How to Manage Self-Care and Boundaries in Romantic Relationships

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Relationships are the ultimate test of self-care.

When you prioritize self-care, relationships stay healthy and balanced. Both partners can preserve their individuality without sacrificing too much of themselves for the relationship. But the demands of work and family make prioritizing self-care a real challenge.

In this blog you’ll learn how to maintain romantic relationships without neglecting your own self-care.

Never Base Your Worth on a Relationship  

Self-care is a a healthy sign of self-worth. When we take care of ourselves, we are honoring our own emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

But when a person looks to a relationship for his or her worth, it creates problems. You start relying too much on what your partner thinks instead of trusting what you think. Letting someone else define you means that you are no longer trusting your own perceptions. Instead, your partner becomes the main source of validation which eventually becomes problematic.

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This creates an unhealthy dependency where one person begins to dominate the relationship while the one seeking approval becomes increasingly passive. This type of imbalance is common in codependent or abusive relationships.

Naturally, this dependency creates a host of other problems like resentment, possessiveness and insecurity. When people can’t value themselves, they usually resort to unhealthy strategies to feel valued.

For instance, they may become human doings; that is, people who finds their value only in what they give to others rather than who they are. They may also ignore what they need in order to give more to the relationship. These habits often trigger the desire to control or manipulate outcomes in order to get the love that they need.

Tip: Don’t let any relationship define you. Having a healthy sense of self requires taking full responsibility for loving yourself rather than finding someone else to do it for you. For more on this read How to Build Self-Esteem from the Inside Out.

Don’t Be Afraid to Set Boundaries

By creating boundaries in relationships, you become your own advocate. Boundaries convey the message that your needs count and that you deserve as equal, loving partnership. Setting limits for yourself will determine what you need to do to take care of yourself.

You have the power to decide whether to leave a hurtful situation or take care of yourself in it. They also encourage a healthy assertiveness that will serve you well in any relationship. 

Relationships needs boundaries in order to be healthy. Setting limits for yourself will determine what you need to do next. They are never about controlling the other person.

When each person takes responsibility for their own needs, instead of expecting the relationship to take care of their every need, the relationship stays healthy.

Tip: Don’t assume that others won’t like it if you set limits. While change is uncomfortable at first, setting boundaries gets easier with practice.

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The Difference Between a Boundary and a Request

In a healthy relationship it’s important to recognize the difference between a boundary and a request. A boundary determines what you will do while a request speaks to what you want from the other person. Negotiating each person’s limits up front keeps communication healthy and avoids issues of control.

Every relationship differs in terms of what boundaries are agreed upon. Some people want stricter boundaries, while others may not need them. There is no “right way” to establish boundaries, but it is critical that you have them.

Here are some common boundaries that are important to negotiate:

  • How each partner feels about opposite sex friendships in heterosexual couples or same-sex friendships in same-sex couples (since emotional affairs can result in close connections)

  • How much time should be spent together and apart (this creates a healthy balance)

  • Which are the most important shared values (religion, politics, gender roles, etc.)

  • What the expectations are around each person’s need for independence (decision-making, alone time, personal goals, etc.)

  • How to handle conflict and respecting each other’s personal space

  • How to address issues of addiction and mental health (especially if a partner refuses help)

Tip: If personal boundaries are consistently ignored or devalued, it’s time to reassess the relationship. 

Keep Friendships Sacred

In the beginning of a romantic relationship, it is normal for partners to spend most of their free time together but don’t let that become a habit. Even in long term relationships, ditching your friends for romance isn’t healthy for you or the relationship.

Relying too much on someone else for support and companionship can create frustration for both partners. No one person can meet all of your needs. Making time for family and friends is a form of self-care.

For instance, what happens when your partner is out of town or can’t support you? Do you manipulate them into doing what you want or can you respectfully accept their boundaries? Or, when they have the chance to meet someone for coffee do you try to persuade them not to go?

Discouraging someone from spending time with family and friends is a major red flag in romantic relationships. If this kind of manipulation happens repeatedly, pay close attention.

Unless there is a valid concern, (such as issues of abuse) time spent with friends should be respected and encouraged for both partners. Otherwise, the relationship will likely have issues of control that could cause major problems down the road.

Tip: Maintaining friendships preserves your sense of self and feeling of independence. Everyone needs connections outside of his or her primary relationship.

Don’t Forget “Me Time” 

Getting into a relationship tests our personal boundaries. You might find yourself going along with what the other person wants, in order to keep the peace. But if one partner gives in all the time, there will come a point when he or she gets tired of the imbalance and wants to stop. This is the turning point where the relationship can become mutually supportive and healthy, or not.

For instance, if your partner is an extrovert and enjoys lots of time spent together and you are an introvert, you need alone-time to recharge. Good self-care will allow you to ask for a few nights in your own bed (or whatever time you need) even if this request feels like rocking the boat. Thinking that you need the other person to have fun, to be happy, or to feel good about yourself puts you and the relationship at risk.

Tip: Needing some alone time doesn’t make you selfish or uncaring, it makes you a healthier partner because you are filling yourself up rather than depending solely on the other person.

Final Thoughts

During the beginning of a relationship, it’s important to negotiate expectations and establish boundaries. Without a strong sense of self, the line between you and your partner will start to blur. Be mindful that giving up what’s important to you may seem easier but it’s not sustainable for the long haul. Maintaining good self-care is an important boundary for you in order to have healthy relationships.

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