2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Illustration by Stuti Patel

Setting boundaries in romantic relationships

By Olivia Greaves, February 27 2020—

“Know thyself.” What does this mean? Most everyone has heard this statement at one point or another. A famously quoted and possibly overused Socratic aphorism, it deals with the complexities of inner enlightenment and personal growth. In Socrates’ time, it meant understanding one’s place in the family of things. The meaning of this phrase transformed multiple times as it was translated through the centuries, with later scholars like Thomas Hobbes using it to denote understanding oneself in relation to other human beings. In this context, “knowing oneself” becomes a useful skill in day-to-day life, and particularly in romantic relationships.

In relationships, knowing oneself means understanding who you are, what you are chasing and what you hope to attain from your relationships. You must understand where your own identity ends and another person’s begins. Boundaries are a useful tool for engaging with another in a loving and respectful manner, whilst maintaining individuality and can be defined as distinct rules set in place for how we treat others and how others treat us. Psychology Wiki defines personal boundaries as, “guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them, and how they will respond when someone steps outside of those limits.” They also note three distinct types of boundaries: physical – pertaining to “personal space and proxemics,” mental – pertaining to “beliefs, emotions, and intuition,” and spiritual – pertaining to “self-esteem and identity.” They also denote four different types of psychological boundaries: soft, spongy, rigid, and flexible, with flexible being the attainable ideal, because a person possessing these types of boundaries is certain of what to let in and what to keep out, and is difficult to manipulate. 

According to Nicole LePera, “the Holistic Psychologist,” boundaries have distinct elements. Setting a healthy one sounds like saying, “I understand you are angry, but you do not speak to me that way.” It also includes stating an action or consequence, “If you cannot respect what I’m asking, I’ll need some space,” and “if you continue bringing this up, I’m going to have to end this conversation.” If the boundary is crossed there must be firm and respectful follow through, which takes practice. Additionally, loveisrespect.org identifies different types of boundaries. Emotional — saying “I love you” and establishing time apart, physical — involving the pace of the relationship and sexual intimacy, and digital — regarding relationship statuses, texting & sexting, who can follow who, and device sharing. They also note that in healthy relationships passwords are kept private, with everyone having a right to digital privacy.

Successful boundaries must be enforced respectfully but firmly, and when used in this manner, become a great way of communicating wants and needs in relationships, allowing for the successful integration of individuals’ lives into a mutually beneficial arrangement. Consistency is key when maintaining them, and it can take time for partners to learn and respond to each other’s needs. Appropriate consequences must also be pre-determined regarding breach of boundaries, and people who are prone to self-sacrifice must be wary of partners who continually disregard boundaries, as this behaviour crosses the line into unhealthy and abusive relationship territory.

Boundaries then, are about respect — of the self, and of the “other” in a relationship. Therefore, it is crucial for an individual to have a strong understanding of themselves, their wants and needs, and their personal goals in order to set and maintain successful boundaries in romantic relationships. With proper communication and strong self-understanding on the part of both individuals, this can lead to healthy and truly beautiful relationship dynamics.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet