A couple hugging.
How do you manage what's okay – and what's not?Image by: Movember
A couple hugging.
4 July 2023

Setting healthy boundaries in relationships

4 minutes read time

Good relationships take hard work.

Yeah, we’ve heard that so many times that it’s practically a cliché. But you know what? You’ve heard it so often because it’s true.

Disagreements and conflicts will happen. Even in the best relationships, when we do our best to be good communicators, maintain healthy boundaries, and find common ground.

But fear not, fellas, help is at hand. With the right tools and an open mind, strong and healthy relationships that meet your needs – and those of our partners, friends, and family – are entirely possible.

Let's dive into some practical steps to make that happen.

Healthy boundaries in relationships

The best relationships are the ones that are built up over time through actions and good communication. At its heart, a good relationship is one where you both feel your needs are met – and if there’s one area in a relationship where this gets both repeatedly tested and reinforced, it’s boundaries.

What are boundaries in a relationship? Basically, they’re the rules and agreements that spell out what's okay and what's not. Boundaries cover personal space, alone time, emotions, communication, and much more.

Boundaries can take many forms. Some should be easy to define, like physical boundaries (what and when it’s ok for physical affection, touching and sex) or financial boundaries (how you manage bank accounts or politely declining Uncle Bob’s request to borrow your mower after he trashed it last time).

Boundaries around personal and emotional matters are equally important. They might be about social and personal life outside of a relationship, how you’re expected to act at the stressful family get-together, or only letting someone use your tools if they’re put back in the correct spot. They might also be about specific or sensitive conversational topics (such as talking about religion, politics, or a painful incident), how often you’re expected to call or message, or Aunt Miranda badgering you (yet again) about not having kids.

Boundaries will, in all likelihood, also apply at work, to church or social groups, to personal time commitments, and to many other situations.

How to have a conversation about boundaries

Boundaries are a two-way street. It’s as much about understanding someone’s needs as it is about setting your own. Remember, though, boundaries are not about controlling someone. Rather, they’re about what’s acceptable and comfortable to you.

A general rule for good, healthy relationship boundaries might include:

  • Making family time a priority over work or other commitments.
  • Saying “no” to things you don’t want to do.
  • Asking for space when you need it.
  • Not tolerating the intolerable – calling out things that are inappropriate, damaging or just wrong.
  • Freedom and independence to make your own decisions.

So how do you talk about what might be a touchy subject? Especially if it’s a source of relationship conflict?

Believe it or not, the best possible thing anyone can do when talking seriously about healthy relationship boundaries is to focus on listening. It might sound counterintuitive, but being a better listener will improve the outcome.

How’s that? It’s simple, really: someone who genuinely feels heard will be more receptive to you.

If you want to be a good listener, give active listening a try. It's a proven technique that is all about ensuring you get heard – by ensuring the other person feels heard. Movember Conversations is a great resource for mastering this kind of communication. In fact, you can even start an online practice conversation.

Parenting and boundaries with kids

Finally, let's talk about setting boundaries with kids. Parenting is one heck of a gig. It may be the most rewarding thing you ever do – and it may also be the toughest.

Ask any dad, and they’ll tell you that parenting can get pretty intense. That’s why setting boundaries is such an important part of the game. But with everything going on, it might not be a walk in the park.

Parenting is serious business. It’s why Movember created Family Man. It’s packed with resources and expert tips on good parenting, especially for new dads.

For instance, how does your parenting style work when it comes to setting boundaries? The best way to go about it is by setting crystal-clear expectations and rules. But how you choose to parent – and perhaps, what kind of parent you want to be – can shape kids in different ways.

What about dealing with tantrums? Where do you draw the line when it comes to discipline? Or what if things didn’t work out between you and your partner and you find yourself co-parenting? That can be tough, and so can setting boundaries to avoid conflict.

At Family Man you’ll find the answers to these and many more questions, all written by experts in the field.