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How to create healthy boundaries in relationships

- by Kala Johnston, Think Twice Educator In our current culture and social climate, understanding how to create and maintain healthy boundaries in dating and personal relationships is incredibly important. Each person has their own set of standards and beliefs about how they want to be loved and accept love. It is particularly important that in friendship and in dating relationships, each person understands and respects the other persons boundaries. The most important part of having boundaries is knowing what your personal boundaries are and then communicating them clearly to those you are in relationship with.

One step to communicating and expressing boundaries is understanding yourself and what is important to you. As we grow up in middle school and high school, although we are influenced by our friends and family, but we should take the time to discern and understand what our own thoughts and feelings about dating and friendship are. This is an important foundational step towards maturity, understanding yourself. Once you have thought about and processed your thoughts and feelings, it is important to also acknowledge that others have different life experiences and families and may not have the same thoughts and feelings about relationships that you do. After understanding your own personality and desires, you will need to think about what your boundaries are and how you will best communicate them to the people you are in relationship with.

The first step in understanding and expressing boundaries is to ask yourself “What are my limits in this relationship? What will I accept and tolerate, and what are the things that I will not accept or tolerate? An example of this would be addressing physical touch. In a dating relationship, one person might be fine with French kissing while the other person is only open to holding hands, or in a friendship, there might be one friend hugs everyone but one friend is only ok with high fives. In each of these scenarios, it isn’t that one person is right or wrong, but that in each of these relationships there is mutual respect for each person in the relationship and a desire to honor their request or boundary.

The next step in expressing boundaries is doing it clearly, kindly and firmly. If, in our dating relationship scenario, neither party talks about what their boundaries are in the relationship, there will be confusion and possibly a feeling of resentment or being taken advantage of by the other person. In the friendship scenario, although one friend might just come from a family that likes to hug but the other person doesn’t like people in their personal space. Neither of these are wrong but in relationships, we need to learn to respect each other and what makes each person comfortable.

Many times in relationships there are assumptions that the other person already knows the feelings of their partner or friend when in reality if not clearly communicated, there is a high probability that there will be a misunderstanding due to not stating upfront what is acceptable to each person. As we mature and grow and understand more about ourselves and the people we are in relationship with it becomes important to honor and respect the differences and not shame or manipulate those around us to get what we want out of the relationship. By being an equal, honest, kind contributor to the relationship, and giving respect to other boundaries, we have a much higher chance of enjoying deep, meaningful relationships whether in dating or as friendship. We are all looking to be loved and accepted for who we are and it is vital that we also recognize that it is necessary to reciprocate this to others.

It is important to note specifically in dating that when boundaries haven’t been expressed, the safest option is to first ask and then to act with respect and honor to the other person, with no pressure or guilt for their boundary. Whatever person has the most conservative boundary is the limit in that relationship until consent is granted for any further behavior. The relationship boundary is the person with the most conservative boundary. For example, if one person is ok with kissing but the other person is only ok with holding hands then the boundary is holding hands. If at any time you feel unsafe in a dating relationship, remember that you do not have to do anything you are uncomfortable with and if there is pressure to do more than you are comfortable with, you can end the relationship. No relationship is worth compromising your personal boundaries and opening yourself up to potential heartache and regret. You should always create dating boundaries before you are ever in a compromising situation and clearly communicate them. In the middle of kissing is not the time to determine where the line is to be drawn for you to stop moving forward.

In all relationships, it is important to have mature adults, preferably parents to talk to when deciding how to set healthy boundaries. With age and maturity comes much wisdom and experience and it can be extremely helpful to have mature, healthy adults in your life that you can ask difficult questions and use as accountability when you enter relationships. If you do not have a trusted adult in your life, seek out a teacher, counselor, friend’s parent, or reach out to Think Twice at Life Choices to help with processing difficult conversations or how to create healthy boundaries.

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THINK TWICE Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Initiative is supported by the United States Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Grant #: 90TS00230100.
Opinions and findings of the program do not reflect those of the U.S. DHHS.

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