Getting clear on your boundaries in dating is an important way to care for your wellbeing. In this article, you will learn 4 boundaries which are important to consider for dating….from the very first date and beyond!
What are Boundaries in Dating?
When relationships are healthy, they always include boundaries – this includes a dating relationship. Fundamentally, boundaries exist for a sense of respect and safety in relationships.
These limits are both external which allow you to feel safe with others and internal which make you a safe person for others – and yourself! In this article, we will explore exactly how to feel safe while your dating.
Tip #1 for Healthy Boundaries in Dating: Be Clear on Why Exactly You are Dating
To date with healthy boundaries, it’s important to first explore your authentic intentions and reasons for dating.
Related: How to Be Your Authentic Self
When healthy, your boundaries are aligned with your true values, needs and wants. Therefore, at this stage, it’s important to consider what motivates you to date personally. For example, if you authentically want to get married – wonderful, this is your reason for dating. Yet if you’re dating because you think you “should,” then it’s important to get clearer about this to have healthy boundaries while dating.
Journal Prompt for Clarity on Your Reasons for Dating
If you find you are conflicted or unsure around your true intentions for dating, you may choose to take time to journal with this prompt:
What will tell you that dating has been successful for you?
The future you imagine gives you clarity on why you’re dating. If you see yourself in a happy, committed relationship, wonderful – you want to find your right partner to have a commitment with.
Yet, if you see yourself getting back with your ex because they got jealous you were dating other people, this is a sign that it will be difficult to have healthy boundaries while dating because you aren’t being honest with yourself or others during this process. (Honesty, trustworthiness, and safety are tied together and since boundaries are for safety, trustworthiness is important for healthy boundaries.)
Identifying Your Non-Negotiable Needs
Once you’ve identified why you are dating, you can consider what you need to meet this goal. These are your non-negotiable needs.
Here you want to identify 3-6 qualities that must exist for you to have healthy boundaries around dating.
If you just want to have a casual relationship for fun, for instance, one of your non-negotiable needs while dating at this time may be to find another person who shares this intention.
Or if you want something committed on the other hand, you will likely have a non-negotiable need around someone who also wants a serious relationship.
Then when you have healthy boundaries in dating, you walk away as soon as you know the other person isn’t aligned with your intentions and non-negotiable needs for dating. This saves you from unnecessary stress and heartache.
Tip #2 for Healthy Boundaries in Dating: Identify How Much Time You Want to Invest at First
Healthy boundaries, in general, exist in a place of balance and impact every aspect of your life including your time.
For healthy boundaries in dating, you will next want to consider how much time is appropriate for you to invest in a relationship early on. With this consideration, you will also want to identify your urges as they relate to your attachment style if possible. Here’s a journal prompt to help with this:
Historically, what has been my attitude towards getting to know someone? How much time do I usually invest early in a relationship when I’m first dating someone? How has this impacted me in the past?
Understanding Your Attachment Style
You may notice that you have the tendency to put in a lot of time and energy early on into a relationship – only to be frequently heart broken when it doesn’t work out. This indicates you may have an anxious attachment style. To protect yourself which is the fundamental goal of boundaries, it’s important to be mindful of this urge. Then you’ll want to set limits on how much time you invest early into a relationship.
Related: How Do I Heal My Attachment Style?
On the other hand, if your tendency is to be distant with someone even if you like them and want a relationship, you may be more avoidant in your attachment style. Here, you will want to set limits on this tendency to give more of your time than may feel natural to someone you’re dating. Without this investment of time, you cannot develop a close, healthy relationship.
Tip #3 for Healthy Boundaries in Dating: Be Appropriately Vulnerable
Boundaries when you are dating and in general, exist for a sense of safety. Another important consideration is around your emotions and personal information.
Part of this process is identifying how, and when, to open up to ensure you are safe and respected. At the same time, developing close relationships does require vulnerability. Finding this balance is important for your emotional and mental wellbeing as well as to establish a healthy relationship.
Finding the Middle Ground
You will want to again identify your natural tendencies around how you open up to someone. For example, if you have porous boundaries (and maybe a more anxious attachment style), you may find that you share too much personal information with someone right away. An example of this is telling someone on a first date your trauma history. A boundary for you then is to set a limit on yourself around how much you share early on with someone.
This limit isn’t about feeling shame for your past rather waiting to tell someone about painful details of your life is about self-protection. When you share too much early one with someone, you haven’t established trust yet which takes time to build. This leaves you too vulnerable as you don’t yet know if this person will respect this information or be reliable moving forward. You can’t rush the process of establishing trust and for self-protection you gradually share over time.
At the same time, if you’re more walled off or avoidant, it may be easy for you to not share. Yet you can’t have healthy intimacy without being vulnerable. Here you will want to push yourself to open up bit by bit to establish closeness with someone.
Tip #4 for Healthy Boundaries in Dating: Be Clear on Your Needs Regarding Sex
When you are dating someone, it’s important to consider your needs around sexual intimacy as well. You may find that you are primarily seeking a sexual relationship for example. Or you may want to wait for sex until you feel closer or more committed to someone.
The most important thing is to become clear on your true needs and wants regardless of what you think you “should” do here. For example, maybe you were raised religious, but you want to have a sexual relationship now – you have this right! Or maybe you aren’t interesting in rushing into sex even if others you know are.
Healthy Boundaries and Casual Sex
If you are dating for a primarily sexual relationship, healthy boundaries are still applicable as you can still prioritize mutual emotional and physical safety. One important limit to set here is to communicate with the other person about your intention for a casual relationship. This helps avoid unnecessary conflict in the future when you ensure you’re on the same page.
You can also explore this casual sex mental health check to ensure a primarily sexual relationship is meeting your needs:
What to Do about Sexual Pressure
While it’s often not discussed, sexual pressure is very common in dating and committed relationships. If you are experiencing any sexual pressure, please know you have the right to your boundaries! Your limits are not the problem. Rather the key issue is a lack of respect by your dating partner.
Someone shows you they are trustworthy if they respect your boundaries. Otherwise, this is a sign you may not be compatible long-term when you are dating.
For more support, please read: What to Do if Your Boyfriend Pressures You Sexually
Anxious Attachment and Sex
It can be especially scary to set limits around sex with an anxious attachment style yet it’s important to do so for your wellbeing. And as you set boundaries in dating, you allow yourself to develop a more secure attachment style because you learn that there are people who value you authentically. You just need to be honest about your limits to find these safe people!
Furthermore, if you have an anxious attachment style, you may want to delay sexual intimacy to protect yourself from getting unnecessarily emotionally invested into someone early on.
Progress Not Perfection
We can’t be perfect in identifying, setting and maintaining our boundaries but when you are clear on your limits in dating – and beyond – you can keep committing to your own wellbeing and creating the life you really want.
And truly, you can only meet your goals for dating when you respect your boundaries. For example, you cannot ever have the close partnership you dream of if you get stuck in a situationship.
If you settle for less than what you need with porous boundaries, you automatically prevent yourself from getting what you most need – which is always available to you – it’s just about aligning your actions with your desires!
Boundaries Require Practice – and They Evolve
Please bookmark and come back to this article as you need. Sometimes we need a refresher on our limits when they feel shaky. Remember it’s about practicing and progress not perfection.
If you want extra support identifying and setting healthy boundaries, even as they change, you can practice with 100 different activities in my book Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach).
Finally, please know that it’s completely natural for your boundaries to change over time. Your reasons for dating may change and then you’ll need to update your responses to these 4 aspects of healthy boundaries in dating.
Or lets say you found the serious relationship you wanted, your boundaries will evolve to fit this partnership. You may check out the article How to Know Your Boundaries in a Relationship: 3 Essential Tips from a Couples Therapist at this point.
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.
Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.