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Easier said than done. Putting up boundaries in romantic relationships.

Expressing our needs can be a huge challenge when we are just starting to get to know someone romantically. When we are dating, it is extremely important that we know what our needs are and can tell when they are being met or not, as otherwise, we will simply not be happy in the relationship.

In an early stage of a romantic relationship, if we are “in love” with someone, we will want to do everything for our partner. Biology is ruling that time so unfortunately we tend to forgive a lot and let things slide. We are just so “high” and happy around the person that as long as they are there, whatever they do is absolutely fine. We might easily be disregarding red flags and ignoring the warning signs.

Imagine the following scenario: you have just started dating someone, you are attracted to them and feel that things are going well, however, when you send them a text message, they do not reply for two or three days. 

That is a very long time not to reply to a text message. By then you might have gone through a plethora of emotions - sadness, disbelief, shock, disappointment, self-doubt. You might have been asking yourself questions like: “Have I done anything wrong?” or “Are they just not interested?”

Let’s say the person replies to you after two days and wants to see you on the weekend. Depending on your personality and how the person excuses themselves, you might be willing to go with it. The reasons for the delay might have been good enough. You then go on a date and have an absolutely amazing time. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

Let’s say the situation happens again though. The following week you text the person again and again, they keep you waiting for several days. If you are easy going, this might not be an issue for you, however, if you are not, you will have the same emotions surfacing again - sadness, disappointment, disbelief and this time maybe even anger at yourself for having ignored the red flag in the first place.

What are you going to do?

Some people would just not see the person again. Some people would ignore the issue and keep seeing the person. Myself, in the past, I remember, I would let the person wait for weeks and then send a message back in order to “punish” them for their disrespectful behavior. 

There will be different consequences depending on the option we choose. If we decide, we are not seeing the person again, we are ending the relationship. If we let the behavior slide, we are saying no to our own needs and paving the road to resentment on our side.

If we choose the third solution - pretend it is not an issue and “punish” the person instead - the outcome is actually the same - we are not facing the problem and also we are not giving the person a chance to change. 

If you want to give this relationship a chance, this is the time to state your boundary and communicate it assertively. This will require clear and honest communication and a willingness to disclose your feelings.

We are often reluctant to go there for fear of opening up, being rejected, looking needy, losing the person and losing “the love” which we might have conjured by this time in our head. In addition, if we are not used to talking about our feelings, we might feel a total physical block come up when it’s time to admit we have been hurt.

There is no easy way around it though. If we ourselves do not think our emotions are valid, unfortunately, not many people will.

In the above scenario, what about if next time you saw the person, you told them very explicitly: “I really did not like that you didn’t reply to me for days. I was worried / upset / felt xyz. I did not know what was going on. When someone texts me, I usually reply within an hour, for me it is a sign of respect.”

Now, the person you are dating might respond in several ways, but what they say and how they behave afterwards will give you all the information you need in order to decide if the relationship is worth pursuing.

There are no ideal people out there and the person you are seeing might be lacking some dating knowledge or communication skills in general. On the other hand, if they are a hopeless case who is not interested in changing, the best solution might be to let them go.

The only way to find out and make an informed decision is through clear and honest communication.

In addition, when you are saying: “This is not okay for me”, you are putting up a boundary. You are clearly stating: I am not okay with this behavior. I have a need for xyz and this has not been met. You are pretty much saying: I am important and I would like you to respect that.

Putting up boundaries in romantic relationships is hard work. It is so very difficult because our biological need for attachment often pulls us in the opposite direction. When we feel drawn to a person, we miss them, we want to be around them and therefore forgive them for their behaviors which, at times, are just “not good enough”. 

There is no easy way around this. We need to assert our needs if we want to create successful relationships. 

Which, unfortunately, means that sometimes we will need to let go of certain people. And if we are already attached to a person, who continuously refuses to care about our feelings, by cutting them off, we will most likely experience the grief associated with the loss. Our hearts will break.

However, if we ignore the issue and let the person cross our boundaries repeatedly, they will keep crossing it. And that will create ongoing emotional pain for us. Which in the long term is much worse for our well-being than a single heartbreak.

Putting ourselves and our emotional needs first requires courage. We need to trust that we will survive the pain of the separation from our person. What we are also doing, by letting the person go, is giving ourselves space for someone to come in and treat us how we want to be treated.

Boundaries in dating are crucial, they keep us away from people who do not fulfill us and will help us recognise the ones that do. They are a tool to invite peace, love and respect into our relationships and create a foundation for long-lasting happiness and fulfillment.

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