Respect for physical boundaries can be a good indication of how healthy your relationship is. In a healthy relationship, partners know how far the other wants to go based on open communication, and they feel comfortable communicating with each other if something changes. There are no rules dictating how far you have to go by a certain age or at any given time in a relationship, and your boundaries should always reflect how ready you feel personally.
Remember: sex isn’t currency. You don’t owe your partner anything, and it isn’t fair for them to claim that you don’t care about them because you’ve established or are establishing physical boundaries. Building and respecting physical boundaries depends on open, honest communication.
If you’re trying to find the right way to discuss your boundaries, consider these tips for healthier communication (while keeping in mind any potential risks to your physical safety):
- Find the right time.
If something in your relationship is bothering you and you’d like to discuss it, it will help to do so at the right time. Try to find time and space when you and your partner(s) are calm and undistracted, without other stresses or time constraints. If you’re having trouble finding time to talk, consider scheduling a moment ahead of time.
- Talk face to face.
Avoid discussing serious issues about your relationship in writing. Texts, letters, and emails have the potential for misinterpretation, and talking in person will allow you to prevent unnecessary miscommunications. If you’re having trouble collecting your thoughts, write them down ahead of time — just be sure to read them out loud to your partner directly.
- Don’t attack each other.
Even when we mean well, our language can sometimes come across as harsh because of implications from words or intonation. Using “you” statements to center your anger may make your partner defensive and less receptive. Instead, try to use statements that center your relationship together. For example, instead of saying, “You’ve been distant with me,” consider framing the situation as, “It feels like we haven’t been as close lately.”
- Be honest.
Agree to be honest with one another. The truth can hurt sometimes, but it’s essential to a healthy relationship. Admit that neither of you can be perfect and apologize when you make a mistake rather than making excuses. Holding yourself accountable will ultimately make you feel better and help strengthen your relationship.
- Check your body language.
Let your partner know that you’re listening by giving them your full attention. Sit up, face them directly, and make eye contact when communicating. Don’t try to have a conversation while you’re doing something else like taking a phone call, sending a text, or playing a video game. Show your partner you respect them by listening actively and responding to what they say.
- Use the 48 hour rule.
If your partner’s behavior makes you upset or angry, you need to let them know about it, but you don’t have to do so right away. Wait 48 hours to process your feelings, and if you still feel upset, say something. If not, consider what it was that made you upset in the moment and whether it’s an issue still worth raising.
Remember that your partner can’t read your mind: if you don’t speak up when you’re upset, there’s no way for them to assume responsibility or change. If you do mention your hurt feelings and your partner sincerely apologizes, forgive them and let it go. Don’t bring up past issues if they’re not relevant.
It’s okay to get angry in a relationship — everyone does at some point. What’s important is that you resolve conflicts in a healthy way. If you get angry with your partner, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re still communicating constructively.
Communication isn’t always easy, especially when it has to do with physical boundaries.
Some of these tips may feel unnatural or awkward at first, but they’ll ultimately help you improve your communication and build a healthier relationship.
If you’re really angry about something, stop, take a step back, and breathe. Tell your partner (respectfully) that you’d like to take a short break before continuing the conversation to calm down. Give yourself time by talking to a friend, taking a walk, watching TV, listening to music, or doing an activity that relaxes you. This can help prevent a tense situation from getting worse.
Once you’ve calmed down, consider the situation and what made you so angry. Was it your partner’s behavior, something they said, or how they spoke? Figure out the real problem behind your anger and consider how to express to them why you feel the way you do.
Once you’re prepared to have the conversation, talk to your partner following the tips mentioned above.
After you tell your partner how you feel, remember to give them space to express themselves and listen to what they have to say. You both deserve the opportunity to communicate your feelings in a safe and healthy environment.