Boundaries Within A Healthy Relationship

Understanding Boundaries

In basketball, a player crosses a boundary and the whistle blows. There is a consequence, but the game goes on and the players work to avoid any more violations. When the referee announces a foul to the scoring table, the sportsmanlike action requires the offender to acknowledge the foul by raising a hand. When you cross a boundary in a relationship, you must acknowledge it, work to change the offending behavior and continue on.   

NASCAR drivers win races by staying within the lines around the track and meeting rules regarding the car.  Musicians in a band play according to a common key, rhythm and tempo. Both acknowledge boundaries set up to govern their behavior.  Boundaries provide the framework for you to become your personal best.

While you may have heard the word boundaries many times, you may not know exactly what it means. Boundaries are invisible walls or limits people set up to help them feel comfortable. When these invisible walls are crossed, people may feel uneasy and threatened.  People feel like they need to defend themselves by pushing the person who crossed the boundary away. Boundaries are formed by having good self-understanding and clear personal values.  An important part of respecting yourself and other people is understanding and honoring these boundaries. 

In relationships, boundaries help each person feel connected as well as comfortable. This connection and comfort helps the relationship grow and sustain itself. Each relationship has its own set of boundaries to be respected. As the relationship matures, boundaries can change, allowing you and your loved one to get closer.

Boundaries: What You Should Know

Since boundaries are invisible walls, you aren't able to know exactly what the person feels comfortable with.

The following are signs of discomfort:

  • Physical contact causes a person to pull away or look uncomfortable.
  • The person tells you that he/she is uncomfortable.
  • When you ask if the person is ok, he/she says, "I guess…"

Talking About Boundaries

As we go through our lives, our boundaries tend to change.  It's typical for young people growing up to want increasing privacy and also to have an expanding personal space bubble: to want your family and other people close to you to support you feeling like your body is absolutely your own, and that it's not touched without invitation or permission.

It's so important that parents are sensitive to all of that, aware of it and are adjusting their own behavior to account for these changes as they happen. Good parenting involves respecting the personal space of children, whatever their age.   If a parent is unsure about crossing boundaries, ask your exchange student about them. Start out the conversation stating that you sense he/she is uncomfortable when you bring up a particular topic or do something and you just want to make sure you aren't being offensive. This will show that you are sensitive and care about how he/she feels.

Boundaries: What you should expect from adults

How can you tell if adults are being respectful? You should be able to answer a confident Yes to the following questions:

β€’ Am I treated with the dignity and value?
β€’ Is this adult exhibiting genuine concern for me?
β€’ Do I believe this adult has and will take precautions in an effort to protect me?
β€’ Does this adult take into consideration my schedule and obligations?
β€’ Does this adult seem emotionally secure? Does he/she hang out with other adults and have good relationships with them?
β€’ Is this adult responsible in making decisions about sharing personal information?

β€’ Does this adult invade my personal space and make me feel uncomfortable at times? 
β€’ Does this adult set clear boundaries in his/her relationship with me?
β€’ Does this adult allow me to set clear boundaries in my relationship with her/him?

No matter your age, you are absolutely entitled to healthy boundaries and to a full ownership of your own body. Every person has the right to their own personal space, the right to basic privacy, the right not to be touched by anyone unless we want to be touched. No matter who it is, if ever someone is not respecting that, we all have the right to call that out, to uphold and insist on our need for personal space and privacy, and the right to outside help if ever anyone is refusing to honor our boundaries. Having our own boundaries and expecting them to be respected is part of how we keep ourselves safe in the world.

(If you are unsure if an adult has crossed appropriate boundaries in a relationship with you, describe the behavior to another trusted adult like your host parent, exchange coordinator, regional coordinator or even the national office.)