You’ve met a guy, he’s really great, the chemistry is tangible, and your relationship is off to an electric start. Good, right? Yes, well, if you're like any of my clients, you might be panicking, too. How do you keep the electricity going? How do you make sure it continues to go well?
Sorry—there's no magic formula, but one of the best ways to increase your chances at scoring a healthy and thriving relationship is to establish boundaries. It might sound counterintuitive, but trust me, especially in the early stages of your relationship, this will allow you to define and enforce healthy dating habits, setting the relationship up for success. But, what does setting boundaries in your relationship actually look like?
Well, here's what I tell my clients:
Try to Keep It at a Comfortable Pace
This will look different from person to person and couple to couple but, in general, it’s helpful to keep the relationship progressing at a pace that isn’t too slow but also isn’t too fast. Think of it as the Goldilocks approach—you'll constantly need to ask what "just right" means for you—without getting too caught up as those romance-induced chemicals hijack your brain.
If you throw all other responsibilities, friendships, and commitments to the wind it can become a pace that’s impossible to sustain for the long-term, which can cause confusion and heartache later. First you skip your after-work yoga class for a happy hour drink with him, then you cancel your standing coffee date with a friend the next day, and suddenly, you’re spending most of your time with him while your other life and friendships slip away. Sticking to your usual routine as much as possible can help you be more intentional about your time together while still allowing you to invest in other things that matter just as much.
Set a Curfew for Yourself
Especially in the early stages of a new relationship, consider setting a time at night (say, 10 p.m.) after which you won’t respond to a guy’s message until the morning. My friend—let's call her Kate—would rave about the book Not Your Mother’s Rules: The New Secrets for Dating that helped her set boundaries in her dating relationships after a particularly bad dating experience. After reading the book, Kate came to the realization that in her previous relationship, she had barely any boundaries with her boyfriend. She described how she would respond to his texts at all hours of the night, which ultimately sent him the message that she was available to him at any time—which made him take her for granted. After reading about the importance of boundaries, she was much more strict about her time in her next relationship. (The new guy was cool with waiting for the texts—so cool that he actually proposed!)
Be Proactive About Sharing Your Interests
Enforcing boundaries in your relationship also means honoring those qualities that make each of you oh-so-unique. Sure, compromise is definitely important, as well as learning how to work together as a team—but taking pride in your own unique interests is just as critical, and not to mention, super attractive. It's tempting to throw your hobbies and interests out the window when you start falling in love, but if you're investing all your time encouraging his hobbies and passions, your own will suffer and you will feel drained and unloved. For example, in one of my clients' relationships, she went out of her way to take an interest in her boyfriend’s hobbies, fully expecting him to do the same. When he didn’t, she felt immense resentful towards him, causing tension in other parts of the relationship. Instead, be proactive about sharing your hobbies with your guy—and keep them as a part of your life.
Make Sure You Express Your Needs (and Yes, We All Have Needs)
Even if your relationship is in the early stages, don't be afraid to voice your opinions and express your needs. You're not going to agree on everything (let's just get that out of the way), but you'll have a more authentic understanding of each other. Moreover, you'll learn sooner whether or not the relationship has a fighting chance.
A friend of mine once shared how she wanted to be the “easygoing” and “low-maintenance” girlfriend in her previous relationship. Because of this, she told me, “I’d never voice my wants." By not telling him of her needs, she basically was telling him she didn't have needs; and he proceeded to act accordingly. In her later, more successful relationship, she said she learned that speaking up about her opinions and needs was the only way to be heard.
When you set boundaries from the start, it helps both people get on the same page, giving your relationship the best shot at happiness. By establishing these boundaries, you build your sense of togetherness while keeping yourself intact as you learn more about each other. This way, you can fall in love without falling out of touch with yourself and everyone else who loves you.