How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Marriage

Setting healthy boundaries in your marriage is crucial for maintaining a strong and healthy relationship.

For the longest time, I thought I was setting boundaries with everyone in my life really, really well. I would even brag about how easily I'd cut someone off if they repeatedly crossed the boundaries I had set.

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Ironically enough, at the beginning of this year, I realized I had only been setting boundaries with certain people. Others ran all over me. I'm talkin' completely steamrolled over me, took advantage every way they could, etc.

So before we dive too deep into boundaries, I want you to think about boundaries in your whole life – both in respects to your partner, but also to everyone else. Because if you're setting boundaries with everyone else, but not your partner, that's not a good path to be on. Likewise, you'll want to examine if you're setting boundaries with your partner but nobody else.

What are boundaries?

In relation to this post about marriage, boundaries are the limits and needs that you express to yourself and to your partner.

They help you define what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in your relationship. Healthy boundaries in marriage help to foster trust, mutual respect, and a deeper emotional connection.

Early on, I established my very strong feelings about certain topics with my husband. We all have these “certain topics” – make them known from the beginning.

Establishing healthy boundaries in your marriage requires open communication and mutual understanding. It is important to recognize that boundaries are not meant to be restrictive or controlling. Instead, they should be viewed as a way to protect your emotional and physical well-being.

By setting healthy boundaries, you are showing your partner that you respect yourself and expect the same level of respect from them. This is so important. You set the bar for how people continually treat you. If they cross a line, you have to remove yourself from the situation.

By implementing the strategies we are going to talk about today, you can strengthen your marriage and create a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship – one where you're both happy!

Understanding Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is essential for a long-lasting marriage. Boundaries help maintain respect, trust, and intimacy between you and your spouse.

Types of Boundaries

There are different types of boundaries that couples can set in their marriage.

androgynous couple sitting close to each other on the couch, smiling

Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries define personal space and touch. They include things like holding hands, hugging, and kissing.

If something makes you uncomfortable, tell your partner as soon as possible. If you don't tell them, they may do it again without realizing the negative effects it can have on you.

Emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries define personal feelings and thoughts. They include things like sharing personal information, expressing emotions, and setting emotional limits.

Emotional boundaries are sometimes the most difficult to set, because they aren't always as clear cut as physical boundaries can be. For example, if you touch my ear and I don't like it, it's easy for me to say “I don't like that” or “please don't do that.”

However, when it comes to emotions… what feels fine today may not feel fine tomorrow. What your partner says, or how they say it, moreso than their intention behind it may be the thing that stands out to you the most during times of stress.

While it's more difficult for some of us to recognize and set emotional boundaries, they are just as important as important to set as physical and sexual boundaries.

Sexual boundaries

Sexual boundaries define sexual activity and intimacy. They include things like sexual preferences, frequency, and limits.

While sexual and intimacy based boundaries can be especially difficult to set if you have trauma due to past experiences, it's important to not only put the work in to heal – but to communicate openly with your partner so they don't continually open old wounds, so to speak.

Importance of Boundaries

Happy wife, happy life? Healthy boundaries, healthy marriage!

Setting healthy boundaries can help you and your spouse

  • maintain mutual respect and trust,
  • prevent misunderstandings and conflicts,
  • improve communication and intimacy,
  • promote individuality and self-esteem,
  • and protect against abuse and manipulation

While setting boundaries can't always protect you against abuse, I can speak from experience in saying if I had set certain boundaries early on and actually stuck with maintaining them, many of the abusive situations I've been in never could have happened.

As I went through therapy, coaching, etc and learned to heal my inner child, I was able to also forgive myself for the lack of boundaries I set in so many situations.

Effects of Lack of Boundaries

A lack of boundaries in a marriage can have negative effects on both partners, including but not limited to:

  • resentment and frustration,
  • misunderstandings and conflicts,
  • emotional and physical abuse,
  • loss of trust and respect,
  • lack of intimacy and connection,
  • and more

It is not your fault for abuse, ever. However, setting boundaries and leaving when they're crossed the very first time can prevent many abusive situations from happening (because you will leave the abuser the very first time).

Easier said than done? Certainly! But I wouldn't have met my amazing husband had I not finally set a boundary in my last marriage and maintained it. I spent years “setting” boundaries. Maintaining them is where it's at…

The Role of Communication

Clear communication is crucial when it comes to setting healthy boundaries in your marriage. Without it, misunderstandings can pop up what seems like daily, leading to many hurt feelings all around – and lots of headaches, too.

Importance of Clear Communication

To avoid misunderstandings, communicate your needs and expectations clearly. This means being direct and specific about what you want and need from your partner. It also means being willing to listen to their needs and concerns, and finding ways to compromise when necessary.

How you think you're saying something, or the message you think you're conveying, may be different than the message (or tone) your spouse is receiving. For this reason, being open to receiving feedback about that is important.

How your spouse receives your message largely depends on their mindset and where their head is at in the moment. If they're being defensive, maybe now isn't the best time to have the discussion.

One effective communication technique is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying “You never listen to me,” try saying “I feel unheard when we don't take time to talk each day.” This approach can help to avoid blame and defensiveness, and keep the conversation focused on finding solutions.

Another important aspect of clear communication is checking in regularly with your partner. This can involve setting aside time each week to discuss any issues or concerns that have come up, or simply asking each other how you're doing and what you need from each other. By staying connected and communicating openly, you can build a stronger, more supportive relationship.

Conflict Resolution Techniques

Even with clear communication, conflicts can still arise. When they do, it's crucial to have effective conflict resolution techniques in place.

The conflict resolution techniques need to work for both partners.

For example, one approach is to take a break when emotions are running high (like I mentioned above), and come back to the conversation when you're both feeling calmer. But some partners will not react well to that suggestion. Knowing what each partner prefers before the conflicts arise are key.

I was watching Love is Blind: Queer Edition (don't judge me, I was on bedrest for 8 weeks LOL) and one of the partners wanted to resolve the conflict right away while the other partner needed to take a breather, like walking around the block etc.

happy Black woman, white man, couple smiling and engaging in active listening

If your partner isn't receptive to discussing things later, consider sitting quietly and using active listening techniques, such as repeating back what your partner has said to ensure that you understand their perspective.

Be willing to compromise and find solutions that work for both partners. This might involve brainstorming together to come up with creative solutions, or seeking the advice of a therapist or counselor if you're struggling to find common ground.

By prioritizing clear communication and effective conflict resolution techniques, you can build a stronger, more resilient relationship that is better able to weather the ups and downs of married life.

Remember: it's you and your spouse against the world, not you and your spouse against each other.

Setting Boundaries in Marriage

Let's talk about the key steps to setting healthy boundaries in your marriage. We “don't know what we don't know,” right?

happy Black man, white woman, a married couple, sitting close to each other

Identifying Personal Needs

Spend time reflecting on what is important to you in your relationship and your life. Completely remove what your spouse finds important from this equation, so it's 110% your wants, desires, and needs.

Consider what you are willing to compromise on and what is a non-negotiable for you. Again, this is about you – no one else.

Ask your spouse to do the same, following the exact parameters you did: they can't worry about you, just 110% them.

Establishing Rules and Expectations

Once you have identified your personal needs, you can begin to establish rules and expectations for your relationship.

This may include setting limits on certain behaviors or activities, or agreeing on how you will communicate with one another. It is important to establish these rules and expectations together, as a team, and to be clear about what is expected of each other.

For example, if you are on your phone all the time and it bothers your spouse, it's time to set a limit for engaging with your phone. Or, perhaps a rule that when your spouse wants to talk, they give you a visual and/or verbal cue letting you know it's time to put the phone down.

This isn't to “boss you around” – it's setting rules and parameters you both are agreeing upon, and then helping each other abide by them. I have ADHD so sometimes a reminder is needed! 🙂

Tips for Establishing Rules and Expectations
– Be clear and specific about what behaviors are acceptable and what are not
– Set consequences for breaking the rules
– Revisit and revise your rules and expectations as needed

Negotiating and Compromising

Be open to your partner's needs and perspectives, while also advocating for your own. This may involve finding a middle ground or making concessions in certain areas. Ah, yes, the famous compromise.

Tips for Negotiating and Compromising
– Listen actively to your partner's needs and concerns
– Be willing to make concessions in certain areas
– Find a middle ground that works for both partners

Setting boundaries is an ongoing process that requires open communication, negotiation, and – you guessed it – compromise.

Respecting Personal Space and Autonomy

One issue I had in past relationships is that it felt like they felt entitled to my body. They didn't really care what I liked or didn't like, or worry about boundaries I tried to set – because they knew I wouldn't enforce or maintain them. At the end of the day, your body is yours and you have complete control over every aspect of it.

Understanding Personal Space

Personal space is the physical and emotional area around a person that they consider their own. It varies from person to person and can change depending on the situation.

Some people have a large personal space bubble. They don't want anyone within several feet of them unless they expressly grant permission for others to enter past that imaginary bubble line, right? That's me, for the record. 😉

Other people, like my husband, don't seem to have much of a bubble at all. People will come up and touch them, hug them, make conversation as strangers, and they light up.

Maintaining Individuality

When you're in a relationship, it's so important to maintain your individuality. My husband and I are both very different people, but we love who we are and we have no reason to change. We grow together as a couple but we don't lose our personalities in the process.

Maintaining individuality means that each partner has their own interests, hobbies, and friends that they enjoy spending time with. This helps to prevent feelings of suffocation or dependence on each other. Encouraging each other's individuality can also lead to personal growth and a stronger sense of self.

Now, I've gotta be totally transparent here. All the “healthy marriage” books give this advice, but I don't fully agree with it. While my husband and I do have our own friends, our friends are married, too. My best friend is married to his best friend. I know that isn't always a possibility, but one of the boundaries we set early on is that we want to always grow together. That doesn't happen if we are spending our time in completely different circles instead of with each other.

With that being said, I know it's healthy to have friendships and events that your spouse isn't involved in. Do what makes you and your spouse comfortable.


Autonomy refers to the ability to make decisions and act independently. In a healthy marriage, both partners should have the freedom to make their own choices and pursue their own goals.

This includes making decisions about personal finances, career choices, and other important life decisions. Respecting each other's autonomy leads to a sense of mutual trust and respect.

That doesn't mean having a private, separate bank account… or doing things behind the other's back. What it means is that you don't have to be 100% dependent on each other, and that you're both able to build your careers as you see fit instead of one giving their career up for the other.

My husband and I work really well together and level up together. Our careers are the same because we are building businesses together. That's always a possibility, especially if your careers are leading you to spend too much time apart!

Financial Boundaries in Marriage

One of the most important aspects of setting healthy boundaries in marriage is establishing financial boundaries. Money is one of the most common sources of conflict in a marriage, so it is essential to set clear financial limits to avoid any misunderstandings or disputes.

Setting Financial Limits

The first step in setting financial boundaries in marriage is to establish what you're working with: how much you each make, and spend… a budget.

Sit down with your partner and discuss your financial goals and priorities. These should align pretty well from the get go, to prevent future problems.

Determine how much money you need to cover your basic expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and groceries. Decide how much money you can allocate towards discretionary spending, such as dining out, entertainment, and travel.

It is also important to establish limits on how much money either partner can spend without consulting the other. For instance, you may decide that any purchase over a certain amount requires a joint decision. This can help prevent any surprises or disagreements over large purchases.

Some couples say $100 is the limit, others may say $10 or even $1,000. Whatever you're both comfortable is what matters.

Handling Money

In addition to setting financial limits, it is important to establish clear guidelines for handling money in your marriage. Decide whether you will have joint bank accounts or separate accounts, or a combination of both. Determine who will be responsible for paying bills and managing finances.

Establish a checks and balances system, too, so nothing can ever get behind. For example, my husband handles the finances. But every week or two, I log into the bank account to make sure all is well. If any financial problems arise, having another set of eyeballs on it will be very helpful.

For example, if you log in for your checks and balances and the bank account balance is a little lower than usual, you may need to have a conversation about why (if you can't see at first glance).

It is also essential to be transparent about your financial situation – not just before you get married but while you're married. Be honest about any debts or financial obligations you may have. Even if you run up a credit card without your partner knowing, you've gotta tell them so they can help you undo the mess.

This can help ensure that both partners are on the same page when it comes to managing money and can help secure your financial future together.

Boundaries with In-Laws and Friends

Whew. If you've ever had a monster-in-law, you know what I mean when I say boundaries must be set with parents and in-laws. Period.

Maintaining healthy boundaries with in-laws and friends is crucial for a happy and healthy marriage. In-laws and friends are important parts of our lives, but they can also be a source of stress and conflict if boundaries are not established and maintained.

When you get married, your partner becomes number one in your life. If you've chosen the right partner and you have a healthy relationship with your family, what is supposed to happen is that your family now becomes #1 for you and your partner, after each other, of course.

I don't have a relationship with my family at all, but my husband had the most amazing Mom to ever walk this earth. And, his aunt, too! It was important to him that I meet them both before we got married. It was important to me that he had a health relationship with his mom, especially because I didn't have one with mine and I really wanted a family.

Thankfully, I met his Mom and Aunt and we got along amazingly. They became my family instantly, and they became my #1 just like they were his #1.

Setting Boundaries with In-Laws

In-laws can be a sensitive topic when it comes to setting boundaries. It's important to remember that you and your spouse are a team, and your relationship with each other comes first.

  • Communicate with your spouse: Discuss with your spouse what boundaries you both want to set with your in-laws. Make sure you are both on the same page and support each other in maintaining the boundaries.
  • Be clear and direct: When communicating with your in-laws, be clear and direct about what boundaries you want to set. Use “I” statements to express how you feel and what you need.
  • Stick to your boundaries: Once you have set boundaries, it's important to stick to them. Don't let your in-laws guilt or pressure you into crossing your boundaries.

Maintaining Boundaries with Friends

Friends can also be a tricky area when it comes to setting boundaries. It's important to remember that your marriage comes first, and your friends should respect your boundaries. Here are some tips on how to maintain boundaries with friends:

  • Be honest with your friends: If you need to set boundaries with your friends, be honest with them about why you need to do so. Let them know that it's not personal, but that you need to prioritize your marriage.
  • Don't overcommit: Set realistic expectations with your friends. Don't overcommit to plans or events if it will interfere with your marriage or other priorities.
  • Be assertive: If your friends are not respecting your boundaries, be assertive in enforcing them. Let them know that you value their friendship, but that you need to prioritize your marriage.

Much like with all the other boundary setting, setting and maintaining boundaries with in-laws and friends is an ongoing process. Communicate with your spouse and be clear and direct with your in-laws and friends. If you are struggling with setting boundaries, consider seeking the help of a family therapist.

Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

Wow, so you've learned how to set the boundaries! Now what about maintaining them? Remember, that's where most of us really struggle!

Consistency and Flexibility

Consistency is key in maintaining healthy boundaries. Both partners should be clear about their boundaries and communicate them effectively. It's important to stick to these boundaries and not make exceptions unless both partners agree to do so (and this, even in agreement, should be rare!). This consistency helps build trust and respect in the relationship.

It's also important to be flexible when necessary. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes situations arise that require a change in boundaries. You and your spouse should be willing to listen to each other's needs and be open to adjusting boundaries as needed. This flexibility helps promote understanding and compromise in the relationship.

Seeking Professional Help

Sometimes, maintaining healthy boundaries can be difficult, and it's okay to seek professional help. A therapist can provide a neutral perspective and help both partners navigate any challenges in setting and maintaining boundaries. They can also help identify any underlying issues that may be causing boundary problems and provide tools to address them.

It's important to remember that seeking professional help does not mean there is something wrong with the relationship. It can be a proactive step to ensure the relationship remains healthy and strong.

By setting boundaries, you are taking responsibility for your own needs and emotions, which can help you feel more empowered and in control of your life. This, in turn, can lead to greater happiness and satisfaction in your relationship.

Some key takeaways to keep in mind when setting boundaries in your marriage include:

  • Knowing what you want and need in your relationship
  • Communicating your needs clearly and respectfully
  • Being willing to compromise and negotiate with your partner
  • Respecting your partner's boundaries and needs
  • Being committed to maintaining healthy boundaries over time

Read Next: How Improving Your Emotional Intelligence Can Improve Your Relationship

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