9 mins read
September 24, 2021

Establishing Boundaries Within Your Long-Term Relationship

Need help with setting boundaries in long-term relationships? Learn practical strategies and steps to set boundaries to build a healthy relationship.
Courtney Hyzy
Courtney Hyzy

Long-term relationships are no stranger to complications, frustrations, expectations, 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 essential in new and long-term relationships.

Boundaries don't lose their importance just because you two are comfortable around one another.

Need help with setting boundaries in long-term relationships?

This blog will teach practical strategies and steps to set healthy relationship boundaries. Let's start with understanding boundaries and their need in any relationship.

What are Relationship Boundaries?

You can think of boundaries as an imaginary fence that separates your feelings, needs, respect, personal space, honesty, independence, and time from someone else. These fences maintain a sense of physical and emotional distance between people.

Types of Relationship Boundaries

In a new relationship, setting boundaries for comfort levels, respect, quality time, and personal space is necessary. To set boundaries for healthy relationships, we must prioritize our mental health. Relationship boundaries are of two types:

  • Healthy relationship boundaries that work for mutual respect.
  • Unhealthy boundaries are poor boundaries that make a relationship worse.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries in Long-Term Relationships

Communicating, implementing, and enforcing relationship boundaries can be difficult. But these boundaries 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 define how you want 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.

Boundaries You Need to Implement in Your Relationship

  • Basic boundaries
  • Emotional boundaries
  • Personal boundaries
  • Physical boundaries
  • Sexual boundaries
  • Time boundaries
  • Intellectual boundaries
  • Financial boundaries
  • Communication boundaries

What Deal Breakers Need to Consider

When working on rules for boundary setting and boundary violations, deal breakers must consider important things like:

  • Privacy and personal values
  • Self-care and friendships
  • Honesty with commitment
  • Autonomy
  • Compromise
  • Physical affection
  • Comfort levels

How to Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries?

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 edges could create a more profound and healthier bond. Continue reading for examples of how boundaries in long-term relationships can help you grow independently and together.

Try these steps if you're unsure of how to achieve healthy emotional and physical boundaries in your long-term relationship:

1. Reflect

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.

2. Create a Hierarchy

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.

3. Determine Consequences

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.

4. Start A Conversation

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 understand your needs better and vocalize concerns.

5. Reward Yourself

Having conversations about necessary boundaries can be uncomfortable for both parties. Consider rewarding yourself for communicating and maintaining your limits by doing something nice for yourself.

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The Household Division of Labor

Household responsibilities in a new relationship, such as cooking, cleaning, and managing the household, have become more egalitarian over time 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 struggle to find a fair household balance, especially when working outside the home.

56% of married U.S. adults surveyed said sharing household chores was critical 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 someHowever 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?

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: 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 simultaneously."

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 critical. You must open dialogue and let your partner know your feelings 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.

⛔ Introducing a new boundary can sound like this...

"I feel worried that we live more as roommates than partners, hurting me. I need you to prioritize our relationship and ensure 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. Unhappiness and relationship resentment are breeding grounds for emotional or physical affairs.

Sexual Boundaries in Long-Term Relationships

Let's be honest. Your sex life will likely be less frequent than the first few months you started dating. Sex is essential to 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.

Talk about Sex With Your Partner

Unfortunately, the lack of physical or emotional intimacy can lead to cheating. 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.

Why do people cheat in relationships?

People cheat for many reasons, but it's seldom about sexual pleasure! Time apart, it 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 wonder if it's salvageable. Suppose you can come back from the breach of trust. Relationships can stay together after infidelity, but it takes time, work, and boundaries.

⛔ A boundary after infidelity can sound like…

“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 is that long-term relationships are no stranger to dead bedrooms. There's even a subreddit board dedicated to relationships lacking sexual intimacy with over 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.

Self-care and Emotional Availability

Conversely, what can you do if you and your partner are emotionally satisfied in the relationship, but the sex life is not where you want it to be?

Or maybe your spouse has realized sex just isn't that important to them anymore?

Or you think, "We got married so young, and I never really had a chance to explore my sexuality before I settled down..."

Hence., having healthy emotional boundaries is also essential for couples to enjoy a long-term relationship.

Are We Ready to Open up Our Relationship?

Relationship and marriage acceptance and dynamics have changed over the last century. Not long ago, 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 by the Frontiers of Psychology, 1 in 9 people has been polyamorous. Chances are, you have been in an open relationship, or someone in your life has!

How Healthy Boundaries are Important in Relationships?

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 healthy boundaries 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 can go on romantic dates with others.

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What Open Relationships Need?

Open relationships require consistent trust, transparency, and communication.

Even then, you might want 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 completed without question.

⛔ This boundary can sound like...

"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 doesn't mean you have to. Never feel pressured into doing something uncomfortable to appease your partner.

Final Words: Boundaries in Long-Term Relationships

Your emotional support and physical affection are 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 and ignore or violate your boundaries. It creates situations that might make you feel strange or uncomfortable. The reason is having no boundaries or poor boundaries.

Maintaining healthy intellectual boundaries is an important thing in relationships!

It can bring you closer to your partner and raise your self-esteem and self-worth.

So, you must sit with your partner, family members, or loved ones to set boundaries and rules for boundary violations. This will make your connection a more romantic relationship as you care for each other. Ultimately, respect and care for your personal values from your partner will make you fall in love again.

🔎 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! 

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