In today’s video, I want to offer some thoughts about boundaries and values in relationships. I want to share a couple of ways of thinking about boundaries and values in relationships that I don’t hear anyone else talking about.

Read on or watch below to hear my take on boundaries and values in relationships.

Zachary Stockill: I think a big mistake that people make when they’re getting into relationships is not thinking hard enough about certain issues. Not spending enough time thinking about their own personal boundaries and their values. When it comes to their relationship life when it comes to their dating life, boundaries are actions, characteristics, or habits that you definitely do not want in a potential long-term partner. Whereas values are more closely related to things that you really do want. 

This whole idea that I harp on about all the time, the idea of boundaries and values, is complicated. It’s a big topic; so big, I’m considering creating a whole new course just around this topic. 

So my basic modus operandi for relationships for dating at this point in my life, to a considerable extent, is about minimizing drama and chaos, screening out very, very quickly, people who are going to complicate my life. Asking “Are we going to be a good fit?” and screening out the wrong people as quickly as possible. 

People who are not going to be a good fit are people who are like to be boundary-violators, people who don’t share my values, people who are going to likely violate my values and boundaries in relationships. I want to keep those people out. And it’s a good idea to actively screen for those people, in my view, as early as possible in the dating process. 

And the mistake that a lot of people make in love, particularly younger people, is only screening for boundaries, or only screening for values… 

In other words, you have people when they meet someone, and they’re totally smitten, they’re totally in love. They’re only focusing on the values that they share with this person; they’re only focusing on the nice, bright, and beautiful shiny bits. They’re only focusing on the good in this person and ignoring the parade of red flags behind this new person at the same time. 

Alternatively, a lot of guys err in the other direction, where they’re only focused on the red flags. They’re so terrified about being hurt that they overlook all the green flags surrounding their new love interest. I am a big fan of balance in my dating life, in my assessments of people’s character, in my assessment of other people in general. 

So I think it’s very important to make sure you’re focusing on both, and don’t go too far in any one extreme. In other words, don’t just be looking for the bad, or shall we say the incompatible, and also don’t just be looking for the good. Don’t just be looking for the compatible. 

We live in an age of extremes, intense ideologues and polarization.

Whether it’s societal polarization, rampant inequality, political polarization… We live in an age where everyone has an extreme opinion. No one likes nuance anymore, no one likes balance. So don’t fall into this habit. When you’re falling in love with someone new, or you’re at least exploring the possibility of falling in love with someone new, you can’t only be focusing on looking for someone with good values. And at the same time, you don’t want to only be focusing on looking for red flags and deal-breakers. That said, also think about how your boundaries and your values in relationships interact with each other, and how they can be more closely related than you might think. 

boundaries and values in relationships

Perfect example: let’s say, a guy doesn’t want to date a woman who’s had a fair amount of sexual experience. Fine. I’m not judging that. You do whatever works for you. 

The whole point of me talking about this issue is to encourage people to explore their own boundaries and values in relationships. And I’m not trying to get anyone to explain, or apologize, or shame anyone for anything. I’m an individualist. I’m a big advocate for personal freedom, personal liberty. People should make their own decisions in this regard, and…

Whoever you invite into your life on a long-term basis is literally the most consequential decision you ever make.

So being picky is a very good thing in my view. But anyway, coming back to the example of a guy who doesn’t want to date a woman who’s had, let’s say, casual sexual experience before… Okay, that’s a boundary, right? And it seems she’s crossed it. But at the same time, this same guy probably has another value that could be related. And that value is: he wants to date a woman who’s free and open sexually, a woman who’s good in bed, a woman who shares his ravenous sexual appetite…

Well, guess what? If you’re looking for someone who has a high sex drive, and they love sex, they’re very free of sexual shame… They’re very open, and they’re open to experimentation and all the rest? The odds are pretty darn good that they’re going to have something of a previous sexual history. 

But a lot of people only focus on the red flag in this situation, right? They only focus on the fact that oh, maybe she’s had a few more partners than he’s comfortable with. At the same time, he’s probably ignoring the fact that she’s amazing in bed, and she’s free of sexual shame and all the rest. And that, at the same time, is also important to him. But clearly, these two facts–sexual history, and a healthy sexual appetite–are probably related, in this case.

So if you’re wrestling with your boundaries and your values out there in the dating market, if you’re dating around and trying to know what would make a good partner for you…

Be sure you aren’t holding people to an unattainable, unrealistic standard.

And make sure you’re thinking about how your boundaries and values may actually be pretty closely related to each other. Even if it doesn’t seem immediately obvious on the surface, I think it’s also a good idea to think about your must-haves, and also your would be nice to haves, and to not confuse the two categories. 

And by the way, this goes for both boundaries and values. I think it’s important to think about the must-haves, and the would-be nice to haves. And if you’re asking for my personal opinion, I think that the would-be-nice-to-have a list of qualities, characteristics, habits, whatever should be longer than the must-haves. 

Because if you have a list that’s 30 pages long of must-haves for a potential partner, “They have to come from this kind of family, and they have to have these color eyes and this color hair, and they had to have gone to school and got this degree or that to make this much money…” and on and on and on and on, you’re probably not going to find what you’re looking for. Because your must-have list is very, very long. So think for yourself about ironclad must-haves and distinguish them from the would be nice to haves. 

Realistic standards in the 21st century

And in my view, when you meet someone, and you’re thinking about entering into a long-term relationship with them, or you’re thinking about perhaps ending a long-term relationship, think about the must-haves, but also think about the would be nice to haves, and try to find a balance between those two that seems realistic for dating in the 21st century. At the same time, as for boundaries, I think it’s a very good idea to have absolutely-cannot-haves. A list of certain criteria, or habits or characteristics or personality traits, that you’re not going to put up with what whatsoever. Doesn’t mean that person is terrible, doesn’t mean you’re judging people…

Again, all this is about determining fit; it’s not about moral judgments. But if you meet someone, and they’re demonstrating absolutely cannothaves, it’s probably a good idea to cut bait and run away as quickly as possible. But don’t confuse the “absolutely cannot haves” with the “I don’t love it, but I can live with it.” In other words, there should be another segment of your list of boundaries, that is:

Things that you don’t necessarily love, but you can live with it. 

To cite a very silly example, one of your values, when you’re looking for a partner, let’s say you want to live with someone who’s a good cook. And let’s say you meet someone who isn’t a fantastic cook. Now, that’s probably not a must-have at the same time, it’s probably not a complete deal-breaker, “absolutely cannot have.” This is probably more closely related to “would be nice to have,” or “I don’t love it, but I can live with it.”

If nothing else, be sure you give this stuff some thought. Don’t be too extreme in your requirements. There’s a difference between having standards and looking for perfection. 

And over and over and over again. I see people looking for perfection, when perfection in human beings simply doesn’t exist. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, I haven’t met anyone who is perfect.

Another mistake that I see people making in dating…

They think that having standards, having personal boundaries gives them the right to be cruel to people who don’t share their boundaries, their standards. And this is so stupid. I mean, I don’t get it. If you actually have these boundaries and values, if you have certain standards that you’re not going to compromise on, why are you going all over the internet trying to make people feel bad, and shame women, and really making a lot of noise about it? 

If you meet someone who doesn’t share your values, you say “Goodbye, and God bless,” and move on. It isn’t complicated.

Your cruelty and self-righteousness says to me that you don’t have near the confidence and clarity in your boundaries and values that you purport to have.

Because true confidence, true self-knowledge, true clarity is understated. It’s subtle. It’s quiet.

boundaries and values in relationships

I don’t have to go proclaiming to the rooftops about my boundaries and values because they’re my boundaries and values. And that’s what works for me in my dating life. So I’m not going to shame anyone. I’m not going to get angry at people, certainly, if they don’t share my boundaries and values in relationships or if they’re violating my boundaries and values. 

Dating is about trying to determine fit. It’s not about making moral judgments on the world and thinking that you’re better than everyone else. I know I’d be a good fit for a lot of women, and I’d be a terrible fit for a lot of women. I imagine the same is true for you. You’d be a great fit for a lot of people in the world, you probably be a lousy fit for a lot of people as well. 

We’re not making moral judgments, necessarily. It’s simply about trying to determine fit, because life is short, life is precious, and you want to share your time with people who are a good fi. And it really is as simple as that.

Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.