In the course of this series we have discussed praying together, serving together, reading the Bible together, and seeking out mentors together. All of these topics come down to one word: boundaries. Spiritual intimacy in dating, like physical intimacy, is a matter of keeping healthy boundaries. In order for a couple to have spiritually healthy boundaries, a few factors must be in place.
First, the couple must want to have boundaries. When we think we should do something (e.g., eating healthier, going on a daily walk, etc.), but we don’t really want to do it, there is a slim chance that we will keep up the practice long term. Such decisions have to be made from the inside out as a result of a heart change.
Second, the couple must agree that boundaries are necessary. If one person believes boundaries in dating are important and the other does not, there will probably be a lot of conflict. Either one person will constantly try to push through the boundaries set by the other party or the person who does not want firm boundaries will feel pushed away because his or her sweetheart has chosen to place protective walls around his or her heart and life.
Third, after boundaries are placed and agreed upon, the boundaries have to be respected. Over the years, I have made a number of boundaries only to crush them underfoot before the sun went down. I’ve also seen other people set boundaries for themselves and then walk all over them.
My personal pattern tended to start with me feeling guilt and conviction about displeasing the Lord in my then-current relationship. So, in an emotional, guilt-laden moment, I would set up boundaries without praying about them, considering them, and fully understanding their consequences. Then, after I received the Lord’s forgiveness, the guilt would subside and I would compromise on my boundaries.
It was frustrating at the time, but looking back on my life with 20/20 vision, it’s not surprising that I didn’t honor my boundaries. First, I made them in desperation because I didn’t want the Lord to be displeased with me or to take His anointing off of my life. Secondly, I just threw them on my boyfriend whether or not he agreed with them (which actually isn’t possible to do with boundary setting as one’s boundaries must be self-accepted). For my boundaries to have held fast, they would have to have been firm and stayed in place even if it had cost me whatever relationship I was in at the time. They needed to be put in place due to a heart change and not simply because I was seeking God’s mercy.
Back in my younger days, I didn’t like to think about having boundaries. I wanted to share all of my heart with my boyfriend. Cultural influences such as television and romantic comedies made me think relationships were only great if I shared the depths of my heart with my current beau and vice versa. My friend’s mom once asked me if I could maybe stop telling every guy I met my life story. She said it with a smile, but she was not kidding. My tendency to overshare had become a problem and there were a number of guys running around on the loose with my secrets, fears, and dreams. Looking in my proverbial rearview mirror, it’s easy to see how much I needed boundaries in my previous relationships. Every time, I would cannonball off the side of the emotional pool and then suffer the consequences.
If you want to set boundaries around your relationships both physically and spiritually, here are a few factors to consider:
- If you are dating someone who sees no value in boundaries and has no intentions of living within boundaries, that’s a good sign that he or she is not right for you (and if he or she is right for you, it’s not the right time). The Christian life is full of boundaries. We are told to keep worldly thinking out of our minds and to renew and cleanse our minds with God’s word (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8). God tells us to guard our hearts. (Proverbs 4:23) How can we guard something if we don’t place protection around that which we are trying to guard?
- Another factor to consider is how you broach the topic of boundaries with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Saying, “We’re going to set the following boundaries around our relationship – deal with it!” is probably not the most respectful way to go about it. Don’t be surprised if that approach leads to a sizable conflict. You’ll generally get a lot farther with someone when you approach the topic kindly saying something like, “I’m concerned that we may be getting off course or moving too quickly in certain areas of our relationship. Why don’t we prayerfully consider what boundaries the Lord would have us place around our hearts?”
- If your boyfriend or girlfriend does not agree to the boundaries you think are best, hear him or her out before writing off the relationship. For example, maybe a boundary you believe is important is never being in the dark together. If he or she has concerns about it, find out why. Maybe he or she is considering the fact that you both enjoy movies. In such cases discuss ways to keep boundaries in those situations without scratching all nighttime dates off your list (e.g., have other people join you at the movies, etc.).
- After hearing your boyfriend or girlfriend’s concerns with your proposed boundaries, you have to decide what is right for you. If after praying you deeply believe that you and your sweetie should set a “no kissing” boundary (but he or she is not in agreement), you have to do what you believe is right. After all, a boundary is about you and what you’re willing to tolerate. You can’t force someone else to have a boundary, but you can enforce your own boundaries. If he or she isn’t willing to continue dating you without kissing, then that is certainly his or her choice, but you have to answer to God for your decisions and faithfulness.
If you are in a relationship, take some time in prayer and ask God where He would have you place boundaries. There may be an area in your relationship you didn’t realize needed boundary (e.g., praying together in private, sharing too much personal information, spending too much time touching/caressing, etc.). If you are not in a relationship, begin praying now for God to speak to your heart about boundaries in your future relationship(s). Remember, He doesn’t want to keep you from having fun. He wants to protect you from harm so that you can have a fulfilling, abundant life that pleases Him (John 10:10).
Are you confident your relationship has good boundaries, both spiritually and physically?