How To Create Healthy Boundaries When You Start Dating Someone New
When you first start seeing someone new, the thought of setting healthy relationship boundaries might slip your mind. It’s easy to get caught up in all the butterflies when your date walks in and seems to be every bit as cute and charming as you hoped they’d be, but setting clear boundaries from the beginning is a great dating habit to have. Talking about what you want and need and figuring out where you stand helps set you up for success with a person you might want to enter into a relationship with. And at the very least, it helps you weed out people who aren’t as compatible with you.
Good relationships cannot happen without healthy boundaries, and setting them should happen sooner rather than later. Why? Because in new relationships, we often get so excited by the potential of what could be that we forget to look at what is in front of our faces — and that can lead to dismissing red flags.
Keep in mind that emotional needs and availability will vary from relationship to relationship. The amount of time you want to invest in the relationship and the commitment and intensity level you seek are different for different people. But no matter what, setting the boundaries that work for you and your budding partnership starts with determining how you tend to attach. “Healthy boundaries depend on knowing yourself,” says Nicole Prause, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and founder of the research lab Liberos. “The most useful thing to know for dating might be if you tend to attach too quickly or strongly or have difficulty attaching to someone.”
Figuring out your attachment style can help you determine the best way to approach a new relationship, because it reveals whether you should try to be more open, reserved, or balanced — and could make the difference between dating success and failure. Here’s how to get clear on how you want this relationship evolve, and set the boundaries that will help you get there.
“The first few dates can set the foundation for your reading your potential partner accurately,” psychotherapist, author, and relationships specialist LeslieBeth Wish tells Elite Daily. “But you need to be sure to use the best building blocks. The goals of your first few dates are to test your initial intuitive assessments about this new person. And the smartest way to do that is to ask effective questions and to set clear boundaries.”
So, what kind of boundaries should you be setting from the beginning of a budding new relationship? From communication to intimacy, here are some 9 things you might consider discussing from the first date.
1. Clarify your communication style.
Like knowing your attachment style, understanding and sharing your communication style can set a clear, positive tone for this new relationship. “It’s good to set expectations [like]: ‘I’m direct’ or ‘I tend to go with the flow,’says Jenn Kennedy, LMFT.
Having clear boundaries means being able to communicate them to a partner. If you don’t like PDA, whether it be hand-holding or kissing in public, articulate that. Pulling your hand away and then wondering why their feelings were hurt is not going to work for anyone. In fact, you’ll probably wind up dealing with a lot of unwanted drama.
Ask your partner to share their communication style with you, as well. Although how you communicate with someone depends on that person and is subject to change, strive to “understand what each other needs and be willing to get closer to that style,” Kennedy says. Only when you truly hear each other can you set and stick to the boundaries that make sense for you.
2. Share Your Personal Space Requirements
Personal space encompasses a lot of things, so make sure you really think about your needs. How much time do you need to yourself? How private do you prefer to be? (Would you share your phone password with a partner?) Ask yourself questions like this so that, when you find yourself on a date that’s going well with someone you want to keep seeing, you can talk about what’s important to you.
“Individuals should address their space requirements immediately in the beginning of the relationship so that it is clear,” White says.
This is another thing that will likely change over time, as more and more things come up over the course of a relationship. On the first date, it might just be a discussion of how much time you like to spend with a partner, for example. In a serious relationship that’s moving toward living together or getting married, on the other hand, you’ll definitely want to talk boundaries in terms of finances.
3. Consider the amount of time you want to spend together.
It can be easy to fall into a cycle of spending every single second with someone when you first start seeing each other. As world-renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher writes in her book, “The Anatomy of Love,” you get that rush of new relationship energy or, biologically speaking, a hit of dopamine and serotonin that rushes to the brain.
But, it might be best to dial it back — at least a little. “Limit the amount of time you spend together so you can have time to notice how you are feeling in the relationship,” Kennedy says. We’re not suggesting you be evasive with the person you’re seeing. But be clear that a boundary for you is spending X amount of time together and having X amount of time to do your own thing.
You want to avoid relationship burnout, wherein you get sick of each other before you get a chance to see where things could go. Plus, staying true to your individual identity outside of this new romance will help you remain clear headed when your brain gets a bit hazy with natural love hormones.
4. Get On The Same Page About Future Dates
You can tell a lot about how you’re really going to click with someone by trying to make plans for future dates. You want to be on the same page in terms of what sorts of things you’re interested in and what activities suit both of your lifestyles. Wish suggests talking about what kinds of dates you both like going on and setting boundaries that way — with an emphasis on making your dates “resemble real life.”
“Most of healthy, long-term relationships spend their time doing ordinary things!” Wish says. “Take charge to set a boundary for how you would like your next few dates to be. Go for walks, attend free local events, meet at your favorite breakfast or lunch spot. And, yes, even add a few errands.”
This will help set the course for how your (potential!) relationship goes, and as a bonus, will help you get to know your date better.
5. Set text-pectations.
We spend too much time playing the game of being the “least” invested, and all it does is give a false sense of power in a relationship. In the opposite vein, when we really like someone, we can wind up texting them nonstop.
There is no right or wrong — just what is right for the two of you.
To avoid either extreme, set a boundary with your partner that highlights your texting expectations. Pam Shaffer, LMFT, suggests asking your partner what their texting style is — are they a once-a-day person, an all-day-every-day person, or a once-every-few-days person? — so that you both know what is natural. If you want to message every day, tell them that daily communication is important to you. If you’re generally not going to text when in class or at work, let them know. There is no right or wrong — just what is right for the two of you.
6. Be Clear About Commitment And What You Want
White also points out that it’s important to address commitment head-on.
“[Both people] should be clear about what their expectations are in a relationship as far as commitment is concerned,” White says.
If, for example, you’re looking for a serious, monogamous relationship, but the person you’re on a date with is looking for something more casual or open, it doesn’t really matter how much chemistry you have — it’s just not going to work out. This is definitely something you want to be up front with about from the beginning, so that neither person gets hurt or feels like they’ve wasted their time.
7. Decide when to meet each other’s friends.
If you’re a person who feels they have some difficulties with feelings of attachment, it might be best to introduce your new boo to your friends sooner rather than later. “[Your] friends could provide safety signals (or not) that could support feeling more connected to this person emotionally,” Prause says. If you’re working to be more emotionally available to potential romantic partners, try bringing in your friends after the third or fourth date. You likely need to feel safe to let people in, and your friends can give you reassurance you need.
If you’re someone who attaches super quickly, hold off on friend introductions for seven to 10 dates. Because your friends are used to your relationship deep dives, they may feel pressured to give the green light, even if there are red flags present, Prause warns.
8. Figure out the kind of relationship you’re looking for.
There is nothing wrong with wanting something casual, serious, or nonmonogamous, but you do need to 1. take the time to determine what you’re seeking and 2. communicate those desires to someone you’re dating. No one wants to waste their time on something that doesn’t line up. “If they can’t respect your feelings now on the matter, they’re either not suited for you at this moment in time or can’t respect boundaries to begin with,” says sex therapist Angela Watson. “Let them move on and find what they’re looking for if they discover you can’t fit into that position.”
If — good news — you are after the same kind of thing, don’t consider this a one-and-done conversation. Touch base as you go along. “Let them know that you like to check in every so often just to make sure you’re on the same page about your feelings as they naturally evolve over time.”
9. Know Where You Stand On Physical Intimacy
And last but not least, if physical intimacy comes up on the first date, it’s best to address it before anything happens. If, for example, you don’t like to kiss on the first date, mentioning it before it happens ensures that you both feel more comfortable. Or, if you can’t tell if your date is OK with a first date kiss or even something like holding hands, the best thing you can do is just ask! “Can I kiss you?” is both a great way to get consent and an opportunity to start a conversation about how you both want to move forward.
It’s OK to be intimate or even have sex on the first date (though Wish does suggest setting a “sex-pectation boundary”) so long as you both are into it. White brought up an important reminder, which is that “no one should feel entitled to having sex” when dating new people. (And really, that goes for every scenario!)
The important thing to remember in any dating situation is that you want to make sure you and the other person are on the same page. Whether it’s when you want to text each other or if and when you want to take things to a more physical level, it’s all about communication. Setting healthy boundaries from the beginning can only help.
In this crazy, confused, often frustrating dating world, having boundaries doesn’t make you too intense or too picky. It makes you a mature person who knows who they are, what they’re after, and is smart and mature enough to share that information with a potential partner. Don’t throw away your ideals just because they don’t jive with someone else’s — because at some point, with some person, they will.
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