The Boundaries That Protect Healthy Intimacy

Lissa Rankin, MD
3 min readNov 3, 2023

I’m reading a great book about boundaries, Anne Katherine’s Where To Draw The Line , with my partner Jeff. The whole book is great, but I just wanted to share with you all some of the Cliff Notes of what I really appreciated, which is a check list of helpful “Do’s” and “Don’ts” from the chapter about boundaries that protect intimacy.

People with severe boundary wounding may read a list like this and think, “Yeah, nice. But nobody has ever treated me with that kind of respect. Why should I do that for someone else?” Because if you want a truly intimate relationship, it takes effort. And it takes care and empathy. It takes treating someone like they matter, like they deserve respect and being treated with dignity. If you breach these kinds of boundaries, intimacy erodes, and then all the good things about having a trusting relationship with someone you’re really close with start to fall apart.

We’re printing out this list to put on our refrigerator, and just in case it helps you all, we thought we’d share Anne Katherine’s very good advice.

Intimacy Skills

  • Notice when others extend themselves for you
  • Appreciate gifts of time, effort, money, energy, attention, and thoughtfulness
  • Take responsibility for communicating your needs
  • State your needs directly
  • Be honest about your feelings
  • Acknowledge your true, current position in the relationship, even though it may be hard for the other person to hear
  • Connect any shift towards separation with the events that caused it
  • Say what will restore you and make you available again for intimacy
  • Respect limits set by the other person
  • Respect reasonable requests
  • Confront the other person when something they do (or fail to do) is beginning to have negative impact on your relationship
  • When the other person’s action (or failure to act) feels disrespectful, thoughtless, or uncomfortable, say so

Boundaries That Promote Intimacy

  • Express issues in a timely fashion
  • Speak as honestly as possible
  • Express your feelings in a healthy way
  • Make time for communication
  • Appreciate the other person’s special efforts on your behalf
  • Soak up the other person’s expressions of love. For example, pause a moment when someone says “I love you.” Deliberately receive the meaning behind the words before responding.
  • Make regular times to enjoy leisure together
  • Share physical closeness that doesn’t always lead to sex
  • Chat about the thoughts and events of your day. Give the other person a picture of the part of your day you spent separately. Listen fully as your partner does the same for you.
  • Maintain sexual fidelity (Lissa’s caveat: assuming you’re monogamous or abiding by agreed upon terms if you’re practicing ethical non-monogamy)
  • When you realize you are heading towards an unexpected change, talk about it with your partner
  • Make important decisions together. Negotiate as necessary
  • Make amends when your partner has suffered negative consequences as a result of something you’ve done
  • When your partner does something that improves your life, respond with something that gives them joy

Violations of Intimacy Boundaries

  • Refusing to discuss important matters
  • Making a decision that affects the other person’s life without discussing it with them
  • Staying physically separate
  • Gratifying yourself sexually without consideration of the other’s sexual needs or limits
  • Sexual infidelity
  • Treating the other person coldly or angrily rather than handling conflict directly
  • Refusing to acknowledge how you may have hurt the other person
  • Not making amends for your mistakes

Boundaries are never as simple as a list of rules, but it can at least help spark conversations with the people you’re trying to be intimate with- or with your therapist. I hope this helps and I recommend reading Anne Katherine’s whole books.

If you’re interested in my own take on boundaries, I’m releasing an unpublished manuscript I wrote about IFS-informed boundaries called The Boundaries Handbook for my paid subscribers on Substack. You can help support my unpaid writing and read more boundaries content here for as little as $5/month. Thank you so much for caring about what I’m writing!

Originally published at https://lissarankin.com.

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Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling.