You share your heart with your partner, and in some cases your bed or even your dog, but beyond what you’re happy to share, there seems to be a lot of gray area. Toothbrushes? Secrets? Sweatshirts? Friends? It’s all subjective, but rules give couples shared meaning and understanding. Though sharing your life with your partner to some extent is a given, maintaining autonomy is important too. Bustle talked to experts about what you should and shouldn’t share with your partner in the literal sense, to create some loose framework for couples to establish boundaries, together. Because sometimes these conversations are not fun or intuitive, and it’s easy to quickly establish bad habits that are hard to break.
According to clinical psychologist Alexandra R. Lash, what’s off limits for one couple might be fair game for another, and that’s OK. The most important part about drawing boundary lines is that they feel fair to both people in the relationship. Here, with the help of Dr. Lash, Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist and gastroenterologist, Ed Shaheen, Jr., DDS, MS, and Neuropsycholoigs Dr. Sanam Hafeez, we’ve put together a list of things that individuals often feel protective over and established well-balanced perspectives on each of them. Just because you and your partner are close enough to share your personal items or feelings with each other, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
1. Passwords & Devices
According to Lash, when it comes to sharing your phone, computer, and device passwords, it really depends on what works for the individual couple. “It’s up to the culture of your relationship,” Lash tells us, going on to explain that whatever feels comfortable is what’s right. “Relationships are about being in touch with each other’s world, but having respect for individuality and privacy, too,” Lash explains. And while she doesn’t see a utility in sharing all personal conversations with your partner, she expresses that it’s important to explore each other’s feelings if there’s a disagreement on the matter or differing values and comfort levels.
2. Bathroom Space & Habits
Lash explains that the level of comfort when it comes to sharing a bathroom or bathroom habits is contingent on the person. “Some people may grow up with many siblings or limited bathroom space and don’t have as strict a standard of privacy when it comes to bathroom habits, while others may grow up with the ability to use the bathroom privately and rely on that privacy to feel comfortable. Or one member of the couple may grow up in a family culture that values openness and they did not appreciate it and want more privacy in their adult lives or vice versa.” Lash explains. Meaning, there’s no rule of thumb when it comes to deciding what is and is not appropriate in the bathroom.
Some couples are happy to brush their teeth together, carry a conversation on while one person is on the toilet or in the shower, while other couples prefer to keep their bathroom activity private. “It’s important to discuss your comfort level with your partner — it’s not about saying you should be able to go to the bathroom in front of your partner, it’s about saying you should be able to discuss what is and isn’t comfortable for you both.”
It might seem harmless, and we’ve all done it or thought about it in a pinch when there’s only one razor in the shower, but Sonpal tells Bustle that “borrowing your partner’s razor for a quick touch up could spread not only bacteria, but it could also spread more serious blood-borne pathogens like hepatitis B and C.”
4. Nail Clippers
Because most people don’t regularly clean their nail clippers, an accidental nick could lead to something really serious. Sonpal tells Bustle that you can “spread hepatitis C, fungal and bacterial infections” all through nail clippers.
5. Friends & Social Lives
While Lash says that having “mutual connections can be ideal,” she also recognizes that it’s important for couples to have alone time with their friends, too. That said, nothing is technically necessary when it comes to splitting up or sharing your social lives, so long as both people are comfortable with the breakdown, it’s OK. The only situation that concerns Lash is extremes. For example, “excluding your partner regularly is not OK, but having separate social lives to some degree is.” According to Lash, the goal should be to have have social practices that feel fair to each partner.
You probably don’t think of your armpit as a germ zone, but according to Sonpal, it is. “Trading germs from one armpit to another is as easy as borrowing someone’s antiperspirant. Deodorants are less risky when it comes to sharing because they usually have an alcohol base. The alcohol makes your skin acidic and less attractive to bacteria. Antiperspirants are another ballgame since they typically have aluminum which blocks sweat pores, not bacteria.” So if you use antiperspirant, don’t share it, no matter what. According to Sonpal, it’s one of the most germ-ridden things you’ll find in your medicine cabinet.
Though borrowing headsets might seem harmless, Sonpal tells Bustle that you should reconsider it. “Although earwax is natural ear protection, earphones trap the once-innocent bacteria in the wax. Any wax building up on earphones traps and grows this bacteria, which could lead to infections.” Aka, you should regularly clean your own headsets and definitely keep them to yourself.
8. Solo Sexual Health Practices
“I don’t feel it’s necessary that a partner alerts the other every time they watch porn or masturbate the same way you don’t call the other every time you eat a hamburger or listen to a song on Spotify,” Hafeez tells Bustle.
While it’s good to have an open dialog about personal sexuality (in the same way a healthy relationship allows for an open dialog about everything), Hafeez explains that neither person should feel like they have to disclose this information. So while deleting your web history after watching porn or pleasuring yourself in private is totally within your rights, it’s not completely necessary either.
Though in theory it might seem like swapping spit with someone is no different than using their toothbrush, according to Dr. Shaheen, the latter is much, much worse. “If you use something for oral health, don’t share it with anyone,” Shaheen tells us, no matter how much you love them. If you want to clean your mouth, shoving someone else’s germs in it has the opposite effect.
When you spend time with your partner in the same living space, it’s important to have clear boundaries to not only ensure your comfort and happiness, but also your health. If you live with your partner but have not had a serious discussion about what you should and should not share, it’s never too late. And if you’re spending a lot of time with your partner and things are getting serious, take the time to flesh out these boundaries so that you don’t create bad habits together.
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