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How to Set Your Boundaries While Dating

By Danielle Kam 

When it comes to dating, you often think of the fun things: the getting-to-know-you stage, the interesting first dates, and the excitement about the future. Those aspects are definitely important, but there’s also another key dating step: setting boundaries. While it might feel out of your comfort zone, making sure your needs are met will set your relationship up for success. Here’s everything you need to know about identifying, setting, and becoming comfortable with your dating boundaries.

Tune into your feelings and put yourself first 

It may feel counterintuitive, but it’s easier to identify your boundaries when you’re thinking about them as separate from an actual date or your partner, says psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein. Find a chunk of quiet time where you can be alone and really tune in to your feelings about dating. What felt right for you in past relationships? What felt wrong? Have you recently discovered something that’s a resounding “no” for you? Connecting with your feelings outside of the moment can help you get clear on what you want. 

Even if you’re certain of your boundaries, setting them can be uncomfortable because we often focus on making sure others feel good before we take care of ourselves, says Jennifer Teplin, therapist and founder of Manhattan Wellness. She urges you to think of boundaries like the oxygen masks on airplanes: you have to help yourself before you help others. If you’re able to satisfy your needs first, you’ll have more energy and space to nurture other relationships.

Give your partner permission to be who they are  

Thinking about saying something to establish a boundary is much different than actually saying something. That’s why love coach Emyrald Sinclaire created an easy-to-use communication formula: Give them permission to be who they are, express your needs and desires, and state your request. 

So, if one of your boundaries is about taking time to cool off post-argument, it may sound something like: I understand that you like to talk about things immediately after they happen. However, I often need some time to sort out how I’m feeling so I can discuss the issue with a clear mind. I’d prefer if we could take a little time after a disagreement so we can both collect our thoughts. 

“This works because you’re making it about you and your needs, and not making the other person out to be bad or wrong,” says Sinclaire. Teplin says that your boundaries aren’t always going to line up perfectly, and that’s completely normal and okay. This is where communication comes in handy. “Having an open dialogue can help couples workshop their preferences and needs,” she says. “Oftentimes, there’s a creative solution that can satisfy both partners’ wishes.” Understanding where each of your non-negotiables start and end can ensure that both of your needs are respected. 

Be direct and ask about your partner’s experience

If you feel like your boundaries have been disrespected, then first things first: make sure you’ve actually spelled out your boundaries to the other person. “Sometimes we can be so cautious and careful that we realize we haven’t actually said what we’ve meant to say,” warns Hartstein.   

However, if you’ve been direct about your boundaries, you need to sit down and have a conversation about it. “Let them know that you have certain boundaries you don’t feel they’re aware of or respecting,” she says. She also suggests asking them about their experience: Do they know that you’re expressing a need for certain boundaries? Did they understand the boundary as something different? Is it upsetting or hurtful to them in some way? This helps to get to the root of what’s causing friction and clears a path to move forward. While it can be difficult to set boundaries in any relationship, remember that you deserve to be with someone who respects them.