How To Set Healthy Boundaries When Dating

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated February 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you are interested in connecting with someone new, entering the dating scene can be exciting—whether you’ve never dated before, haven’t dated in a while, or are in any other stage of this experience. To help yourself have more positive interactions with others in this context, it can be helpful to understand how to define, set, and enforce personal boundaries related to dating. If you’re looking to learn more about where to start with setting dating boundaries, see the tips outlined below. 

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What does it mean to have healthy boundaries?

Boundaries are limits that we can set to help prevent other people from engaging with us in ways in which we are not comfortable, so we can feel safe with them. It can be helpful to set boundaries in all types of situations, from friendships to work relationships to romantic relationships, and many people have found it helpful to learn how to set boundaries with family, too.

Reasonable, healthy boundaries aren’t unfair impositions or demands. Instead, they’re respectful requests that communicate your expectations and needs to another person to equip them to treat you the way you’d like to be treated.

There are many different types of boundaries. Some of the most common in a dating context include physical or sexual ones, which relate to what you do with your body; or emotional ones, which relate to how you engage with others verbally, how you handle conflict together, etc. Boundaries can also include things like how you spend your time, who you allow into your space and when, and what conversation topics you prefer to avoid. Healthy boundaries can vary widely from individual to individual and situation to situation. That’s why communicating them when you start spending time with someone new can help you get on the same page from the start.

It’s also worth noting that research has suggested a correlation between having boundaries and having a healthy level of self-esteem. Self-esteem can be an important component of mental health overall, and it may also empower you to make healthy choices in the dating world. Working on setting boundaries may help increase your self-esteem over time, and increasing your self-esteem may make it easier to set boundaries as well.

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Tips for setting healthy boundaries when dating

Forming connections with others usually involves some form of vulnerability, and this is especially true when it comes to dating. If you’re pursuing emotional and/or sexual intimacy with someone, you’ll be saying something personal with them. To increase the chances of a safe and enjoyable experience, it can be useful to set boundaries so the other person knows what you are and are not comfortable with. If you’re not sure where to start or are looking to improve your skills in this area, the tips below might help.

Identify your boundaries on your own beforehand

It’s impossible to identify with personal boundaries ahead of time for every potential situation that might arise in dating. That said, spending some time on your own beforehand to consider general boundaries for situations that will likely arise in a dating context could be helpful. Taking time to yourself to think or journal about what your values are and where you stand regarding certain common dating situations could help take some of the pressure off. That way, you may be able to go into these scenarios feeling a bit more prepared and confident. 

To get you started, you might think about what your ideal limits are concerning things like:

  • Where you feel comfortable meeting with your date/partner 

  • How frequently you’ll spend time with them

  • Any conversation topics that are off-limits for you

  • How and how much you’d like to communicate with them when you’re not physically together

  • What level of physical intimacy you’re open to with them and at what point, if any

  • Safety precautions you’ll want to take if there is sexual intimacy

  • When you’ll feel comfortable taking steps to progress the relationship—like meeting family and friends or using labels—if at all

Improve your communication skills

The strongest, healthiest boundaries won’t do much good if the other person doesn’t know about or understand them. That’s why learning to communicate your boundaries appropriately is another key component of setting and enforcing them. Ideally, you should be able to express your personal limits clearly, respectfully, and directly. Improving your communication skills by employing various techniques and practicing regularly can help.

For example, using “I statements” where you focus on your feelings and needs instead of on what the other person has done or might do can reduce tension and allow for more productive, collaborative conversations. Being specific and firm (“I can only stay for an hour”) rather than vague (“I don’t know how long I can stay…”) about your limits can help ensure the other person understands what you need. Practicing active listening when they tell their own needs or concerns can also be helpful in getting the two of you on the same page.

Practice 

Advocating for yourself can be considered a skill that may be improved with practice, like any other. Incorporating opportunities to speak up for your needs in a variety of situations in your daily life can help you build your skills, boost your confidence, and be better prepared to advocate for yourself in the dating world and beyond. It’s all the same skill, whether you’re telling a colleague you don’t have time to help with their extra project or requesting that your parents call before stopping by your apartment. In other words, looking out for chances to practice setting and enforcing boundaries in your day-to-day life can help you be better equipped to do so in the dating world. 

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Maintain your friendships

Another important strategy to have in your toolkit when you start dating is a close friendship or two. Dating can be a whirlwind of emotions and excitement, and it can be easy to get swept away by these. As a result, you might find yourself neglecting to speak up for your boundaries because you don’t want to make waves or because they don’t seem important right now. It’s one of many situations when having close friends can be important.

If you’re regularly speaking to your friends about how your dating life is going, they can help you spot any areas where you may need to set, reset, or reinforce certain boundaries that you may not see right away due to being overcome with exciting emotions. Staying in touch with friends even when in the throes of an exciting new relationship can help you remember your boundaries, stay realistic, and even potentially avoid harmful situations. 

Look out for red flags

Dating is the process of getting to know someone and continually evaluating whether they seem to be a safe person and a good match for you. That’s why it’s usually wise to keep your eyes and ears open for potential red flags that could alert you that this person is not the right fit or even unsafe for you. Possible red flags in a person you’re dating related to boundaries could include:

  • They get angry when you set or enforce a boundary

  • They repeatedly violate your boundaries 

  • They try to talk you out of your boundaries or exhibit other controlling behaviors

  • You’re afraid to communicate openly with them

  • They make you question yourself, your needs, or your intuition

  • You leave interactions with them feeling sad, uncomfortable, unheard, or violated

Red flags related to boundaries in a dating relationship can indicate that a person simply isn’t the right fit for you. In more serious cases, they could indicate that this individual may be likely to engage or is already engaging in some form of abuse. That’s why maintaining friendships, as suggested above, and getting familiar with the warning signs of abuse can help you defend yourself in the dating world.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.

How therapy can help

Setting and maintaining boundaries in dating and relationships can be difficult. If you believe you could benefit from support in this area, therapy is another resource that may help. A trained therapist can support you in getting to know yourself, understanding your limits, building confidence and communication skills, and learning to effectively set and enforce boundaries. In addition, they may be able to help you understand and consider a partner's boundaries so your relationship can be healthy and collaborative for all parties. 

Not everyone is able to attend or feels comfortable with in-person therapy sessions, which is where online therapy can represent a useful alternative. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist with whom you can meet via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. Research suggests that online therapy can be a viable, effective alternative to in-person sessions in many cases, so you can typically choose whichever format feels right for you. If you’re interested in trying BetterHelp, you can see below for counselor reviews from people who have reached out for help with similar concerns.

Counselor reviews

"Kristina's been so wonderful in helping me learn how to set proper boundaries, dealing with anxiety, family related issues, and build up self-validation. She's extremely personable and I feel listened to and built up after our sessions. She's very easy to talk to and I get the impression that she truly cares.”

"I've really enjoyed working with Kimberly. She has helped me with a lot of varied issues. She is honest yet compassionate and helps me to understand other perspectives. She has been particularly helpful in working with me on learning how to set good boundaries in my personal and professional life. I highly recommend her!”

Takeaway

Being able to define, communicate, and enforce healthy, reasonable boundaries can be important when dating, as they can allow you to build comfortable, collaborative relationships with others. The tips outlined here can help you get started in learning to set boundaries in your dating life. Meeting with a licensed therapist may also be helpful.



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