how to set emotional boundaries in your relationship

Emotional boundaries are the limits you set on how much emotional energy you give and receive in any connection, whether it's romantic, platonic, familial, or work-related. Gabriella Giachin, a licensed clinical social worker at New York City Psychotherapy Collective, says that the purpose of these limits is to protect your mental health and make you feel safe.


Setting these limits can make a big difference in your mental health and help you have better relationships with the people in your life. Saba Harouni Lurie, the founder of Take Root Therapy and a qualified marriage and family therapist, says that this process is especially important if you tend to put other people's needs ahead of your own.

Don't worry if you don't know where to start or how to speak effectively when it comes to setting emotional boundaries that meet your needs. Here are some tips on how to set and keep emotional limits.

8 Examples of Healthy Emotional Boundaries in Relationships

Emotional boundaries vary a lot from person to person and can be small or big. No matter how big or small they are, they should always mirror and protect your needs in a relationship. Here are some examples to show what emotional boundaries look like:

  1. Emotion Separation: Don't take on your partner's feelings. When your partner is upset, it's easy to take their bad feelings on yourself, but this can be tiring. Keep your emotions separate from others.
  2. Prioritizing Your Needs: Put your own needs first, but don't be selfish. This boundary lets you take care of yourself, so you can be more present and balanced in your relationship.
  3. Emotion Responsibility: Understand that you can't change the way someone else feels. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to fix their bad feelings or meet all of their mental needs.
  4. Time Commitment: Set clear limits on how much time you will spend on your relationship. Even though it's a big part of your life, it shouldn't be all you do, especially when you're just getting to know someone.
  5. Maintaining Independence: Try to keep your own identities in your relationship. This lets both people help each other while still keeping their own identities.
  6. Pursuing Personal Interests: Keep doing things you enjoy that have nothing to do with your relationship. This helps you stay unique and happy with yourself.
  7. Avoid Being the Sole Savior: You can't be the only one who takes care of your partner's issues. Expecting this can be unfair to both of you and not reasonable.
  8. Communication Expectations: Set up how you want to communicate. This can include rules like not accepting calls when you're at work or choosing to text instead of talk at certain times.

What Happens when You Don't Respect Emotional Boundaries

Ignoring emotional boundaries can lead to a number of negative outcomes. When you don't set these limits, you risk taking blame for your partner's bad feelings or even taking them on yourself. This can make you angry or upset for no reason, which can make you lose touch with your real feelings.

Emotional boundaries also help set the line between who you are and who your partner is. Without these limits, couples may start doing things that aren't good for them, like becoming too dependent on each other, feeling emotionally drained, or having more fights and resentment. Even if it works for a short time, sacrificing your well-being for a relationship isn't good in the long run and can hurt you.

You may also spend too much time and energy on your relationship, which could cause you to ignore other important parts of your life.

Problems with Setting Emotional Boundaries

Setting emotional boundaries can be hard for a number of reasons. Some people might not see the need for them, especially if they are used to taking on other people's feelings or putting others before themselves. This desire to "fix" your partner's problems can make it harder to set limits.

Even if you know how important emotional limits are, it can be hard to set them up. It can be hard to break bad habits like giving your partner's wants more importance than your own health. Fear of being left alone, unstable attachment styles, and low self-esteem can make the process even harder.

It can also be stressful to start a conversation about emotional boundaries.

Consider the following tips to make this talk go well:

  1. Timing is Key: Choose a suitable time for both you and your partner. Ensure you're both available and in the right mindset for an open and receptive conversation.
  2. Use "I" Language: Express your needs and feelings using "I" statements rather than dictating changes to your partner. This approach allows both parties to engage in a more empathetic dialogue.
  3. Be Firm: While compromise is important, don't compromise your peace and well-being. Clearly articulate your needs and boundaries.
  4. Open Communication: If necessary, revisit the conversation. Emotional boundaries can evolve, and occasional adjustments may be needed.

Taking Care of Boundary Abuse

If someone accidentally crosses your limits, talk to them about it in an open and understanding way. Explain why you think these limits are important.

While a brief discussion about boundaries is fine for most situations, a deeper conversation about the future of the relationship is necessary if they are repeatedly and intentionally crossed. If someone consistently doesn't respect your boundaries, it could mean that your wants and the relationship aren't a good fit. In the end, the most important thing in any partnership should be that both people feel safe, secure, and supported.

The Bottom Line

Setting and respecting emotional boundaries is important for keeping good relationships and taking care of yourself.

As Jennifer Pearson, a relationship psychologist, notes "Setting emotional limits is a very important part of keeping relationships healthy. However, I disagree with the common belief that emotional boundaries that are too strict can make it harder for people to connect emotionally. It's important to take care of your mental health, but being too guarded can keep people from experiencing the depth of closeness and vulnerability that is needed for real connection. Accepting some emotional risk can lead to deeper, more satisfying connections, even if it means feeling uncomfortable for a short time."

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