Boundaries are important in determining the health of a relationship. Boundaries clarify where you stop and where I begin, which problems belong to you and which problems belong to me. What are boundaries? “Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what is not…” (Dr. Henry Cloud)

Each of us has boundaries, some of which go unspoken, in many areas of our lives. We set boundaries in regard to physical proximity and touch, the words that are acceptable when we are spoken to, honesty, emotional intimacy (such as how much we self-disclose to others). When one of both people in a relationship has difficulty with boundaries, the relationship suffers. The following behaviors indicate a potential problem in setting and enforcing boundaries.

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

  • Telling all
  • Talking at an intimate level on the first meeting
  • Falling in love with a new acquaintance
  • Falling in love with anyone who reaches out
  • Being overwhelmed by a person (preoccupied thinking about them)
  • Acting on the first sexual impulse
  • Being sexual for a partner, not yourself
  • Going against personal values or rights to please others
  • Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
  • Not noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
  • Accepting food, gifts, touch, sex that you don’t want
  • Touching a person without asking
  • Allowing someone to take as much as they can from you
  • Letting others describe your reality
  • Letting others define you
  • Believing others can anticipate your needs
  • Expecting others to fulfill your needs automatically
  • Falling apart so someone will take care of you

Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

  • Both partners give and take, each getting their way some of the time and compromising some of the time.
  • They respect each other, and value one another’s opinions.
  • They trust one another, and learn not to inflict jealous and restrictive feelings on the other if they should arise.
  • Neither is afraid of the other.
  • They communicate openly and honestly, and make their partners feel safe in expressing themselves.
  • They share responsibility in decision-making.
  • They accept the differences between them.
  • They encourage each other to have friends and activities outside the relationship.

Adapted from What Parents Need to Know About Dating Violence

Tips for Parents

Point out features of healthy relationships from books, movies or real life. In addition to feelings of love, emphasize the characteristics of a healthy relationship.

Children learn about relationships and appropriate behavior and boundaries from their parents or their parent and their partner(s). Teaching directly or indirectly by example is called modeling. Children pick up clues and cues through modeled behavior whether you want them to or not. This makes it especially important that you are aware of what you say and do especially as it concerns relationships.

Fighting fair is a learned skill that takes time, practice, and good example. Ideally, it’s good for kids to see how parents can have arguments because they will also learn how to effectively problem solve with a partner. Working through differences is a valid and vital part of a healthy relationship. A child’s best teacher is their parent(s).

Some day my prince(ss) will come…

Distinguishing the difference between fantasy partners and relationships and reality seems to be becoming increasingly difficult. Soap operas and reality television tell us that the ‘perfect’ partner is just around the corner waiting with lots of money, good looks, and romance day in and day out- flowers, jewels, breakfast in bed — it’s all waiting for you! Celebrity million dollar weddings that only last for a year have become so commonplace it seems to now be the norm- the standard for us all.

In real life relationships are a fine balance between lots of fun and lots of work. Learning to communicate with another unique individual takes some effort. Romance is great, but it usually comes in small measured doses and it can’t be expected in a lavish way every day.

Everyone has faults; minor and major. And it’s up to you to learn what you can and cannot live with in a partner. Dating allows us to experiment with a variety of different people and helps us learn what we like in someone and what we’re willing to let be. There is no ‘perfect’ person. There is someone who is right for each of us, but not in a fairy tale sort of way.

This section on healthy relationships was taken from the University of Northern Colorado Assault Survivor and Advocacy Program