Help Dr. Liz share Great Sex with the world. Get insider perks. All in one place.
give now (opens in new tab)

What is the difference between boundaries and non-negotiables in relationships?

Nov 14, 2023

How do I recognize and address boundaries versus non-negotiables within my relationships?

So I think I would ask you what you mean by non-negotiables because to me, boundaries are by definition non-negotiable things. So I don’t know what it is that you’re asking here.

Non-negotiables maybe phrased in a positive fashion more often of like you must be open to being wrong sometimes.

You must treat me with respect.

But those can also be boundaries in terms of like if you cannot treat me with respect, I may have to remove myself from the situation.

I may be unable to continue the conversation.

We may have to take a break.

The way that I think about boundaries is the image I would use, imagine that you are – you have a house and it has a large lawn in front of it and then there is a sheer drop-off cliff, right?

So you have a space between where the front door of the house is and were the cliff drops off and our boundary is where we put the fence between that house and that cliff, right?

If we don’t any fence and we just keep walking all the way to the cliff, we are going to fall off, get hurt, nothing good is going to happen there.

So having no boundaries, not helpful.

And our boundaries are likely to shift given the conditions.

If it’s like a sunny day, no wind, nothing at all, your fence might be a lot closer to the edge of that cliff than if it’s like super icy, strong winds, blizzard conditions, you can barely see anything.

Then you might want that fence closer to your house, right?

Your house is the place of complete safety, comfort, and security.

It is the situations the conditions in which you feel a hundred percent okay, everything is great, no concerns at all.

The cliff is definitely not being okay, definitely being harmed, right?

So when we think about the boundary as like we are within that squishy zone between complete safety and actual complete danger.

We need to start setting a line.

A lot of factors are going to influence that.

For instance, if I don’t know someone very well, I’m likely to have boundaries for them a little bit earlier than someone with whom I have more trust and experience because if I don’t know you well, I need to have more space to deal with something before it gets to that harm point than if I know you and know that I can trust you in a lot of ways.

Likewise, if you are someone who has pushed my boundaries before, if you’re someone who has done something to damage our trust, my boundaries are going to be way, way, way closer to that zone of complete safety because again, I need a lot of zone for myself to like cushion if you start pushing it or trying to go past it.

Non-negotiables in a relationship are the things that you must have or that must be absent depending on which way you are thinking about it, in order for this relationship to be something you are willing to be willing in.

And so for me, I don’t know that there is a huge difference between boundaries and non-negotiables.

I think it depends on how you think about these terms.

Like for instance, for me, non-negotiables in a relationship might be our experience of doing polyamory, have done therapy and/or know when you need therapy so that you will not pull me into being your therapist, are kinky at least somewhat because I don’t do we well in totally being in relationships.

My boundaries as related to those might be I am not okay being in relationship with someone who does not know how to do polyamory, who is not good at it, who is doing not good polyamory.

That is not something I’m okay being in a relationship with.

A boundary might be I am not okay being your therapist.

So if you try to pull me into that role of being your therapist when we are trying to actually date and do sex things, that’s just not going to work for me.

So I think that like – again, it’s kind of looking at like what we are talking about.

I think boundaries also are about non-negotiables maybe like characteristics of a person or experience that they have, experience levels that they have where boundaries tend to be more interactional, boundaries are about how we use – what is okay to happen with our bodies, our hearts, our time, our mind. It is about how others can interact with us, how we are unwilling to have others interact with us, what we are unwilling to do in our actions for others or towards others.

Those are our boundaries.

They are interactional.

Where non-negotiables may have more of those like is that at least this many years old, has done polyamory at least this long, those things that are more like trait-based or experience-based rather than interactional.

So that maybe one place where you can draw a distinction is like, are you talking about live interactions within the context of this relationship in an on-going way or are you talking about things a person must be or have experience with or like be prepared to do in general when coming into relationship.

But I think that – I mean what I would say here as well is the distinction between them might be interesting, it might be fun to talk about, and why does it matter?

I think that this is one of those things where sometimes we can get into the weeds of like trying to peel apart different terms or different ideas and sometimes that can be helpful, but sometimes it’s not necessarily helpful to us in our day to day, because if I’m talking to someone who either does not have one of my non-negotiables or is crossing one of my boundaries, it doesn’t matter whether I label it a boundary or a non-negotiable because either way, this isn’t a good fit.

Either way, this is something where what’s happening isn’t working for me.

And so, either I can invite that person into changing or we can go ahead and change what kind of relationship we have.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m calling it a boundary or a non-negotiable.

I think also either way what you want to think about is that even with your boundaries, the solution that you get to choose is never forcing the other person to change.

We can invite someone else into a different kind of interacting with us, we can let them know how we prefer to be interacted with, we can let them know how their choices and actions are impacting us, but we cannot force someone else to do something different.

All we can do is remove ourselves.

So thinking again about like if I have a boundary or a non-negotiable, that effectively requires somebody else to do something.

If they don’t want to do it, they get to not do it.

I just have to not be in relationship with them if that’s something that is truly non-negotiable for me.

Sign up now for special content and exciting news delivered to your inbox.



Help Dr. Liz share Great Sex with the world. Get insider perks. All in one place.
big thanks to my sponsors!

Get the Book

Your practical, no BS guide to non-monogamy.
Buy it now
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram