Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam

Why setting boundaries is so important in a relationship, and how you and your partner can respect each other’s limits while being yourselves

  • Everyone needs boundaries, from children to friends and lovers. In romantic relationships, they allow both partners to feel secure and respected
  • Relationship coach Sonia Samtani offers tips on establishing and following boundaries to strengthen your bond

Setting boundaries is absolutely vital in any kind of relationship, be it with your partner, colleagues, friends or family. Clear boundaries help people respect each other’s expectations and limitations.

More importantly, couples who employ clear boundaries can protect each other’s “energy”. This is the physical and emotional space that guides each partner to respect the other person’s needs as well as their own.

Each partner is entitled to preserve their sense of self so they can clearly define the “me” and “we” in the partnership.

Sonia Samtani, a clinical hypnotherapist, life coach, and relationship and wellness coach, explains how boundaries are so important in a romantic relationship.

Sonia Samtani is a clinical hypnotherapist, life coach, and relationship and wellness coach.

“People are often uncomfortable with boundaries because they fear offending the other person. On the contrary, setting boundaries can be done with kindness, and it can be a loving act of service towards ourselves.

“It means we are presenting a version of ourselves that is loving, honest and authentic to our partner, and is a great platform for a healthy relationship.”

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Samtani explains that the courage to set boundaries indicates a healthy self-esteem. “If you are aware of your limitations and know how to express them, it’s a sign that you respect yourself and can naturally expect the same from others.”

She expounds on this point of maintaining one’s self-esteem. “Expressing our boundaries means we are not suppressing our true feelings. This means you can maintain your individuality and sense of self, without feeling like you are ‘losing’ yourself to anyone else.”

Furthermore, Samtani says boundaries acknowledge that we are not responsible for “making” anyone else happy.

Express your boundaries with compassion and firmness, but acknowledge your partner may feel differently. Photo: Shutterstock

Setting boundaries is great in theory, but they can be difficult to establish. Samtani offers advice on how and where to start.

“A great start is to create a written inventory of the following: your values; how you would like to spend your time; the people you enjoy spending time with; the kind of conversations you would like to engage in; the kind of language that works for you; and behaviour that makes you feel respected and disrespected.

“Become aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable for you. Ensure your boundaries are entirely your own, and not created out of obligation to anyone else.”

In a healthy relationship, both parties need to feel safe to share without feeling judged
Sonia Samtani, clinical hypnotherapist, life coach, and relationship and wellness coach

She continues: “A good question to ask yourself is ‘If you were not scared of upsetting anyone, what would you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to’? If you know why something is important to you, it will give you a deeper understanding of what makes you tick.”

She cites an example: “Some people value more ‘me’ time because they need time to recharge, while others opt to spend time with others to achieve the same end. Once you are clear around your boundaries, the next step is expressing it to others in a way that honours you and is kind to your partner.”

On how to enforce boundaries without hurting the other person, especially if your partner is not responsive, Samtani offers the following strategies.

Honestly sharing your boundaries with your partner should strengthen your relationship. Photo: Shutterstock

“The harsh truth is that you cannot guarantee that you won’t hurt another person, no matter what you do.

“Remind yourself that all reality is subjective and co-created. Then, commit to do whatever you can to be loving to yourself and your partner, while accepting that they will interpret it through their lens, which may or may not be aligned with your own … at least for the time being.

“To enforce a boundary, you have to be assertive. This means knowing where you stand and expressing it with compassion and firmness. A great way to enforce boundaries is to be explicit and say no, or my boundary is …”

The courage to set boundaries indicates a healthy self-esteem, says Samtani. Photo: Shutterstock

“Then explain why you feel that way so that they get where you are coming from and acknowledge that you understand they may feel different.

“Next, create a future scenario with them that presupposes that your boundary is accepted, and still shows a sense of togetherness for the two of you.

“Finally, once you express your boundaries, be willing to engage in a conversation and listen to your partner. Show you are open to understanding the impact on them, but don’t compromise on your own innate needs.”

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“If you actively listen to them, you can ask for the same. Remember, there is a difference between understanding and agreeing.”

Samtani says if the other person is not responsive, it means they either don’t understand or are holding back.

“In a healthy relationship, both parties need to feel safe to share without feeling judged. If they are not responding in the moment, find another time when you know they are relaxed and present. Actively check with your partner how they feel about your boundary and be willing to accept their perspective,” she says.

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts video tutorials on Cantonese language that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme