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  • Writer's pictureAmaia Oiz

Deciphering the Dance: Navigating Healthy Boundaries, Relationship Foundations, & Rigid Rules

Relationships are the intricate threads that weave the fabric of our lives. Whether they are with family, friends, partners, or colleagues, relationships play an important role in crafting our emotional well-being and overall happiness. As a psychotherapist, I understand that exploring the nuances of relationships can be both enlightening and transformative. In this blog, we delve into a fundamental aspect of relationships: the interplay between boundaries and rules. Beyond mere concepts, these elements profoundly influence the quality of our connections.

Understanding Boundaries: The Art of Self-Preservation

Imagine a garden enclosed by a white picket fence. Each fence post represents a boundary—a line that separates and defines one area from another. In relationships, boundaries serve a similar purpose. They delineate where one person's identity ends and another's begins. Think of them as the self-preserving walls that protect our emotional and psychological well-being.

Boundaries come in different forms, often categorized as physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and energetic boundaries. Let's paint a vivid picture of each:

  1. Physical Boundaries: These are like the fences around our garden, determining the physical space we want to keep for ourselves. Consider a scenario where you've had a long, exhausting day and all you crave is some alone time. Communicating your need for solitude to your partner is setting a healthy physical boundary.

  2. Emotional Boundaries: Think of emotional boundaries as the gates that allow emotions to flow in and out at a comfortable pace. For instance, sharing your vulnerability with a close friend but feeling discomfort when they invalidate your experience by trying to fix you, is an illustration of where an emotional boundary may be set. "I am really looking for support right now instead of advise."

  3. Mental Boundaries: Just as a garden needs protection from invasive weeds, our minds require safeguarding from unwelcome influences. When you choose not to engage in a heated political debate with a colleague at work, you're establishing a mental boundary.

  4. Spiritual Boundaries: These boundaries reflect your beliefs, values, and ethics. If attending a spiritual activity is important to you, asserting your need to prioritize this event over other commitments demonstrates your commitment to your spiritual boundary.

  5. Energetic Boundaries: Like a garden that flourishes when the sun is shinning and there is enough rain, our energy levels are an important part of our lives we need to protect. Choosing to say in when your energy is low instead of forcing yourself to attend an event just because you said you would.

The Role of Rules: Constructing the Foundation

While boundaries act as protective barriers, rules lay the foundation upon which relationships are built. Imagine a bridge connecting two pieces of land. Each support beam represents a rule that ensures the stability and safe passage over the bridge. Rules provide structure and predictability to relationships, enhancing their quality and longevity.

  1. Communication Rules: Effective communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Establishing rules such as "We will have a weekly check-in to discuss any concerns" fosters open dialogue and prevents misunderstandings from festering.

  2. Respect Rules: Mutual respect is non-negotiable. Rules that dictate respectful behavior, like "We will avoid name-calling even in the heat of an argument," create an environment of dignity and understanding.

  3. Time Management Rules: Time is a valuable resource. Setting rules like "We will prioritize quality time together on weekends" ensures that the relationship remains a priority amidst life's demands.

  4. Conflict Resolution Rules: Conflicts are inevitable, but how we navigate them defines the health of a relationship. Rules such as "We will take a break and revisit the conversation when we're both calmer" can prevent escalating disagreements.

The Pitfalls of Control: When Rules Become Rigid

However, while rules can provide structure, they can also become a double-edged sword if they are rigid and meant to control others. Some rules may unintentionally transform into attempts to manipulate or dominate the other person. Such rules tend to create more difficulties in relationships rather than fostering harmony.

For instance, consider a scenario where a partner sets a rule that their significant other must report their every move and activity throughout the day. This controlling behavior may stem from insecurity, but it ultimately erodes trust and autonomy within the relationship. This isn't a boundary; it's an attempt to control the other person's actions and choices. It also sets them up for failure and increased distrust.

Differentiating Between Boundaries and Control

It's crucial to distinguish between boundaries and controlling rules. Boundaries are about maintaining your own well-being and expressing your needs, while controlling rules are about imposing your will on someone else. Healthy boundaries respect both individuals' autonomy and foster a sense of equality. Control, on the other hand, erodes trust, fosters resentment, and undermines the core values of a healthy relationship.

Maintaining Autonomy: Navigating Controlling Rules

If you find yourself facing controlling rules from a partner, it's important to address the situation while maintaining your autonomy and sense of self. Here are a few approaches you might consider:

  1. Open Communication: Express your feelings in a non-confrontational way. For instance, you might say, "I value our relationship, and I also believe it's important for both of us to have our own space and activities. Can we find a way to balance our time together and our individual interests?"

  2. Share Your Perspective: Let your partner know how their rule is impacting you. Say something like, "I understand your concern, and constantly reporting my whereabouts makes me feel like I'm not trusted. Can we work together to find a solution that respects both our needs?"

  3. Set Healthy Boundaries: Emphasize the importance of mutual respect and personal boundaries. Say, "I believe that healthy relationships are built on trust and understanding. Let's discuss boundaries that respect each other's autonomy."

  4. Propose Compromise: Suggest alternatives that acknowledge your partner's concerns without compromising your autonomy. For example, "I understand that you want to stay connected, so how about we check in with each other a couple of times during the day?"


Boundaries and rules are the invisible architects of the intricate structures we call relationships. Like a symphony, their harmonious interplay creates a beautiful melody of connection, trust, and growth. As you embark on your journey of cultivating meaningful relationships, remember that understanding the delicate dance between boundaries and rules can be transformative. Whether it's the fence around the garden or the beams supporting the bridge, these elements shape the landscapes of our connections, enriching our lives in ways beyond measure. Always strive to set boundaries that empower both yourself and your loved ones, and be cautious of rules that might unintentionally control rather than nurture. By fostering open communication and mutual respect, you can navigate the complex landscape of relationships while maintaining your autonomy and identity.

If you are wanting guidance on how to set boundaries or improve communication with your partner call to set an appointment today.


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