How do I talk with my partner about boundaries?

engaged couple holding on hands - view from backside

One of the best and healthiest conversations that you can have as a couple is a discussion about boundaries. Talking about what you do and do not feel comfortable doing brings you closer together and strengthens your relationship. It shows mutual trust and respect. Some couples develop an on-going dialogue about their physical relationship so that they make sure they stay on the same page. Talking about boundaries can create a feeling of safety in the relationship and develop better “true” intimacy than physical intimacy (sex) ever can.

So where do you begin? One fun way is to plan a special date for you and your boyfriend or girlfriend to talk about your boundaries. For guys in particular, your girlfriend will feel very special if you tell her that you want to talk about how you can respect her in the relationship and how you can make sure that she feels comfortable. But wherever and however you do it, make sure that you choose a place and time when your hormones are not excited and you can think clearly!

When you talk, try starting by telling each other the things that you would like to save for marriage, such as intercourse, oral sex, or anything under clothes. Talk about things you are uncomfortable with. Remember to include emotional and verbal things that you would like to save. Some couples decide they only want to say “I love you” when they are engaged or married so that they only ever say that to one person. Other couples choose to save all kissing for marriage or engagement, both so that it is special and to avoid physical temptation. Just make sure that you are clear with your partner so that there isn’t confusion or disappointment later on due to miscommunication. Saying, “Right now I don’t want to make out, but I might change my mind later on,” will likely only cause your boyfriend or girlfriend to try to push your boundaries instead of respect them. Instead, use language like, “It is important to me to not do anything that involves taking clothing off or going underneath clothing. I would like my body to be saved for marriage.”

Next, talk about the things that you think might lead you to do the things that you don’t want to do. Define your “danger areas” and include both physical activities as well as where you go on dates or how much time you should spend alone together. Some examples of danger areas include staying out on a date past midnight; sitting in the back of a movie theatre; or spending time in each other’s homes when you are alone or behind closed doors. Also, lying next to each other on a couch or bed, kissing for extended periods of time, or touching areas on each other’s bodies that are not necessarily sexual but that can be arousing are activities that it is helpful to limit or exclude from relationships. One strategy that couples use when setting boundaries is to choose code words that they can say to each other to tell the other to slow down, without making them feel bad.

You want to avoid being completely negative (talking about all the things you won’t do), so spend some time discussing the things that you really like doing for or with each other. Tell each other the things that make you feel loved, like writing notes, spending time together just talking, or going to special concerts or shows. There are many different ways for people to give or experience love, so talk about what works the best in your relationship.

Finally, be open and affirming. While saying some things out loud can feel weird at first, communication is important in all relationships. Developing your ability to talk about physical boundaries will probably bring you closer together. It is worth practicing!