA*
Money is always a tricky thing in relationships — especially if you’re living together! It’s one thing to alternate buying dinner and paying for dates, but there are a whole new batch of boundaries to navigate when you move in together.
It’s also important to think about the things you have in your shared life together. Is the bookshelf you bought considered both of yours? What if you only have one car? Who owns what? Or, is it just understood that everything is collectively both of yours?
Here’s how you can navigate some of these difficult conversations:
“I’d prefer if you didn’t do that to the dresser. I know your things are in there too, but I want to keep it in good shape.”
“Please treat my things with respect.”
“I’m tight on cash. I can’t afford to go out this week. Can we stay in instead?”
“I’m entitled to handle my finances how I want to. I don’t have to merge my bank account with yours if I’m not comfortable with that.”
5. Intellectual Boundaries
If you think you’ve never heard of intellectual boundaries, think again. You might just not have thought of them as a type of boundary. SURPRISE!
Healthy intellectual boundaries in relationships are all about respecting people’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. Maybe you and your partner disagree on some things…that’s okay! The important thing is that you respect each other and communicate your differences with kindness. Neither of you should belittle the other for believing what you believe.
Do you have to accept all opinions and ideas that your partner has? Nope! In some cases you can just agree to disagree. But if their ideas go against your morals or values, it’s okay to end things with your partner. You can love someone and still have boundaries that can’t be crossed.
If you find yourself in a debate or disagreement with your partner, try using these phrases:
“I see where you’re coming from, but have you considered _____?”
“I don’t want this to turn into a fight. Let’s table this discussion for now.”
“I’m fine with you disagreeing with me, but it’s not okay to put down my ideas.”
6. Time Boundaries
Your time is valuable! Setting time boundaries in relationships is all about creating time for yourself. People can violate this boundary by interrupting important moments or insisting on taking you away from what you’re already doing.
Time boundaries also mean making time for yourself and spending it however you want to. This can be tricky when you’re in a long-term relationship because it can be hard to turn down your partner’s invitation to visit their family, go on a special date, or even just take a nice drive together. But it’s important to listen to your mind and body and do what’s best for you — and doing what’s best for you might mean some alone time!
Here’s what you can say when your partner tries to disrupt, disregard, or disrespect your time boundaries:
“Can we do that tomorrow instead? I just really need some alone time.”
“I can’t talk right now. I’m at work. ”
“I have plans with my friends tonight. Let’s visit your parents on Thursday instead. ”
“It’s important to me that I see my friends.”
Setting boundaries can feel like the hardest thing to do. We get it! It’s not easy saying no to someone or standing up for your needs. But it’s important that you do. Try your best to approach every hard conversation with kindness and strength. What you need matters and you deserve to have your boundaries set and respected. Now, go out there and start telling everyone your boundaries!!!! Okay, maybe not everyone, but you get the point.