setting boundaries

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
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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.

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

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.

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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).