How to Set Boundaries in Dating

In this article, we discuss how to set boundaries in dating and why they are essential to have in a happy, healthy, and lasting relationship.

“The most compassionate people I interviewed over the past 13 years were also the most boundaried. Nothing is sustainable without boundaries.”

Brene Brown 

Dating is difficult.

This is something that we can all collectively agree on. Putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, and setting yourself up for the possibility of rejection over and over again in the hopes that you’ll someday find the one seems, to me, like the definition of insanity. 

Yet, we relentlessly continue the search for love making every possible mistake you can make in dating along the way. Hopefully, we’re learning from those mistakes and trying to be better the next time around. 

Relationships are also difficult.

Eventually we fall in love, enter a serious relationship, and have to learn an entirely new set of rules to live by. Forget pretty much everything you learned in dating. Being in a co-committed relationship is a brand new playing field. This time around your own needs aren’t the only ones that matter. Your partner also has needs that you must learn how to meet and respect.

Dating or Committed

Whether we are exploring or in a serious relationship, learning how to set boundaries in dating is something we must learn how to do.

In either relationship scenario, boundaries between both partners have to be established in order to create a healthy, functionable relationship. 

If you’re dating and unable to set boundaries, the relationship may get off to a rocky start and can be affected down the road. If you aren’t honoring yourself by setting boundaries with a potential partner, you aren’t being true to yourself or the other person. 

If you’re in a serious relationship with a partner and haven’t set boundaries, you might feel powerless and constantly criticized/judged, struggle communicating your wants and needs, and experience a lack of trust between you. The possibility for the relationship to be happy and lasting is not very likely. 

Why do we struggle with boundaries?

The importance of setting boundaries in dating cannot be stressed enough, yet there are many people who do not know what that looks like.

This can be because of how they were raised by their parents, neglect, abandonment issues, trauma, or low self-worth.

Those who were neglected or abandoned by their parents at a young age may be too fearful to set boundaries because they do not want to drive their partner away. Trauma can also cause feelings of worthlessness. If someone does not feel worthy of being treated with love, they will not set proper boundaries in place in order to ensure that. Out of fear, they put up with being horribly mistreated and abused because they believe they deserve it. 

Why set boundaries in dating?

Boundaries are the foundation for a safe, solid relationship. Without them, there is a risk of allowing yourself to be abused, taken advantage of, and/or disrespected. This can be physically or psychologically.

The torment of being in an abusive relationship can go on for years. The risk of falling into the abusive cycle is bigger for couples who do not have boundaries in place. It is better to set boundaries in dating from the beginning and stick to them in order to avoid the abusive relationship dynamic altogether.  

While some in this cycle may not be able to mend what is already broken, other existing relationships may be able to be saved by setting boundaries. 

Now that we have discussed why setting boundaries in dating is important and what can happen if we don’t, let’s dive into how to set boundaries effectively. 

How to Set Boundaries in Dating

The first step to setting boundaries in your relationship is knowing what your boundaries are. If you are unclear about your own boundaries, you won’t be able to communicate to your partner what you need from them, which in turn is setting them up for failure. 

Furthermore, if you know what your boundaries in dating are but don’t honor them yourself, how can you expect your partner to?

Getting clear with yourself is the first and most important step.

How do you do this?

You’ll need:

  • A pen/pencil
  • Paper or a journal
  • A quiet space to be alone and uninterrupted for a few hours
  • Mood music, candles, incense, or anything else you like to create a relaxing atmosphere with recommended

Start with vowing to be honest with yourself. Don’t set unrealistic expectations and don’t neglect any of your needs. You can sit/meditate on this vow of honesty for a few minutes to get into a good mindset to begin.

Create a list with two columns. One labeled Requests and one labeled Requirements.  

Here is the difference between a request and a requirement:

A request is something that you would prefer to have in the relationship, but it is not necessarily a “deal-breaker”. You will not end the relationship if your partner is unable to meet these. If you find that you are deeply hurt by them not meeting a request, it could indicate an old relationship wound resurfacing, which provides you with an opportunity for healing and growth. If you find that a request not being met is, in fact, a deal-breaker, then it becomes a requirement. 

A requirement is non-negotiable and must be respected as such. This is something that will end the relationship if it is not met. Therefore, having a very clear understanding of what your requirements are is essential. Making something that should be a request, a requirement could create a very messy situation and end the relationship prematurely. This is why being honest with yourself from the get-go is of the utmost importance. 

If there are many ideas that you are unsure of, that is perfectly normal. If you need to write a third column or write these out on the back of your paper, feel unashamed to do so. These are potential topics to discuss with your partner to help you figure out what would work best.  

Communication is key 

After you have a clear and honest view of what your boundaries are, the next thing to do is communicate them to your partner. 

Communicating in relationships is important, as we all know. Boundaries can be a delicate topic for some, so make sure to do so in the right setting and at the right time. For instance, do not bring up boundaries if you already have an unresolved conflict, are out in public, or are in a non-intimate/unsafe place.

Communicate your boundaries using “I” statements so your partner doesn’t feel threatened or attacked.

Go in with the mindset that you are doing this out of love for yourself and your partner, not out of fear or frustration. 

Be as open and honest with them as you were with yourself. Practice compassion and your partner is sure to return it. 

Your partner has boundaries, too.

Lastly, do not forget your partner’s boundaries. They also deserve the respect of being able to communicate their wants and needs without judgement. Listen to them and do your best to honor the boundaries that they set, too.