9 boundaries a man should never cross in a relationship, according to psychology

Ryan Frawley by Ryan Frawley | March 7, 2024, 8:23 pm

Sooner or later in life, you learn the sad truth that love has its limits.

We all like to think that love conquers all, and that if two people love each other enough, they will always find a way to make their relationship work.

But almost every divorce and broken relationship started out with two people who thought they were meant to be together.

That’s because a healthy relationship needs to have boundaries.

No matter how much you love someone, you can’t give yourself to them completely. And when healthy boundaries are maintained, there’s always the possibility of violating those boundaries and destroying your relationship.

There are some boundaries that should never be crossed in a relationship, and psychology tells us that when those boundaries are crossed, the relationship rarely survives.

As a man, here are some boundaries you should never cross.

1) Physical boundaries

This should go without saying. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t. So let’s start by talking about physical boundaries.

Everybody has the right to their own bodily autonomy, and they have the right to set boundaries to how other people touch them physically. I’m not just talking about sex, although that’s definitely part of it. I’m also talking about respecting personal space.

Now, of course, both men and women can be guilty of violating this. However, because men are on average larger and stronger than women, the consequences when they fail to respect a woman’s physical boundaries can be more serious.

No man has the right to physically control his partner. That includes things like grabbing and shaking them just as much as it includes hitting. No healthy relationship can be built on a foundation that doesn’t include respect for each other’s physical boundaries.

2) Emotional boundaries

Just as there are lines in the sand when it comes to physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, too, can make or break a relationship.

Because when those boundaries are crossed, you open the door to emotional abuse. And that’s every bit as serious and damaging as physical abuse is.

“Emotional abuse involves controlling another person by using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate them,” says author, coach, and bullying prevention expert Sherri Gordon.

“Emotionally abused people are often too wounded to endure the relationship any longer, but also too afraid to leave. So, the cycle repeats itself until something is done.”

Emotional abuse can include things like:

  •       Constant criticism;
  •       Lying;
  •       Gaslighting;
  •       Name-calling;
  •       Emotional blackmail.

Ultimately, as with physical abuse, emotional abuse comes down to an attempt to control the other person. And that’s a boundary no man should cross, no matter what kind of relationship he’s in.

3) Privacy boundaries 

Hopefully, most reasonable people know that physical and emotional abuse are completely unacceptable in a relationship. But those same people may not consider that there are boundaries around privacy, too, that should not be crossed.

Getting into a relationship with someone else involves losing some of your privacy. That’s especially true if you move in together and start a family together.

At the same time, no matter how entangled your lives become, you’re still individual people with a right to privacy and your own lives.

“Greater emotional closeness and openness imply lesser privacy, and greater privacy implies a decrease in emotional closeness and openness,” writes psychology professor Aaron Ben-Zeév.

“However, the closer we are to a certain person, the more stakes we have in the relationship, and intimate information is potentially more harmful to us; hence, we wish to expand our privacy zone,” he adds.

In other words, it’s a question of balance.

Every relationship will navigate that balance differently. What matters is that you respect the boundaries you have established with your partner around privacy.

4) Communication boundaries

Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. And how you communicate has a major impact on how fulfilled you will be in your relationships with other people.

Communication boundaries establish the rules of engagement. They allow you to let each other know how you will and won’t accept being spoken to.

Common communication boundaries include things like:

  •       Not yelling at the other person;
  •       Not calling them names;
  •       Not lying to them;
  •       Not shifting the topic of an argument because you’re emotional about something.

“Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but how couples communicate during a conflict goes a long way toward determining whether the problem will be resolved—or if it will continue to fester and corrode the relationship,” writes psychology professor David Ludden.

Establishing and respecting solid communication boundaries allows you to navigate the inevitable conflict that will happen in any relationship so that you can come out stronger on the other side.

5) Time boundaries

You may not have thought before about boundaries around time. But these, too, can be the making or breaking of a relationship.

You need to respect each other’s time. That means you don’t demand that the other person drop everything they’re doing to attend to your needs. And you don’t get mad if they sometimes want to spend time to themselves without you.

In fact, one of the most common complaints women in relationships have about men is that they don’t respect their partner’s time. Women often shoulder the bulk of the childcare and housework, even when both partners work outside the home.

Understandably, this can make a woman resentful, causing her to feel like she is being unappreciated and that her efforts are taken for granted.

One way to avoid that is to respect her time. Make sure you do your share of the work it takes to run a house and raise a family, and allow her to spend some time doing the things that matter to her – with or without you.

6) Financial boundaries

Money is one of the major causes of relationship failure. That’s why it’s so important to establish financial boundaries and, once they are established, to respect them.

Every couple handles their finances a little differently. But the important thing to pay attention to is that no one is using money as a way to control the other partner.

Whether you share things 50-50 or not, it’s crucial to make sure you both feel that your money is being spent in a way that you agree with, and that no one is controlling anyone else.

7) Sexual boundaries

We looked at this a little when we were talking about physical boundaries. But sexual boundaries are so important to relationships that they deserve their own entry.

Again, this is particularly important for men, since being bigger and stronger than female partners on average makes it absolutely essential to understand consent.

No sexual activity should ever happen without consent, whether in a relationship or outside of it.

And all sexual activity between partners should be agreed upon by both.

Obviously, most men know better than to force themselves on their partner. But there are other ways that consent can be violated that you may not have thought of.

For instance, sulking or guilt-tripping your partner into doing something they don’t want to do is a way of not respecting somebody’s sexual boundaries.

Neuroscientist and philosopher Berit Brogaard points out that, “agreeing to have sex does not count as consenting to an entire sexual encounter for three reasons.”

She goes on to argue:

  •       Consent can be withdrawn at any time;
  •       People can be threatened or coerced into involuntarily giving consent;
  •       Not all people are in a position to understand what they are consenting to.

That’s why it’s absolutely key for any man to respect his partner’s sexual boundaries. Violate those, and a damaged relationship may be the least of your worries.

8) Intellectual boundaries

Intellectual boundaries are something you may not have thought of. But you violate them at your peril.

People in a relationship do not become the same person, and so it’s entirely possible that you will have different ideas and beliefs. In fact, it would be boring if you didn’t.

A good intellectual boundary to respect is that you don’t mock the other person’s beliefs, even if you don’t agree with them.

You don’t have to agree. But you do have to respect their opinions without dismissing or undermining them.

9) Digital boundaries

Finally, the world we live in has brought a whole new horizon of boundaries into relationships thanks to technology.

Digital boundaries mean your boundaries around technology and its use of it.

It could be something like not using phones or other devices at the dinner table. It could be something like not expecting an immediate answer to a text from your significant other.

Like many of the boundaries on this list, this is one that every couple will have to work out for themselves. But just like the other boundaries on this list, it’s important to respect these rules so that your partner feels valued and respected in your relationship.

So many rules!

It’s important to remember that boundaries aren’t rules so much as they are guidelines for the kind of behavior you will accept from other people.

Respecting your partner’s boundaries is essential to respecting them. And that’s the kind of respect healthy relationships are built on.