boundaries in relationships

Signs You Have a Boundary Problem


Setting clear personal boundaries is the key to ensuring relationships are mutually respectful, trustworthy and caring. Boundaries set the limits for acceptable behavior from those around you, determining whether they feel able to put you down, make fun, or take advantage of your good nature.

If you're often uncomfortable with other peoples' treatment of you, it's likely time to reset your boundaries. Weak boundaries leave you vulnerable and likely to be taken for granted.  They also cause you to build resentful distance between you and the people you love most.

Common Boundary Violations

With that said, it can be difficult to identify when boundaries are an issue for you.  Here are a few signals to look for if you want to see where boundary problems lie in your relationship:

  • Saying “yes” to your partner, when in fact you’d rather say “no”
  • Saying “no” when it might be perfectly appropriate to say “yes” – this is often done to keep a partner at arm’s length, or punish him or her.

Good boundaries require authenticity and honesty. Neither of these behaviors are honest ways to communicate.  They leave huge gaps for misunderstanding and missing intimacy.

  • Making your partner read your mind instead of saying specifically what you’re thinking or feeling
  • Trying to control your partner’s thoughts or behavior through aggressive or subtle manipulation

Again, using indirect communication is a surefire way to create misunderstandings.  Not saying what you really wants sets your partner up for failure- they're sure to let you down at some point.  Not asking for what you want directly won't give your partner the opportunity to learn the best ways to love you.

Both of these kinds of manipulations will lead to conflict and hurt eventually.  You can avoid the hurt by getting clear and being direct about what you want to see happen between you.


Here are some tips that can help you establish and maintain healthy boundaries:

  • Communicate your thoughts and feeling honestly, with specificity and clearly. Whenever possible, be honest but respectful in sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner. Yes, this is a vulnerable action to take, but with careful communication vulnerability is the key to building trust in relationships.
  • Ask your partner what they are feeling instead of trying to guess. Mind-reading is not your responsibility.  And no matter how connected you are, it is impossible to know what your partner wants or is thinking in every situation. If each of you reflects on your own thoughts and feelings, and takes responsibility for putting them into words you will grow deeper understanding. 
  • Take responsibility for your actions. All relationship dynamics are co-created. Instead of blaming your partner for how you feel, ask yourself how your choices (intentional or otherwise) contributed to the situation.

Healthy boundaries take practice. Most of us were not trained to have these kinds of conversations in our families. But with practice you will be better able to identify where the boundary lines are between you.

As a result, trust and connection will only grow stronger and more secure between you over time.

boundaries in relationships | healthy relationship boundaries | how to have boundaries | boundary issues

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  I can help you:

  • change communication & codependent relationship patterns
  • reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity & manage intense emotions
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon.  And I've created a HUGE free relationship tool library available online for couples worldwide.

Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

Open Relationship Advice: What Can I Ask About My Partner's Dates With Other People?

open relationship advice | nonmonogamy advice | polyamory advice

Being curious about your partner's new adventures, relationships and friendships is totally natural.  In fact, genuine curiosity (trying to get to know more about your partner without ulterior motives) is really healthy.

But sometimes when we're opening a relationship it gets pretty difficult to sort out the healthy curiosity from those other motives.  

Genuine interest in your partner and their experience is fine.  But honestly, you don't need a lot of detail (especially not about other people) to get connection with your sweetie. 

If you find yourself getting curious and aren't sure what's okay to ask- or what's too much use the reflection questions below to help guide your process.

Does this information intrude on anyone else's privacy boundaries?

First and foremost if the information involves another person (even if you're not crazy about that person) considering their boundaries and respecting their privacy has to be part of the equation too.  

Often I talk with couples who assume they'll share any and all information about dates- without checking with the dates. Instead, I urge you to get consent from the other folks you're seeing- is there anything they'd rather you not share?  

If you want a respectful relationship with them too, their boundaries have to be respected too.

How does it help me to know?

When you notice yourself getting curious about the details of your partners' dates pause and ask yourself how the information you're seeking will help you.  

For example: 

If I'm asking my partner about the restaurant they went to with a new date I want to be clear how the information will help me.  It might help me to know if the food was good, the service great, if they would go back- because I might be interested in going to that restaurant.

Or It might be helpful to know my partner had a good time and might want to hang out with this person again.  This might help me calibrate my expectations around further practice in nonmonogamy.

But it would not be helpful for me to get ensnared in comparison (or try to trap my partner in it) asking if they had a better time than with me, if the person was more attractive than me, or they kissed better. 

Comparison will never lead to connection in relationships. If you notice comparison showing up, write out what she's saying to you and notice any themes.  There may be important lessons in what she's trying to tell you- but those lessons can't come from your partner, only from reflection (or coaching).

How does this info impact me either way?

Of course you want information about things that will directly impact you.  And you are entitled to it.  But it can be easy to expand the impact further than is appropriate.

For example:

If I ask, "When will you be home?" I want to know because I want to make my own dinner plans and don't know if I'll see you for dinner. 

Or I want to know if I should go to bed before you're home vs waiting up. 

Or I want to know when I can use the shared car again.  

Or I want to know when I should start worrying if I haven't heard from you.

But when will you be home is different than, "Be home by eleven or I'll be worried."  Eleven doesn't directly impact me.  And worry is something we can create agreements to resolve.  

Why is it important to me right now?

This final question helps us clarify if we do have ulterior motives for asking- and what they are. 

This awareness helps us know what to do to reach the result we're looking for (usually connection or reassurance) in a direct trustworthy manner.

For example:

 If I ask, "Did you have a good time?" I might be trying to say:

"I'm really nervous about this and need some reminders you have fun with me." or

"When you stay out late I worry about your safety." or

"Do you still love me?" or

"Are you going to leave me?" or 

"Am I still special to you?"

Or any number of other things.  But by taking a beat to get clear and stating what you're really after you create a much deeper more authentic connection between you and your sweetie.  

If you want help working through these questions or applying them in your newly open relationship give me a call.  

polyamory coach | polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open relationship coach

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • resolve sexual dysfunction & disconnect
  • change communication & codependent patterns
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).

Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.

Two Kinds of Boundaries in Relationships

Two Kinds of Boundaries in Relationships | Relationship Boundaries

I've gotten lots of questions in my Ask me Anything column lately related to healthy boundaries in relationships so I thought I'd spend a little time writing more about healthy relationship boundaries for a bit to help clear up a few common misconceptions.  

Before Diving in below, you might want to read the first two installments in this series:

Ten Common Myths About Boundaries

Boundaries Aren't Permanent

Two Essential Kinds of Boundaries

When I work with people to clarify and respect boundaries I find boundaries most often fall into one of two camps.  When we're envisioning them, boundaries either seem to be Hard Lines or Negotiables.  

Hard Line Boundaries

Hard lines are the kind of boundaries that feel especially important and/or tender to us.  They are the ones we'll react most strongly to if crossed.  

Hard line boundaries appear to be absolute or unmoveable.  We can't imagine they will ever shift.

Often these come up in initial conversations with words like never or always attached.  Here are some examples of hard line boundaries I've heard:

"If you cheat on me I will end this relationship."

"I'm vegan."

"I can't imagine I will ever want to be tied up."

"I don't like anal sex."

All of these examples are specific to behaviors and appear absolute or unchanging.  Trying to negotiate with these will risk annoying the person sharing their boundary.

There are several pros and cons to consider when using a hard line boundary:


Hard line boundaries are usually very clear.  The more clarity the easier to be sure you and a partner are on the same page.

Hard line boundaries can seem simpler to live by.  Often hard lines have an either-or kind of feel (see the first example above).


Hard line boundaries don't take into account the personal growth and relationship development that happens over time.  Even hard line boundaries will need revisiting in time.

It can be really easy to assume these boundaries are fixed- forever.  I've seen many individuals in the couples I work with feel blindsided when their partner wants to revisit a hard line boundary.  

For example, I've seen many people who thought they would end a relationship after an affair decide to repair and stay together.  Most of those folks would never have predicted they'd stay.

Flexible or Negotiable Boundaries

Flexible or negotiable boundaries are the gray area between an absolute yes or no to a specific behavior or context. There are many pros and cons to using flexible/negotiable boundaries.

Here are some examples from real relationships:

"I like rope play, but I don't like to bottom in group spaces. Let's talk about when and where we want to play."

This boundary is negotiable depending on location-specific behavior. I like this here but not there.  

"Sometimes I get really triggered when sexual content comes on tv.  If that happens I'll let you know by_____ and you could support me by _______."

This boundary might not even look like a boundary to most people- but boundaries are really about asking for what you need and setting expectations.  The part that is negotiable or flexible is the "sometimes" and "if" part of this boundary conversation.  There's room for it to flex and change depending on the situation (in this case tv content or stress I'm feeling).

"I like flirting with you via text but this week I have a huge project at work so I'm not going to be available to respond like I usually am."

This boundary is time-sensitive (the project is happening this week).  It's clear we may renegotiate in a week or shift back to our previous texting behaviors.


Negotiable boundaries can grow, change, and flex with you and your relationship over time.


Some people think negotiable boundaries don't deserve the same kind of care and respect.  Thinking because they're flexible negotiable boundary violations don't cause the same kind of harm.  This is just completely untrue.  All boundaries deserve respect and care.

Because they are more conscious of the grey area between absolute yes or no, it can be more difficult to be clear about negotiable boundaries.

You need to be willing to keep a conversation going about boundaries- and some people don't want to invest that much energy in relationship maintenance.

Questions to ask about Hard Line and Flexible/Negotiable Boundaries in Relationships

If you're not sure what kind of boundary you want to set ask yourself a few questions to find more clarity:

Is this boundary time-sensetive?

Is this boundary specific to a location or situation?

How might this boundary change as we get to know each other?

When will I be open to talking about this boundary again?

If you want any help clarifying or communicating boundaries, I'm happy to talk with you in a free consultation.  I love chatting about boundaries!

gina senarighi | boundaries in relationships | relationship boundary

Gina Senarighi offers non-judgmental sex-positive, gender-affirming, LGBTQ relationship support online and in the Pacific Northwest. 

She often says, “I love love, in all its forms!”

She’s helped thousands of couples deepen their sexual connection, repair trust, and build sustainable lasting partnerships.

She uses her multi-disciplinary professional training to teach communication skills and help her clients handle conflict with compassion.

Gina has supported many couples experimenting with open relationships based in trust and integrity. If you’re considering polyamory you should check out her online resources here.

Although most of her couples are experimenting with less traditional relationship structures, even her more mainstream clients appreciate her open-minded non-judgmental approach and diverse expertise.

If you’re interested in taking this work further contact her for a free consultation.

Boundaries Aren't Permament

Healthy Boundaries | Boundaries in Relationships

I've gotten lots of questions in my Ask me Anything column lately related to healthy boundaries in relationships so I thought I'd spend a little time writing more about healthy relationship boundaries for a bit to help clear up a few common misconceptions.  

Before diving in below, you might want to read the first installment in this series:

Ten Common Myths About Boundaries

A Common Misunderstanding: Boundaries Aren't Forever

The first thing most people misunderstand is that boundaries aren't permanent. They are always temporary and always shifting.  

For example, when you go on a first date you might have certain boundaries (no kissing, no sex, no talking about religion/money/politics) but over time these boundaries will shift or change depending on how the date goes.  

If your date goes well and you build trust you might want more affection and will likely talk about deeper more meaningful topics.  The boundaries you set on the first date will soften. 

If that same date goes poorly or trust isn't built your boundaries might grow or harden (don't call me anymore, blocking them on facebook, avoiding them at work = more rigid boundaries).

Or you might have one boundary in a specific context that is different in other settings.  For example, I hug my very close friends hello (and often goodbye) but I don't hug my clients or colleagues hello/goodbye.  Or the way I greet someone at a Pride Parade is different than the way I might at a professional conference.  

You can probably come up with some great examples of your own changing boundaries depending on the comfort you feel with an individual person and the context where you meet them.

So boundaries shift over time and between contexts.  But often when we talk about them we try to think in absolute terms.  

We want to think they're a binding contract we'll never need to revisit.  But since boundaries change we have to be willing to renegotiate them.  

Why am I telling you this?

Knowing that boundaries change can help your relationship in a couple significant ways:

1) You can be more aware of the different contexts, times, and trust levels that soften or harden your boundaries. 

2) You might be able to tell people what kinds of behaviors and contexts increase your sense of trust and safety (softening your boundaries) in order to improve relationships.

3) You can practice more self-compassion knowing it is completely normal to have boundaries change, grow, and shift.  There's nothing wrong with you.  

4) You might be able to communicate when and where your boundaries harden with folks around you so you both know what to expect and what you need.

5) If someone has a hard boundary and it's a challenge for you consider (or even better, ask) what might help them feel safer, more trusting or comfortable in that situation, act, or space with you.  I'm not saying try to convince them or wait it out, but use that boundary as a way to connect and get to know them better.  There's likely some great learning in there for you.  

Having trouble with changing boundaries in relationships?

If you're struggling with this don't worry- lots of people have trouble with boundaries growing and changing over time.  Shifting boundaries don't have to be the end of your relationship, but it can be really hard to see a way out if you're on your own.  

Please do call me or connect with another professional who has lots of experience with relationships like yours for help.  We can usually find a new way forward for the two of you that doesn't entail breaking up.  

Polyamory Counselor Portland | Portland Polyamory

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
  • open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).


How to Set Boundaries Without Being Mean

Boundaries Without Being Mean | Uncommon Love Counseling in Portland

Most of us never learn to say no. We worry that saying no will seem rude, inconsiderate, or mean. We think if we say no we risk belonging, community, friendship, and love.

The truth is, healthy boundaries actually increase trust in relationships. Being able to speak, hear, and respect boundaries creates a deeper level of intimacy in relationships, whether friends, coworkers, or family members.

Worrying about and avoiding setting boundaries causes undue stress on most relationships. Try the tips below to start setting boundaries in caring ways to deepen intimacy and increase trust in your relationships.

It is possible to set boundaries without being mean.

Here are seven ways to assert some boundaries with love:

No is a complete sentence

Practice saying no without explaining or justifying yourself. Allow yourself to say no more often and increase your capacity to sit with the discomfort that might arise. Your discomfort will pass- and so will anyone else’s.

All you have to say is “No.”

Say yes

Part of setting boundaries is getting really clear about the things you want to say yes to. Prioritize the things that really matter to you. What gets you excited and makes you happy? Say more yeses to those and taking the risk to ask for those starting now.

Try asking for what you want this week and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Redirect them

Once you are clear about what you want to say yes to, redirect attention to the things you want. Boundaries are all about negotiation, so start the conversation with what you want, listen to your partner, and meet somewhere in the middle when possible.

Try something like, “I am really not interested in pizza tonight, could we make something at home instead?”

No apologies

Don’t apologize if your answer has to be no. Instead, start off with appreciation and then end the conversation with saying no. Remember, you have every right to say no, and you have nothing to apologize for- you haven’t done anything wrong.

All you have to say is, “No, thank you.”

Set timelines

Boundaries change with time. Be sure to set boundaries with timelines in mind.

You can say, “I don’t want to talk about that right now, but we can check in tomorrow” or “I can’t join you for group this month, but I would like to see if it's possible in a few weeks- can we talk more about it then?”

Allow yourself to change your mind

 Because boundaries change over time, be patient with yourself when they change. For starters, your interests, physical abilities, and emotional responses all change with time and age, so of course the boundaries you choose will change with them. You are allowed to change your mind.

Try saying something like, “Some things have changed for me, I would like to talk about (insert your topic here) again if you’re interested.” Or you can say, “I thought that was what I really wanted, but I guess I have changed my mind. Now I would like it better if…”

Ask for consent

When we talk about boundaries we most often focus on our own, but it is just as important we consider the boundaries of those around us. Notice when people set boundaries with you, and be respectful of their requests and needs.

Because boundary setting is difficult for so may of us, you can also choose to say something like, “Can I talk to you about (insert topic here) this afternoon?” or “I am curious if there is anything I can do to help you feel safer right now.”

Let me know if you want help implementing any of these.


Looking for an LGBTQ provider in Portland?  Click here for a free consultation.

counselor in oprtland porland oregon therapist open relationship therapist

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).