Boundaries and Balance: Prioritizing Your Mental Health in Relationships

Boundaries and Balance: Prioritizing Your Mental Health in Relationships

“Boundaries are the distance between where you end and where I begin.”

Dr. Harville Hendrix (Ph.D, Marital and Relationship Psychotherapist)

In romantic relationships, it’s common for our needs to take a backseat, leaving us feeling overshadowed or depleted. This can stem from difficulties in expressing ourselves and making space in the relationship. Setting boundaries is crucial for establishing balance and visibility. Boundaries often bring up images of barriers, walls or lines that cannot be crossed indicating inaccessibility, selfishness, and inhibitions. However, contrary to this popular belief, healthy relationship boundaries indicate limits asserted to enhance intimacy, understanding, compatibility and respect.

By setting a boundary, you communicate your comfort and safety with your partner which helps deepen your connection with them. They preserve both freedom and responsibility, nurturing a safe and fulfilling relationship. Healthy boundaries are guidelines that foster intimacy, understanding, and respect. They define our values, preferences, and limits, facilitating authentic expression and reducing confusion.

Impact of Boundaries on Mental Health

Healthy boundaries safeguard your mental health in relationships. They shield you from toxicity and enrich positive interactions. By ensuring that compromises and sacrifices stem from genuine willingness rather than obligation, boundaries enable self-focus and consistent self-care, by balancing YOUR needs with your partner’s needs. Establishing healthy boundaries is pivotal for bolstering self-esteem, prioritizing your needs, and fostering self-compassion. They prevent feeling burnt-out, stressed, or overwhelmed in a relationship. Boundaries can be flexible, based on your bandwidth from time to time, necessitating regular check-ins with yourself to gauge feelings about situations, plans, or discussions. They define and protect:

  • Your self-love and trust in yourself and your partner.
  • Your autonomy to acknowledge and connect with your emotions without being manipulated by others’,
  • Your individual stances, values, and attitudes toward the relationship and your partner, reflecting your life choices,
  • Your negotiable and non-negotiable aspects within the relationship.

Types of Boundaries

Romantic relationships span across various domains of our personal and professional life. Boundaries in these areas looks like:

  1. Emotional

These boundaries are likely to be set based on how you experience safety in the relationship and your partner’s availability to support you during distressing situations, communicating emotional availability and limits to it. For example, “I like being playful and teasing each other, but please don’t joke about my appearance” or “I need some time to process my thoughts at the moment, can you give me 15 minutes to collect my thoughts and then we can talk about it”?

  1. Sexual

Boundaries around sex and intimacy prevent unwanted touch and ensure the act is consensual, pleasurable and builds intimacy and trust for both you and your partner. For example, “I am not comfortable with (specific action) during intercourse. Can we try (specific action) instead?” orI think this is going too far and I am not ready to have sex with you yet. Can we slow down a bit?”

  1. Time

Such boundaries strike a balance between personal commitments, priorities, and your relationship. They foster personal and professional endeavours while also finding time for yourself and your partner. For example, “I have not spent time with my friends lately, I want to use this weekend to be with them,” or “I can stay here only for an hour after which I need to get back to my work.”

  1. Intellectual

These boundaries promote respect and mutual acceptance if not agreement for each other’s values, opinions and thoughts that can facilitate productive discussions without feeling targeted, singled out or dismissed. For example, “I don’t want to talk about politics right now, I’ve had a heavy day, and this upsets me more,” or “I respect your stance on (specific topic), Can you respect mine even if you don’t necessarily agree with it?”

  1. Physical

These help you decide what personal space, and non-sexual touch look like, and the extent to which you may be comfortable with them. These boundaries may stem from past experiences of abuse or neglect and can also help prevent the same. For example, “I am not comfortable with you holding my waist every now and then” or “I feel triggered when you suddenly grab me, can we talk about how this can feel safer for me?”

  1. Material

Boundaries around things you possess and the frequency of their usage, or limits to their usage. Partners having access to certain belongings can be discomforting to some and can lead to manipulation. For example, “I don’t appreciate you looking at my phone in my absence,” or “Please leave my keys where I usually keep them. I get stressed when I cannot find them.”

Strategies to Set Effective Boundaries

As counterintuitive as it sounds, boundaries promote a sense of self which in turn promotes wellbeing and belongingness in a relationship and longevity of it. Here are few tips to begin setting boundaries in your relationships:

  1. Gain Clarity on what your Personal Boundaries are.

Boundaries are personal and look different for each one of us. Emotional discomfort or stress may indicate when setting a boundary will be beneficial. Understand and explore your personal boundaries, by reflecting on the following questions:

  • What is important to me?
  • What are my needs?
  • What hobbies, traditions and habits do I like to engage in?
  • What behaviours bother me?
  • What traits do I like in a person?
  1. Recognise the Difference between Boundary Crossings and Boundary Violations.

In any relationship, boundary crossing is a natural process. Healthy romantic relationships thrive on communications around such crossings. When you feel a boundary has been violated i.e., an action or statement makes its way into your non-negotiables like overlooking your consent to sexual acts; it becomes necessary to examine where rigidity and flexibility need to be exerted.

  1. Use “I” Statements

Taking ownership of your feelings and boundaries is essential to healthy communication. “I” statements keep conversations productive and non-blaming. For example, “I feel we always end up staying in. I want us to go to the theatre instead.” You can practice this using a template like the one below:

I feel (Emotion) when you (action/boundary crossing). I prefer for us to (proposing a way out)”

  1. Reflect and Manage the Guilt.

It is difficult to set limits on how you can best support your partner. This gives rise to uncomfortable feelings like guilt, fear, shame, and uncertainty. It is necessary to recognise how the boundary is helping you in being independent and true to yourself. Reframing the current inability to be supporting as your long-term emotional availability for yourself can be useful.

  1. Clearly Communicate your Boundaries.

It is natural to feel nervous when setting a boundary, however misunderstandings and ruptures can occur when incomplete or vague information is shared. Being clear, firm, and respectful fosters compassion for both you and your partner.

  1. Address feedback.

Sometimes, partners may find it difficult to understand where you are coming from. Addressing questions and emotions that come up for them give them some context and better their understanding. Encouraging follow-up discussions also help, however being vary of overexplaining yourself is necessary too.

  1. Enforce your boundaries.

Not everyone may understand the importance of your boundaries which may require restating your needs, having clear and tangible limits, and communicating the consequences repeatedly. Don’t be afraid to do it!


Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”

Prentis Hemphill (Therapist and Founder, The Embodiment Institute)

Boundaries are important to ensure self-preservation and self-protection in a relationship. It helps ground us into ourselves thus promoting our mental health and wellbeing. They make a relationship stronger by opening a means through which our partners can know how the other wants to be loved. Boundaries help reinstate emotional balance by prioritising self-care in relationships. Boundaries make us realise that loving another doesn’t mean loving ourselves any less!

Written By
Shreya Makhija
Counselling Psychologist

Ms. Shreya Makhija is an Assistant Professor at Smt. P.N Doshi Women's College, Ghatkopar, affiliated to SNDT Women's University. She completed her Masters in Applied Psychology (Clinical and Counseling Practices) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2021 and has been practicing as a counselling psychologist eversince. She currently runs her own private practice and is a trauma-informed and queer affirmative practitioner. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, self-esteem, relationship related concerns, adjustment related difficulties and work stress. She has facilitated multiple workshops and is a research enthusiast. In her free time, you will find her looking up different recipes to try or at zumba classes

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