17. Boundaries and Long Distance Relationships

Boundaries and Relationships
Setting boundaries in a relationship is so beneficial for both you and your partner. Not setting boundaries with each other can lead to resentment, miscommunication and frustration on both sides.

Isabell has been in a relationship for two years and is now going to be navigating that relationship through long distance. Mary helps her talk through the boundaries they already have for their relationship and if they need new ones that could help them work through this new living situation.

Learn more about my Loving Boundaries Group HERE!


Main Episode Takeaways

  • Self-care includes connecting to yourself and to people you love
  • It is not your responsibility to meet your partner’s needs
  • Relationships take consistent nurturing
  • Ideas on how to bring up a boundaries conversation with your partner

Want to learn more about boundaries?

– Boundaries quiz HERE
Take my Boundaries 101 Course
– Do you want to overcome your hurdles of people pleasing? Book a free call with Mary!


Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. I am talking about boundaries with Isabell today around the topic of long distance relationships. Isabell thanks so much for coming. I appreciate you being here. 

Isabell: Yes, thank you Mary. So I’m Isabell, I’m a college student, I’m a junior and I am 20 years old and I’ve been working with Mary since summer of 2022, and I’ve learned a lot and I have been in a long lasting relationship for two years and we’re about to go into long distance relationship in January. And so Mary’s gonna help me out on how to set proper boundaries with my partner. 

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. I’m so excited. Thanks for being here and for working with me and sharing your experience on the podcast. So let’s talk about this relationship. You guys have been together for two years. And you currently live where? Together? Not together? I, 

Isabell: We do not live together. We have been together since we were 18. We met in college. I personally think I need a little more self-development and learning more about myself before we move in together. We went to school together for two years and then he transferred to our hometown Fort Collins to C S U, and I’m going back to Grand Junction, to Colorado Mesa University which is where I started school. So he’ll be here in my hometown but still, you know, five hours away and long distance, so. 

Mary: So you’ve been able to spend this last semester together. And now you’re going back to Grand Junction. Awesome. What kinda boundaries do you have currently in your relationship?

Isabell: To be very communicative and allowing the other person to speak openly. And being able to trust one another. Just communicating a lot as of right now. 

Mary: Okay, so on the okay side, you’ve got communication and trust, right? Okay. What else? 

Isabell: Like going out with friends, as long as the other one is informed. Communicating like, hey maybe not tonight, I’m not feeling up to it. Mm-hmm. And respecting each other’s needs and wants is very important to us, especially we kind of hit a bump in the road last July. And you know, we spoke a lot about, okay, well, do we need to reevaluate where our relationship stands and how to meet each other’s needs? So one of the things was to, you know, communicate to one another like, Hey, I’m not feeling so great today, I think we should reschedule. Which is important to me because I’m a planner and I like knowing things. So that’s been something that we’ve been working on a lot. And identifying when we also need self-care time. Is something that is important and it’s okay for both of us to have. 

Mary: Right. Okay. So what is okay for you guys right now is communication, trust, reevaluating the relationship as needed, and time for self-care? Yeah? Okay. What’s not okay for you guys right now? 

Isabell: To completely shut each other out because, this is both of our first relationship. So there, you know, we went in not really knowing too much. And sometimes we would completely shut each other out, which would cause problems. And then would cause assumptions mainly on my part. And then there was like more lack of trust. I have to trust my partner and I would like him to also trust me. So what’s not okay is lack of communication and shutting each other out. 

Mary: Okay. All right. Anything else?

Isabell: Not being honest and lying. It’s not okay. 

Mary: Okay. All right. So here’s what I’ve got so far in my notes. What is okay? Communication, trust, reassessing the relationship as needed, honesty, time for self-care, time with friends. What’s not okay is shutting each other out, making assumptions, not having trust, not communicating lying or dishonesty. Okay. So when the relationship becomes long distance, what would change? 

Isabell: Well, not seeing each other on a regular basis. You know, we’ve established that we’ll at least see each other once a month and that we at least call each other every night, even if it is for a minute or so, just to say goodnight and catch up a little bit. He and I have spoken about doing virtual dates once a week if we can. He and I do work about 20 hour weeks, so trying to figure that out in our schedule will be very important. So we’ve spoken a little bit about it, but I think we’re waiting a little bit more until we are in that situation to then reevaluate what is needed in the relationship.

Mary: Okay. So in person visits about once a month, virtual dates about once a week, and a daily check-in phone call? So what else would be not ok, as you move into long distance,

Isabell: I think it has to do with like safety, first off. Like what’s not okay is if he were to go out with friends or if I were to go out with friends and we don’t communicate with that to one another. And then I think something happens. And then the other one is like, okay, well what happened? And you know, I think just even if it’s like, Hey, I’m gonna be with my friends tonight, this is where we’re going and like I won’t be able to talk too much tonight because I wanna be present. I just want to know that he’s safe and I bet he wants to know I’m also safe. He and I have established this from day one, but there is no open relationship at all. And what’s not okay is cheating. And we’ve discussed that if there was another person that we were interested in, that we would end it before hurting the other person. So those are a few things that are not okay. 

Mary: Yeah. So what is okay, is staying in an exclusive relationship and/or ending the relationship before another person. And what would be not okay would be what you called cheating or open relationship?

Isabell: Yeah. 

Mary: Yeah. Okay. So if one of you wanted to have that conversation about like, okay, so we’ve been exclusive this whole time and now we’re living apart, how would you start that conversation? 

Isabell: Like on setting boundaries with one another? 

Mary: No, you start the conversation around like, maybe we need to open up our relationship?

Isabell: I personally am not okay with that. That would be a no-go for me unfortunately. So it would either, my partner would have to, you know be monogamous to me or we go our separate ways. 

Mary: Okay, so you’re not willing to be in an open relationship? 

Isabell: Correct. 

Mary: Okay. Awesome. So that’s a really clear boundary. You are willing to be in an exclusive relationship or you are willing to end the relationship if he wants to have an open relationship, but you’re not willing to be in an open relationship. 

Isabell: Yeah. No, I don’t wanna feel like I’m in a competition. I know some people can do it. I just, I’m too emotionally invested and I think I would get jealous that there was something that another person had that I didn’t, that fulfilled that need. 

Mary: Okay, awesome. And have you had clear conversations about that? 

Isabell: Yes, and we are both on the same page. 

Mary: Okay, awesome. So what is gonna be different moving forward other than like your contact with him, anything else? 

Isabell: I think how we spend our time is gonna be very different than how we spend it now, because we see each other maybe every other day. And spend a lot of time together. So, you know, our friends are in Grand Junction where I’m going to start living and where he is in Fort Collins, he doesn’t really have any friends. So, you know, he’ll start developing friendships or going out with his coworkers and trying to spend more time with other people and learning about ourselves. So our time will definitely be spent differently than we are doing now. 

Mary: Okay, well, what questions do we have? What’s missing?

Isabell: I think is how are we going to, you know, allow ourselves to develop into our own self-care and self-love journey? And then also how, where does our relationship fit into that and how to kindly and respectfully split the two during this time?

Mary: Okay. So I see a relationship being part of our self-love journey. I don’t know that it’s like you have to split those journeys. 

Isabell: Well, not like split it, but more of like being able to say hey, I just need time for myself tonight. Or I think we need to reschedule our online or a virtual date or, Hey, I was swamped with homework and I can’t visit this weekend. You know, like being able to vouch for ourselves and speak up on what we need. And being able to not allow the relationship to over, you know, in a way, overtake it and feel like, okay, well I’m feeling very burnt out, but I wanna go see them. You know, like ourselves and our self care comes first before the relationship. Because if you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for the other person. So that’s something that, we also need to talk about. 

Mary: Yeah, so self-care, that umbrella of self-care includes things like connecting to yourself and connecting to people you love and trust. And connecting to something bigger than yourself. So having a connected relationship is part of self-care, really. So it’s not like you have to choose self-care versus relationship. Right? It’s part of your self-care to be in a nurturing relationship and to have people that you love and trust that you’re connecting with. Does that make sense? 

Isabell: Yes. 

Mary: Yeah. So I have one question for you. Tell me a little bit more about this idea of meeting each other’s needs. Can we talk about that? Okay, so whose responsibility is it to meet your needs? 

Isabell: It’s mine. 

Mary: It’s yours. And whose responsibility is it to meet his needs? 

Isabell: His. 

Mary: His. So why are we trying to meet each other’s needs?

Isabell: Because we need to work more on boundaries with one another.

Mary: It’s so interesting. So tell me for an example when you think like he should be meeting your need, what might that be? How about, like you said, he doesn’t really have many friends. Like you’ve kind of filled that friendship need for him, like that companionship need, right? Since you’ve been living in the same town you’ve been able to spend a lot more time together, right? And his need for companionship or friendship pretty much is you? 

Isabell: Yes. 

Mary: Yeah. Is that right? 

Isabell: Yeah. I think so, yes. 

Mary: Okay. So he has a need for companionship, friendship. We all do. We all have a need for companionship and friendship. Some of us have really big needs for companionship and friendship. And some of us maybe not as much. Right? And at different points in our lives, it’s gonna be bigger and smaller and feel different and sometimes, you know, we wanna have a lot of friends and sometimes we wanna have just a few close friends and, right? A lot of that varies. There’s a lot of variance, but we all as humans have a need to connect with other people. So you’ve been filling that for him. Pretty much, right? 

Isabell: Yes. 

Mary: And then he doesn’t have any other friends now?

Isabell: He has work friends, and then he has friends in Boulder, but his work friends are in Loveland and his friends are in Boulder. So they’re just a little further away. 

Mary: So he does have some friends?

Isabell: Yes. 

Mary: But mostly you’ve been the companionship friendship person for him, right? 

Isabell: This is correct. 

Mary: Okay. So it’s his need for friends. And his need for companionship. So it’s his responsibility to fill that. So when you’re in a relationship with each other, you get to say, Hey, I love you and I feel connected to you. I’ve got this need for friendship, and I’m inviting you to fill that need for me. We don’t often use those words in our like vernacular speech, right? We might just say like, Hey, do you wanna go do this? Right? Something easy like that. But really what’s happening under there is I have a need for companionship and I like you, so I’m asking or allowing you to fill my need for companionship. Yeah. But it’s still actually his need. It’s not yours. It’s his responsibility. So you don’t have a responsibility to meet his needs. You just get to show up and connect with him when you’re invited, not because you have to, but because you want to. So the difference is it’s not your responsibility, so you don’t have to do it. It’s his responsibility. You just get to show up in from a place of love and kindness when you want to. Does that feel different? 

Isabell: Yeah, it does. Puts it in a, a different perspective, because I’ve always been someone who’s like, I’ll adapt. You know? Where I’m like, oh, you need this? Okay, let me go do it for you. 

Mary: Right. So if somebody else needs something, it doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to fill that need. It just means that you might choose to be a resource and help them out. And the difference is that you have agency that you’re empowered to make the choice about it, right? So for your partner, you’re a pretty good resource?


 Yes, how come? 

Isabell: Because I’m someone who’s dependable, I guess I’ll use this example. He was sick a few months ago and I was in Greeley and I had driven all the way from Greeley to Fort Collins to bring him some chicken noodle soup from Panera. He didn’t ask me to, but you know, I was there for him when he was sick. He’s gonna be there for me when I have my wisdom teeth pulled tomorrow. So I don’t know, dependability on each other and respecting one another. 

Mary: Yes, exactly. So tomorrow when you get your wisdom teeth pulled, you need what? 

Isabell: I’m going to need companionship. I’m going to need a, like a, a caretaker. That’s what the, the doctor, the doctor prescribed that. 

Mary: Yeah. The doctor said, you need what? A caretaker? 

Isabell: For all day tomorrow. 

Mary: For all day, you’re gonna need an all day long caretaker, right? Okay, so the doctor says, Isabell you’re having your wisdom teeth pulled and you’re gonna need an all day caretaker tomorrow, right? Okay, so who needs an all day caretaker? 

Isabell: Me. 

Mary: You do. And whose responsibility is it to find and arrange an all day care taker? 

Isabell: Me.

Mary: Yours, right? And you have a partner who may or may not choose to wanna help, right? But whose responsibility is it to find the caretaker? 

Isabell: Mine.

Mary: Right. So then the conversation sounds something like, Hey, I need a care taker, will you do it or are you available or… right? 

Isabell: Yeah. I asked him around the time I got the appointment scheduled and asked if he would be willing to take work off and see if he would want to be with me, and he said yes. 

Mary: Okay. Awesome. So whose responsibility is it to take care of you? 

Isabell: To take care of me? It’s going to be his. 

Mary: It’s going to be his. Because why? Because he’s kind of accepted that role, right? But essentially it’s still your responsibility to find a caretaker, because you had to find someone. 

Isabell: Yeah. Right. I have to be responsible for him to drive me.

Mary: Yep. 

Isabell: Because I have to be with my caretaker for them to drive me home. So I am responsible for making sure he is awake, making sure he stays in the lobby with me and make sure he takes me home and listens to the doctors. 

Mary: Sure. So the difference is it was your job to find someone. Right? And you asked him if he would do it, and he agreed, right? And so he had a choice there?

Isabell: Yes, he did have a choice. 

Mary: Right. So just because you’re in a relationship with each other, it doesn’t mean like it’s his responsibility to meet your needs. 

Isabell: Correct. 

Mary: He’s a resource for you when you need him. 

 Yeah because what if he had not agreed then what? 

Isabell: I would’ve asked my mother. 

Mary: Yeah, then you find a different person because it’s your responsibility to find caretaker. And that’s how you show up and be responsible for your needs is by finding a person that you can trust. Right? Okay, cool. What questions do you have for me?

Isabell: How do you think I should approach this conversation with my partner going into long distance and to make it a progressive conversation? Because in the past we’ve kind of circled around the same topics and the same resolutions, and for me, I feel like we need to go a little step further in identifying a little bit more, before we part our ways, distance -wise? 

Mary: So the question you started with was, how should you go about this, right? Yes. Do I tell you what you should do? 

Isabell: No, I just would like some recommendations. 

Mary: It’s not my, I don’t should on people. That’s not what I do here. Right? You get to decide how you wanna have a conversation. But I’ll, we can sort it out together. Okay. I can kind of guide you to that. So you want to have a conversation with him? 

Isabell: Yes. 

Mary: Okay. What is your intention for the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish?

Isabell: To identify what we are okay and what we’re not okay with between each other and making sure that we’re going to be okay. And to reiterate that, you know, communication is very much needed and very much welcomed. Since that something that is we’ve struggled with. 

Mary: Okay. Sounds good. So if you were to ask him what are the current boundaries in your relationship, what do you imagine he might say?

Isabell: That it’s okay for us to go out with our friends as long as we communicate with one another. It’s okay to have different opinions, it’s okay to say no in our relationship. It’s okay to, you know, get frustrated with one another as long as we come back together and talk about the problem together and not at, like, make each other the problem. And that it’s okay to just be ourselves around one another. 

Mary: Okay. What would he say is not okay in your relationship? 

Isabell: What’s not okay is cheating, being dishonest, lying, being secretive not trusting each other. Yeah. 

Mary: That’s awesome. Do you want any of those things to change, the okay and not okay part?

Isabell: I enjoy the list that we have. 

Mary: Okay. That’s okay. So it sounds like in terms of the boundaries within the relationship, I don’t hear much wanting to change. You still want to be able to have good communication, have time for self-care, be honest with each other, right? You still want it to be that you’re not shutting each other out or lying or having an open relationship. So those like terms and conditions of the relationship, I don’t see that you are wanting them to be any different than they have been. 

Isabell: I think maybe where I’m trying to go more at is more like, I think boundaries within ourselves and how our relationship will respect that as well. I mean, within our relationship, that’s, those are the things that are at the top of my head right now. I don’t know what’s on his mind. I haven’t had that conversation with him. So there might be things that need to be changed. Like if you asked me back in July, there would’ve had to be things that needed to change and that we needed to add to our boundaries. So because I’m just one part of the equation of the relationship, I can only come up with so much on my end. 

Mary: Yeah, for sure. So you get to decide how you’re gonna show up to the relationship. So you, Isabell, is your commitment to the relationship going to change when you move to another city? 

Isabell: No, it’s probably gonna be more.

Mary: Okay. So that’s what you are deciding is like I am just as committed to this relationship as I have been, right? This is how I wanna show up in all of these ways. This is what’s not okay for me, which is pretty much the same as it has been. And then the difference is what you need to work out is just an agreement around contact, because that’s gonna have to be more intentional. It’s gonna have to be more planned, more agreed upon because it’s not like you can just say, Hey, can I come over tomorrow?

Isabell: Yeah. Those need to be a little bit planned and strategic. 

Mary: Yes. So let’s talk about that. You’re gonna start the conversation with kindness and intention. So it might sound something like, Hey, I’d like to talk to you about our relationship. And what is your goal? What are you hoping to get outta that conversation?

Isabell: Well, my intention is to bring up our current boundaries and making sure that we’re both still on the same page. If not or if we need to add things that we can, and that we’re doing this in a respectful and loving area where we’re not gonna be like, well, you did this, so that doesn’t, you know, count. So it just needs to be respectable to both of us. And to have limited distractions around us and have this more of like a, like, Hey, I would like to have a conversation with you. When would work best? If now then great. Like, let’s go sit down at the table or on the sofa with limited distractions cause it is a bit of a serious conversation. 

Mary: Exactly. So you would start the conversation like that, right? I just wanna check in about the agreement in our relationship and you could start with, this is what I am committed to doing. This is my commitment. This is what is okay for me. This is what’s not okay for me. And I wanna check in with you and see if we’re on the same page. And you’re gonna have to have some kind of discussion around what’s gonna be different is our contact because we can’t spend as much time in person together. So how can I continue to show up with love and commitment to this relationship?

Isabell: No, and that’s why I think this conversation has been halted until we’re a little bit in it and have experienced some of it, and then come together and determine what more we can do. Mm-hmm. to keep our relationship alive.

Mary: Yes. Yes.

Isabell: Because that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of people is that, you know, they don’t communicate what’s going on in their life and what they would want and what they need. And see if that other person is willing to show up. And I’m very much in love with my partner and I, I want to make sure it lasts.

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. And you’re right, relationships are living, breathing things. They take nurturing. They take watering and sunlight and talking to, and all the things, right? Okay. You got this.

Isabell: I do. 

Mary: You do. When are you gonna have a conversation? 

Isabell: I mean, I’m at his apartment, so I might bring it up to him and see when he’s willing to have that conversation.

Okay. And see when would be the best time. 

Mary: Okay. Probably not right after your wisdom teeth are pulled, have you seen those silly videos online? 

Isabell: Yes. And I don’t wanna say anything that is ridiculous or stupid or unintentional, you know, and I don’t think he would take me serious either. I think he is just gonna laugh at me the entire time with love, with love. Not laughing at me, but laughing with me.

Mary: Like the zombie apocalypse ones, have you seen those videos? 

Isabell: No, I haven’t. 

Mary: Oh, there’s the silly videos online. You should check it out just for fun of like, one of this girl who got her wisdom teeth out and she was talking about her brothers, and she was like out of it from the anesthesia and they told her it was a zombie apocalypse and she believed them.

Isabell: Oh we have this running joke that, you know, technically one of us is dead. Dead with quotes in the air with my hands. And I think he could make me believe that tomorrow. 

Mary: Nice. Nice. 

Isabell: We’ll see how that goes. He may make me cry if he does that.

Mary: Awesome. Well thank you so much Isabell for sharing with us and you’re doing such a great job learning boundaries. I’m super proud of you. 

Isabell: Thank you so much, Mary, for having me on your podcast and helping me out with this. 

Mary: You’re welcome. I’ll see you later.