Respecting your partner’s boundaries

A healthy relationship starts with mutual respect, and that includes respecting each other’s emotional and physical boundaries. We’ve talked a little bit about setting your own boundaries, but it’s equally important to think about how to respect your partner’s boundaries.

Whether you’re thinking about asking someone out, in the middle of a dating relationship, or dealing with a break-up, respecting the other person’s boundaries is essential.

But how am I supposed to know my partner’s boundaries?

Ask! Not everyone feels comfortable communicating their boundaries, especially early in a relationship, but that makes understanding and respecting their boundaries no less important. If you’re not sure how your partner feels about something, its okay to ask. Not only is it okay, it’s necessary! Besides giving you a better sense of their comfort on a particular topic, it also helps to establish open and honest communication in the relationship.

But my partner’s boundaries make me unhappy in the relationship!

Understanding your partner’s boundaries is the first step to respecting them. It can be difficult to make the choice to respect your partner’s boundaries when their boundaries don’t match up with whatever it is that you want, but that doesn’t make respecting their boundaries any less important.

For example:

“My partner says she feels smothered by how often I contact her and that she only wants to talk on the phone every couple of days, but that makes me feel really distant and unhappy.”

So who’s in the wrong? Sometimes nobody is. Everyone is different and sometimes our needs and wants just don’t line up. While you have every right to your feelings and needs, it’s important to remember that it’s not okay to try to impose them upon your partner or expect your partner to change to fit your needs. If you find your boundaries clashing, first start by examining your own boundaries to see if they’re possibly putting unhealthy expectations on your partner.

Boundaries + sex

It’s easy to get swept up in the moment and forget to ask your partner about their physical boundaries. But when it comes to intimacy, sex, and methods of protection, everyone has different backgrounds, desires, and comfort levels, and it’s important to be mindful of the fact that what’s okay with you might not be okay with your partner.

Try to talk with your partner about their boundaries and expectations around sex before you’re in the moment. You can also talk about how to communicate with each other in the moment to make sure everything feels good the whole time and no one feels uncomfortable with anything that’s happening. Here’s a great checklist from Scarleteen you can use with your partner to learn each other’s sexual boundaries: Yes, No, Maybe So.

Remember, too, that people’s levels of comfort and desire change, so don’t  assume that just because they were okay with something in the past, they will always be okay with it. Everyone has the right to change their boundaries anytime, for any reason.

Digital life + privacy

True or False? If your partner doesn’t have anything to hide, they should be okay with giving you their passwords or showing you their emails, social media, texts, etc.

False! Having privacy doesn’t mean that your partner is hiding anything. Everyone has the right to privacy, and no one should have to give it up to be in a relationship. Doing things like asking your partner for passwords to social media, email, their phone, or expecting them to tell you where they go and who they’re with violates their basic right to privacy, and can be a form of digital abuse.

If you’re finding it hard to respect your partner’s privacy, it may be a red flag that you’re having trouble trusting them. If trust is lacking in your relationship, it is impossible for the relationship to be healthy. If you find that you can’t trust your partner, get to the bottom of those feelings to find out why! Once you figure out why you’re having a hard time trusting them, ask yourself what it would take for you to be able to trust them again. If the answer to that has anything to do with violating their privacy, it might be time to consider whether the relationship is right for you.

Got questions about boundaries, trust, or anything else in your relationship? You can chat, text, or talk with one of our advocates 24/7. Give us a shout!


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