Long-term relationships are no stranger to complications, frustrations, and heartache. Maintaining a happy, healthy relationship or marriage, while not a job, takes effort and time. Whether you met on a dating app or remember watching Grease in theaters, respect and boundaries are important in both new and long-term relationships. Boundaries don't lose their importance just because you two are comfortable around one another.
So, what are boundaries? You can think of boundaries as an imaginary fence that separates your feelings, needs, space, and time from someone else. These fences maintain a sense of physical and emotional space between people.
Boundaries in a relationship help each person figure out where one person ends, and the other begins. They also honor each person’s need for autonomy and respect.
In short, knowing and implementing boundaries helps you define how you would like to be treated in your relationships. And just like the two of you, boundaries evolve and change over time. Some boundaries come and go as you hit different life stages, some stay forever, and some need to be negotiated and re-negotiated.
Communicating, implementing, and enforcing emotional and physical boundaries in a long-term relationship can be difficult, especially if things have always been done a certain way.
People often get set in routines. However, even if change feels threatening or scary, running on autopilot can also have consequences. Maintaining ongoing, open communication is key for boundary work. Prepare yourself to effectively communicate and implement your boundaries and have patience with your partner as they adjust to the change you're requesting.
Try these steps if you're unsure of how to implement new boundaries in your long-term relationship:
Look at previous relationships (or your current relationship) and reflect on moments in which you were uncomfortable or strained the relationship. Take time to sit and reflect on your feelings and determine the unacceptable behaviors to you or your partner.
Use the insights you gained from reflecting to help shape new boundaries. Determine which ones need to come first and work from there. This will help you not overwhelm yourself or your partner with too many changes too fast.
Decide on the consequences you will implement for any broken boundaries. Consequences are unique to each boundary but be mindful of setting ones you know you will maintain.
Using I-statements, communicate the new boundary and consequence to your partner in a calm and even tone. Give them time and space to ask questions to better understand your needs and to vocalize any concerns.
Having conversations about necessary boundaries can be uncomfortable for both parties. Consider rewarding yourself for communicating and maintaining your boundaries by doing something nice for yourself.
Are you having a hard time envisioning what kind of boundaries you would implement in your relationship? Relationship boundaries can be physical, emotional, sexual, and even financial. There may be spots in your relationship that the two of you are blind to where boundaries could create a deeper and healthier bond. Continue reading for examples of how boundaries in long-term relationships can help you grow independently and together.
Household responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and managing the household have become more egalitarian over the years as traditional gender roles become less common with younger generations.
Couples in long-term relationships that date back to a more traditional period (or hold more traditional values) might find themselves struggling to find a fair household balance, especially when both are working outside the home.
56% of married U.S. adults surveyed said sharing household chores was a key component to a successful marriage. When one partner feels like they are carrying the brunt of household responsibilities, including raising the children, it's seemingly inevitable that resentment (even unspoken) will build up and cause friction. Implementing a boundary on an equal division of household chores can help both partners feel like they actively contribute to the home and children.
This boundary might sound like…
“I need you to be more present and available around the household. I cannot be the only one who cooks dinner and keeps up with the cleaning. If we cannot come to a resolution, we need to hire someone to take over a portion of the responsibilities.”
In a 2016 study on gendered division of labor and sexual relationships, researchers found that couples who share housework report higher sexual frequency, amongst other emotional benefits. Contributing more around the household will help you or your partner feel appreciated, potentially bringing you closer together.
Are we roommates or lovers?
It's no secret that long-term relationships have peaks and valleys. As the years go by, you might find yourself (or your partner) not putting in the effort necessary to keep the relationship exciting. It’s easy to become complacent, especially if you have been together for a while. Between busy work schedules, life commitments, and raising children, your relationship might accidentally fall on the back burner.
Fun date nights and incessant laughter may seem like a distant memory. Spending time together may no longer spark the same excitement it once did. The conversation has shifted focus to household finances, the children, and what's for dinner. You might begin to feel more like a roommate than a lover in your own home. It can be heartbreakingly lonely when the person is physically present but emotionally unavailable.
"We got married right after college and have created a beautiful family together… but it's like I know them, yet they're a stranger at the same time."
Dating shouldn't end just because you've been together for years. So what do you do when you want your long-term partner or spouse to reignite the spark? As mentioned, communication is key. You need to open up dialogue and let your partner know how you feel instead of quietly resenting them. This boundary could be telling them you will no longer sit by and watch the relationship stagnant, that something must be done to -- be it with more date nights, more quality time at home, or more intimacy.
"I feel worried that we are living more as roommates than partners, and it is hurting me. I need you to prioritize our relationship and make sure that we can commit to our date nights each week. If things don't change, I want us to see a relationship therapist."
Don't take your partner for granted by getting too comfortable and feeling like they won't leave because of the time investment or the family dynamic. Divorce rates have declined, but those aged 65 and above have seen the divorce rate nearly triple in the last 30 years. And unhappiness and resentment in relationships is a breeding ground for emotional or physical affairs.
We should probably talk about sex...
Let's be honest. Your sex life will most likely not be as frequent as it was the first few months you started dating. Sex is an important piece of relationship health; it’s one way for partners to connect and give and receive pleasure intimately. Therefore, when intimacy becomes infrequent in long-term relationships, you can almost guarantee one or both partners are unhappy with the missing puzzle piece.
Unfortunately, that lack of physical or emotional intimacy can lead to cheating. In fact, about 21% of men and 13% of women reported incidences of infidelity at some point in their lifetime, and that's just the number of people surveyed who were honest.
People cheat for many reasons, but it's seldom just about sexual pleasure. It often goes emotionally deeper than wanting an orgasm -- it's a desire to be seen, heard, touched, and appreciated by another when it lacks at home. If your partner (or you have) cheated in an established monogamous relationship, you may be wondering if it's salvageable. If you can come back from the breach of trust. Relationships can stay together after infidelity, but it takes time, work, and boundaries.
“I am feeling hurt and betrayed over what happened. I need space to process what happened. I also want to talk about this with a professional. I need you to attend couples therapy with me.”
Cheating may also come from a lack of any sex at all. The fact of the matter is, long-term relationships are no stranger to dead bedrooms. There's even a subreddit board dedicated to relationships lacking sexual intimacy with more than 300,000 subscribers. Many posts ask for advice on how to get their partner talking to get their sex life back on track so they don't hurt their partner by cheating.
On the flip side, what can you do if you and your partner are emotionally satisfied in the relationship, but the sex life is just not where you want it to be? Or maybe your spouse has realized sex just isn't that important to them anymore? Or you catch yourself thinking, "We got married so young, and I never really had a chance to explore my sexuality before I settled down..."
Are we ready to open up our relationship...?
Relationship and marriage acceptance and dynamics have changed over the last century. It wasn't too long ago that interracial marriages were illegal, gay couples hid their love from the public eye, and women married men for financial security. In other words, we’re continuing to redefine what a marriage “should” look like.
As millennials prolong walking down the aisle and being child-free has gained more acceptance and popularity, other aspects of modern relationships have changed, too. According to a study conducted by the Frontiers of Psychology, 1 in 9 people has been polyamorous at some point in their life. Chances are, either you have been in an open relationship, or someone in your life has!
The reasons a couple decides to open or close a relationship are personal to them and, frankly, none of ours or your business. But you and your partner MUST be on the same page and have boundaries in place before you move from monogamy to non-monogamy.
These boundaries can include who you can sleep with, how often you can sleep with the same person, what kinds of sex you have outside of the relationship, and whether you're allowed to go on romantic dates with others. Open relationships require consistent trust, transparency, and communication.
Even then, you might find yourself wanting to close an open relationship after non-monogamy has been explored, and that's okay too, so long as you communicate it to your partner. You can even go as far as to establish a boundary, saying that when one partner wants to close the relationship again, it will be closed without question.
"I've had fun with our open relationship, but I would like to end it and return to a monogamous sexual and emotional relationship with you."
💡 Reminder: Just because your partner wants to open the relationship, it doesn't mean you have to. Never feel pressured into doing something you are uncomfortable with just to appease your partner.
Your emotional happiness and physical well-being are just as valuable as your partner’s. A healthy, respectful partner will listen to your boundaries, ask questions, and work to help you maintain them. An unhealthy partner will ask you to move your goalposts, ignore or violate your boundaries. And broken boundaries without enforced consequences just become mere suggestions to the violator.
It might feel strange or uncomfortable to start these kinds of conversations with your partner, but we don't think you'd be reading this blog unless you were ready for change and to feel heard. Healthy boundaries in your long-term relationship can not only bring you closer to your partner but also raise your self-esteem and self-worth.
What boundaries have you enforced in your long-term relationships or marriage? What boundaries are you going to implement into your relationships? We'd love for you to share the boundaries that have worked for you with our community!