“Boundaries are what we use to create agency over our own space physically, spiritually and emotionally,” says Evans. “[They] help us to identify our limits, because the reality is that we all have them even if we don’t give them voice. [T]he point to having boundaries in a relationship is [to be] able to communicate to your partner(s) your demarcation lines.”

Boundaries not only help us create and use self-agency, but, as Earnshaw points out, they’re also crucial when someone has made us uncomfortable or when we cannot do certain things. “[It’s] essentially saying, ‘This is what I am okay with and this is what I am not okay with,’ or ‘This is what I can do for you and this is what I cannot do for you,’” says Earnshaw.

Examples of boundaries, according to Earnshaw, include:

“When you talk to me like that, it hurts my feelings. I can’t stay in a conversation with you if it continues.”

“I need you to help with housework and clean up after yourself. I won’t do that for you.”

“When we have sex, I want you to ask me before you try something new.”

Why are boundaries integral to a healthy functional relationship?

“Boundaries help in creating and communicating clear rules and expectations for how to navigate your relationship,” says Evans. They’re also key for your relationship because not only are they a means to show respect to yourself and to honor the limits of your partner, but, according to Evans, boundaries also help create a connection. “When an individual has agency over communicating their needs, they can also identify what makes them feel unsafe or disconnected.”

According to Earnshaw, people are left to guess what you want when you don’t express what your boundaries are: “When they ask for something or behave in a way we don’t like, they might not ever know that if we don’t have good and clear boundaries.” When you don’t express your needs, you may begin to feel resentment, which can bottle up over time and create even more stress in your relationship.