Dating? You need emotional boundaries
Why you shouldn't go too deep, too soon with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
As humans we all have the desire to know and be known by others. We are created by God to connect and yearn for relationship with one another. And dating can be a great way to do that.
It’s only natural that as you get to know and like someone, that you desire for them to know and like the real you. But for many, the temptation can be to go too deep, too fast – especially emotionally.
Why are emotional boundaries important?
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
The Hebrew word for “heart” conveys not just emotions, but also our will, our physical being, our intellect, in other words our whole being. And when we do this well, the reward is that our lives will resemble springs of living water!
The problem is that when a relationship prematurely moves too deep, too soon, it leaves us vulnerable to heartbreak and emotional damage. Debra Fileta, professional counselor and author of True Love Dates, says this:
“More powerful than a kiss, more seductive than an embrace, there is something that happens when two people connect emotionally. Something that has the capacity to outweigh even the physical. A sort of ‘emotional sex’ that can be just as harmful and heartbreaking, when it moves too deep, too fast.”
How to set healthy emotional boundaries when dating
Here are some guidelines to help you set reasonable, healthy, God-honoring emotional boundaries that will help protect both you and the person you're dating.
1. Take things slowly
Let your guard down, but do it a little at a time. Wait until you know you can trust someone with those things that matter to you. Don’t share your most intimate personal details or your darkest secrets in the early stages of dating. Protect the deepest, most intimate parts of who you are both emotionally and spiritually. “Be real, be genuine, and be honest,” adds Felita, “but never without the anchor of boundaries and the weight of wisdom.”
2. Maintain your friendships
It’s normal to want to spend more and more time with someone you enjoy. But don’t let your dating relationship isolate you and keep you from enjoying time with other people. Keep interacting and participating in your existing relationships with family and friends on a regular basis.
3. Guard your spiritual heart
As you begin dating, it is important that you each continue pursuing your individual relationships with God. But wait to pray together. Prayer is meant to be deeply intimate, baring your heart and your emotions before God. You definitely don’t want to go too fast in this area. However, don’t wait indefinitely either. Once the relationship has progressed to “serious dating,” make spiritual activities a key part of your relationship. Otherwise, you miss out on an important facet of the other person and discovering how he or she responds to the Lord.
4. Wait to talk about a future together
Wait to talk about marriage and your future together until you’ve taken the time to build a foundation of commitment and trust. Fileta calls this process “a journey of building trust.” She recommends that you take your time, allowing your relationship to go through the necessary seasons before allowing your conversation to jump ahead. Why? Because where your conversation goes…your heart will go, too. Instead of allowing your hopes for a future together to blind you, she advises you “savor, assess, invest in, and engage in your relationship where it is now.”
5. Remember the person you are dating is a brother or sister in Christ first and foremost
Scripture is full of specific instructions on how we should treat each other. If we're serious about following Christ, we will heed Paul’s instructions to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Start by asking God to purify your heart, your thoughts and your actions in a way that honors Him and brings honor, not pain, to your boyfriend/girlfriend.
6. Set your boundaries before you need them
Set aside time to think through and pray through them. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in establishing reasonable, healthy, God-honoring emotional boundaries that will help protect both you and your special someone. Then actually put them in writing and have a friend hold you accountable to them. Revisit them now and then to assess whether you are keeping your commitment.
Dating is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself, and to know and be known by others. Just remain alert and watchful. Be aware that emotional intimacy can carry you much deeper into your relationship than you ever intended to go, resulting in the double cost of a broken heart and a broken spirit.
And also remember that if you do indeed guard your heart well, if you go slow and steady and you commit your way to the Lord, you’ll create a wise pathway forward by the decisions you make.
Written by Alisa Grace from Biola University. Alisa is the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships.