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Should you have boundaries in marriage?
100% yes. All relationships demand boundaries for optimal success and health.
While the word boundaries can sound a bit intimidating, they actually serve a major purpose in a marriage or relationship. Indeed, boundaries should be present in all of our interpersonal relationships, not just our romantic ones.
And as we’ll soon find out, boundaries are not just important, they actually will strengthen and enhance a marriage.
Table of Contents
What are Boundaries?
The first order of business is to define what boundaries are.
In the physical definition, boundaries usually involve the outermost edges of a property or of a nation, city, or municipality. We also may think of them as limits to where we can and cannot go. They are lines we are not supposed to cross.
While we tend to think of boundaries as something denoting visible territory, in a relationship boundaries are more often unseen. However, they are just as important.
In a relational sense, boundaries are the acceptable limits we have set in place to set us apart from other people and ultimately, to protect our own needs and wants. Boundaries are an element of self-care; they ensure that a person’s autonomy and personal wellbeing can be maintained.
Boundaries give us a sense of self and provide a healthy separation between us and other people. Boundaries indicate where you end and where I begin.
Boundaries in a relationship are crucial because they help to keep individuals differentiated. Boundaries enable a person to embody their self-worth, and know what is necessary to respect and protect their own desires, needs, and beliefs. Without boundaries, people can easily become enmeshed, or interact in ways that create unhealthy dynamics. Ultimately, boundaries help couples to avoid issues like codependency, anger, anxiety, conflict, and more.
It can seem that boundaries are there to keep us separated, and while that is true to an extent, they are also a way for us to become closer and more fully united with our partner. Because it is only when we are able to have a healthy sense of self and an ability to communicate our needs/boundaries, that we can truly have the awesome relationship we desire.
As Khalil Gibran said, “let there be space in your togetherness.” This space gives both partners room to grow and to thrive.
Even in the union of marriage, in which two are said to become one, there still remains a profound need for boundaries. Let us take a closer look at what those might be, and how to develop them in your own marriage.
7 Important Boundaries in Marriage to Consider
The boundaries you develop in your marriage are likely to vary widely based on your own personalities, needs, and set of circumstances as a couple. But the following 7 relationship boundaries can serve as a guideline, helping you see where you may need to work on setting clearer boundaries. It’s also important to note that boundaries can be fluid, changing and adapting as needed.
Above all, the most important part of building and maintaining healthy boundaries is to communicate about them clearly and often. Talk frequently about what you need in your marriage. Discuss your expectations. Be very clear on what you will and will not tolerate from a partner. Listen to what your partner needs and hear how you can respect their boundaries. This is likely to be an ongoing process throughout the life of your marriage. PS: More on how to communicate better here.
Privacy may be one of the easiest boundaries to understand. We all want and deserve our individual privacy. So how do you ensure that privacy is respected and available to both partners? By setting boundaries around privacy matters.
What does privacy look like in your relationship? Do you think couples should share everything? Do you value honesty above all (at all costs)?
Some people are naturally more private than others. My husband is one of them. While I wouldn’t hesitate to share virtually every thought that goes through my head (and often have!), Nathan holds things closer to the vest. He strongly values privacy and because of that, I’ve had to learn what his boundaries are. This may mean not pressing him to find out exactly “what he is thinking,” and recognizing that his mental space is his. While I may want to share everything with my husband, he keeps some things to himself, and that is okay. It has to be, because that is his personal boundary.
On a more tangible level, privacy for many couples extends to things like phones and social media.
Will the two of you share passwords? Does your wife have open access to your text messages and emails?
These can be highly personal concerns that will have to be talked about as a couple. Discuss what privacy means to you in these areas, and how you can come to a solution that suits the both of you.
It’s important to note that this is one area in which boundaries can easily be disrespected. For instance, if your partner offers you open access to their phone and messages, that’s great. but it doesn’t give you license to delve into their inbox constantly. This can be a major overstepping of boundaries, and such behavior indicates other issues, like a lack of trust in your relationship, or a need to control.
Conversely, if your partner’s boundary includes giving you limited access to their personal devices, you will have to learn a way to respect that. You can manage this boundary in a way that satisfies you both and doesn’t lead to suspicion and paranoia. If you suffer from insecurity and feel the need to track your partner’s every move, this boundary is likely to be difficult for you. But again, this behavior is clearly pointing to a deeper issue. (More on that some other time). As always, clear and open communication is everything.
Boundaries regarding time are also super important.
Time is a valuable commodity, and thus we don’t want to waste our own—or our partner’s. But respecting time often means determining specific boundaries.
What comes to mind for me is work time and alone time. For both Nathan and I, these periods are essential, and we often have to clearly state our needs. This is especially important since we both work from home. We know to respect one another’s work time by not imposing on it with our own concerns and demands (aside from emergencies, of course). During work time, we aim to limit interruptions and give each other the space needed to get work done.
Nathan is an introvert who absolutely requires time alone to recharge and rejuvenate. This is a boundary he has created for himself because he knows it is essential to his wellbeing. When he doesn’t get time to himself, his energy is depleted and he can’t offer his best. I know this and respect this, so I am invested in allowing him the alone time he needs. At times, this may demand that I am flexible.
Space (Physical & Emotional)
Space is a boundary that is closely related to time and to privacy, in many ways. When I respect my husband’s time, I am often simultaneously respecting his space and his privacy.
But space can also mean more than allowing your spouse to be physically distant from you. (Sure, if Nathan is not in a cuddly mood, I won’t hang all over him). But I also must be prepared to allow for emotional space. This can be the truly difficult one.
Emotional space means allowing your partner to have their own feelings, emotions, and responses. It means accepting how they respond to things, even when you don’t understand it or like it. When your partner is upset, it means giving them the freedom to process and deal with their emotions how they see fit. It means offering support, but not trying to jump in and solve things.
This one can be challenging for all of us. You may have heard before that men tend to be more “solution-oriented” than women. This can result in a husband seeking to help his wife with an emotional problem by offering ideas on how to fix it. Nathan and I both do this sometimes for one another, so it is definitely not a habit that is gender-specific. Our approach is well-intentioned; we care deeply for each other and want only to help make things better. Sometimes, though, what your partner needs is not solutions. At such times, they need the space to be alone with their thoughts or the quiet space together, with you just holding them and listening to them.
Not sure what they need in the moment? Just ask.
This type of space is necessary in conflict situations, too. To fight fair and protect one another’s boundaries, we must strive not to invalidate one another’s feelings. Instead, make space for these emotions. Let them be there and don’t negate them.
Sexuality demands boundaries as well.
In marriage, sex is a gift; an expression of the deepest love and longing for your spouse.
But your spouse is not there to be your sexual plaything. It’s not sex-on-demand in a marriage, getting it when you want it without your partner’s say.
While sex is the coming together of two people, the merging of themselves into one, there are still personal boundaries that need to be maintained….and that need to be talked about.
Boundaries to discuss with your partner include things like: what you are comfortable or not comfortable with in bed? How often are you available for sex? What frequency is satisfying for you? How will you manage differences in sex drive, if there are any?
Sexual boundaries ensure that your sex life flourishes together as a couple, and is meaningful and enjoyable for both of you.
Sometimes, boundaries are not just to protect us from others, but to protect us from ourselves, or from things that could damage our relationship. One of the best examples is in how you navigate friendships with others. Particularly friendships of the opposite sex.
Be sure to talk about this with your spouse. What is acceptable when it comes to socializing outside of the home? One thing to discuss is friend/social time in general. (A good thing to talk about before getting engaged, in fact). Friendships are so important in our lives, and they provide a necessary source of support and companionship that is different from what our spouse provides.
But what are your social boundaries? Do you need to check-in before going out with friends? Do all of your friends need to be “mutual” or are you cool with having some separate connections?
An especially important topic to discuss is friendships with members of the opposite sex. Many people have strong opinions about this, so be sure you and your partner know (and respect) one another’s boundaries in this area.
In my opinion, friendship with members of the opposite sex is fine, but there are limits. I wouldn’t want my husband regularly texting or messaging another woman, or dining out with her alone, etc. Of course, there are exceptions, particularly for mutual friends or those I know well, but I think it can be important to have a boundary of not allowing yourself to get into potentially compromising situations with a member of the opposite sex.
Some of this is down to you and your partner simply being self-aware. If I’m aware of it, I can avoid it. Let’s say I have an attractive male coworker. It’s innocent, but he invites me out for drinks. This is an iffy situation that might be crossing a boundary. I could be putting myself into an inebriated situation with an attractive man. My intention would not be to do anything (of course!) but wouldn’t it be easier just to avoid the situation altogether? And if it made my husband uncomfortable, that is a boundary I certainly wouldn’t want to cross. Those are the kinds of boundaries you and your spouse absolutely must discuss.
Maintaining Boundaries as a Team
Of course, your boundaries are going to collide now and again. But, Knowing that you’re on the same team, working towards holding up one another’s boundaries, is such a comfort and a relief. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in this, even though all of us suck at relationships at one time or another!
When your boundaries do collide or clash, it may be a signal to take a step back and reassess. Could you be more clear with what you need? Is there a new boundary that needs to be erected? Remember, boundaries, like relationships, can change, so don’t hesitate to adapt as necessary to what better reflects your life and your partnership.
Read these next:
- Relationship Advice for Couples: 12 Principles of Lasting Relationships
- This Relationship Check-In Can Help You Rock Your Marriage
- What a Husband Needs From His Wife: 5 Essential Things
- What a Wife Needs from Her Husband: 5 Vital Things
Amy Hartle is the author of Do You Love Me? How To Stop Seeking Reassurance in Relationships, a book on reassurance seeking and relationship anxiety. Both her book and this blog are born of personal experience; Amy shares expert relationship advice from the lessons learned during her own 10+ years with her husband, as well as couples travel tips and romantic getaway recommendations, all gleaned while traveling the world together.