Good relationships cannot happen without healthy boundaries, and setting them should happen sooner rather than later. Why? Because in new relationships, we often get so excited by the potential of what could be that we forget to look at what is in front of our faces — and that can lead to dismissing red flags.
Keep in mind that emotional needs and availability will vary from relationship to relationship. The amount of time you want to invest in the relationship and the commitment and intensity level you seek are different for different people. But no matter what, setting the boundaries that work for you and your budding partnership starts with determining how you tend to attach. “Healthy boundaries depend on knowing yourself,” says Nicole Prause, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and founder of the research lab Liberos. “The most useful thing to know for dating might be if you tend to attach too quickly or strongly or have difficulty attaching to someone.”
Figuring out your attachment style can help you determine the best way to approach a new relationship, because it reveals whether you should try to be more open, reserved, or balanced — and could make the difference between dating success and failure. Here’s how to get clear on how you want this relationship evolve, and set the boundaries that will help you get there.
Clarify your communication style.
Like knowing your attachment style, understanding and sharing your communication style can set a clear, positive tone for this new relationship. “It’s good to set expectations [like]: ‘I’m direct’ or ‘I tend to go with the flow,’ says Jenn Kennedy, LMFT.
Having clear boundaries means being able to communicate them to a partner. If you don’t like PDA, whether it be hand-holding or kissing in public, articulate that. Pulling your hand away and then wondering why their feelings were hurt is not going to work for anyone. In fact, you’ll probably wind up dealing with a lot of unwanted drama.
Ask your partner to share their communication style with you, as well. Although how you communicate with someone depends on that person and is subject to change, strive to “understand what each other needs and be willing to get closer to that style,” Kennedy says. Only when you truly hear each other can you set and stick to the boundaries that make sense for you.
Consider the amount of time you want to spend together.
It can be easy to fall into a cycle of spending every single second with someone when you first start seeing each other. As world-renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher writes in her book, “The Anatomy of Love,” you get that rush of new relationship energy or, biologically speaking, a hit of dopamine and serotonin that rushes to the brain.
But, it might be best to dial it back — at least a little. “Limit the amount of time you spend together so you can have time to notice how you are feeling in the relationship,” Kennedy says. We’re not suggesting you be evasive with the person you’re seeing. But be clear that a boundary for you is spending X amount of time together and having X amount of time to do your own thing.
You want to avoid relationship burnout, wherein you get sick of each other before you get a chance to see where things could go. Plus, staying true to your individual identity outside of this new romance will help you remain clear headed when your brain gets a bit hazy with natural love hormones.
We spend too much time playing the game of being the “least” invested, and all it does is give a false sense of power in a relationship. In the opposite vein, when we really like someone, we can wind up texting them nonstop.
To avoid either extreme, set a boundary with your partner that highlights your texting expectations. Pam Shaffer, LMFT, suggests asking your partner what their texting style is — are they a once-a-day person, an all-day-every-day person, or a once-every-few-days person? — so that you both know what is natural. If you want to message every day, tell them that daily communication is important to you. If you’re generally not going to text when in class or at work, let them know. There is no right or wrong — just what is right for the two of you.
There is no right or wrong — just what is right for the two of you.
Decide when to meet each other’s friends.
If you’re a person who feels they have some difficulties with feelings of attachment, it might be best to introduce your new boo to your friends sooner rather than later. “[Your] friends could provide safety signals (or not) that could support feeling more connected to this person emotionally,” Prause says. If you’re working to be more emotionally available to potential romantic partners, try bringing in your friends after the third or fourth date. You likely need to feel safe to let people in, and your friends can give you reassurance you need.
If you’re someone who attaches super quickly, hold off on friend introductions for seven to 10 dates. Because your friends are used to your relationship deep dives, they may feel pressured to give the green light, even if there are red flags present, Prause warns.
Figure out the kind of relationship you’re looking for.
There is nothing wrong with wanting something casual, serious, or nonmonogamous, but you do need to 1. take the time to determine what you’re seeking and 2. communicate those desires to someone you’re dating. No one wants to waste their time on something that doesn’t line up. “If they can’t respect your feelings now on the matter, they’re either not suited for you at this moment in time or can’t respect boundaries to begin with,” says sex therapist Angela Watson. “Let them move on and find what they’re looking for if they discover you can’t fit into that position.”
If — good news — you are after the same kind of thing, don’t consider this a one-and-done conversation. Touch base as you go along. “Let them know that you like to check in every so often just to make sure you’re on the same page about your feelings as they naturally evolve over time.”
In this crazy, confused, often frustrating dating world, having boundaries doesn’t make you too intense or too picky. It makes you a mature person who knows who they are, what they’re after, and is smart and mature enough to share that information with a potential partner. Don’t throw away your ideals just because they don’t jive with someone else’s — because at some point, with some person, they will.