Where do you draw the line? An analysis into the 'science' of relationship boundaires

I've always wanted to dissect the way I behave when I'm in a relationship, and now I get to compare it to the behaviour of 251 other people

Meg Howe
27th September 2021
Pixabay: @PhotoMIX-Company
Despite hunting through endless articles written by self-proclaimed “relationship guru’s”, I couldn’t seem to find a concrete definition of “relationship boundaries”. Every ‘expert’ defines them as something different. Really though, this didn’t come as a huge surprise! I don’t believe that you can define something as subjective and personal as relationships; my own experiences prove this well.

Every relationship, situation-ship, or FWB I’ve had, has been different. Whether there was a discussion or it was something I did in my own head, a set of limits have been put in place to *try* and protect myself from getting hurt (what we might call ‘boundaries’).

With the help of 251 individual responses, I’ve established a pretty detailed report as to where we draw the line when it comes to setting boundaries within our relationships. It’s important for me to preface here, that participants were able to give as much (or as little) explanation to their answers to the questionnaire as they wished, and as you’ll see, I’ve interpreted this using my (limited) knowledge on relationships.

So, without further a-do: where do you draw the line?

I wouldn’t be happy if my partner defined their own boundaries independently and didn’t take my feelings into consideration

Before understanding what peoples boundaries are, I think it’s important to come to a sensible agreement as to how and why we establish boundaries in the first place. 66 responses admit that they are either somewhat or extremely “collaborative” when they are establishing boundaries, and therefore will work with their partner to establish shared boundaries. Honestly, I was surprised that this number wasn’t higher! Thinking about what I want from relationships, I wouldn’t be happy if my partner defined their own boundaries independently and didn’t take my feelings into consideration. Unlike the 28 participants who admitted to being “extremely independent”, I feel as though working with a partner to make sure that you both feel heard and your needs are met is the most important thing.

Saying this though, for me, this depends on the type of relationship I have with someone. I am more likely to create boundaries that favour my own desires and feelings if the relationship is less serious. Admittedly, this is because I am less likely to have trust in someone that has not committed to a serious relationship with me – for obvious reasons – so, if that sense of trust is missing, then I will always prioritise my own needs when it comes to setting boundaries. Similarly, I agree with the 168 who “agree” that setting boundaries constitutes a healthy relationship, as knowing someone’s likes, dislikes and needs is necessary in order to respect those that we care about.

Surely we’re past the point where gender doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship?

In order to understand how far peoples boundaries can be pushed, I came up with a series of scenarios and asked people how uncomfortable they would feel if their partner(s) behaved in particular ways. Unsurprisingly, the responses to many of the scenarios were divided, which does indicate that it is hard to draw conclusions on a matter that is so subjective. One thing that is certain, all of these scenarios are incredibly situational and depend entirely on context.

I have always struggled to set boundaries when it comes to casual dating

I have always struggled to set boundaries when it comes to casual dating. Really though, what is dating? When do you stop seeing other people? When is it the right time to have ‘the talk’? It seems that 118 participants agree with me, and are unsure if they would feel uncomfortable if someone they had been on two dates with went on a date with someone else.

In 2019, I went on a total of three pretty pleasant dates with a guy. And, we all know what they say about the unwritten three date rule! Would I have been uncomfortable if he had gone on a date with someone else? The honest answer is ‘yes, probably’, but we’d had no discussion as to if we could see other people, and in hindsight I’m pretty glad I didn’t get too attached, because nothing came from it in the end.

The most unsurprising response was that 231 participants would be uncomfortable if their partner(s) sent nude pictures to someone else: pretty self-explanatory, right? But what is the most surprising to me is that 22 participants are either “unsure” or would not feel comfortable if their partner(s) is friends with someone who is the same gender that they are! Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely we’re past the point where gender doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship? But that’s another issue for another day.

When I asked participants to leave comments about the scenarios, some of the most frequent answers included the words: “exclusivity”, “trust”, “honesty”, “respect”, “communication” and “context”. For me, this is clear that as long as trust is built through the use of communication and honesty, then that’s how a successful relationship is established.

I was keen to hear specifically from participants over 25 (because my own unconscious bias means that I automatically assume that with age comes maturity and with maturity comes totally different views on relationships), and I was not disappointed. One male, over 25, states that if his partner was to do any of the scenarios then “they’ve made their choice [and it’s] time for [him] to move on”; he goes on to say that if boundaries are crossed “with no repercussions”, then this leads to a pretty unhealthy relationship. To some extent, I would have to agree, but I honestly think that moving on without communicating about the issues really leaves the other person feeling a little lost (not speaking from experience or anything…).

Another male over 25 has a pretty similar view point to myself. Having trust in your partner is the most important thing, because if the trust is lacking then its “quite pointless to pursue it”. I agree with this participants when he states that “jealousy is normal”, however, from my experience, when someone seems to be jealous, to the point where they try to control my life outside of the relationship, I quickly become very uninterested. A personal boundary, that I’ve always drawn, is that anyone that I have to have a relationship with needs to support and respect that things that are important in my life, and while I’m willing to make compromises to help strengthen the relationship, there are things that are more important to me than the relationship itself.

There’s a lot more that I could delve into when it comes to the way that we set boundaries, but I don’t want to proclaim myself as a ‘guru’! What I have learnt from the 251 responses is that it’s really hide to draw a solid line when it comes to boundaries, but as long as you’re doing your best, then really that's all you can do, right?

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AUTHOR: Meg Howe
Passionate History student and Educator

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