by Debra K Fileta
How far is too far?” I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that I get asked this question all the time from well-meaning young adults, looking to set up some boundaries in their physical relationships.
As a professional counselor and as a woman who has gone through the world of dating, I think the question of physical boundaries is really important and requires some serious thought and consideration. It’s important to put mental time and energy in questions like this and to set your limits within a dating relationship—which is why I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book.
But is the physical the most important thing?
It seems our Christian society can get so fixated on the “physical” aspects of intimacy, we neglect the emotional and spiritual components that can be just as binding and just as devastating in the end.
There is some deep power in emotional intimacy, more power than we give it credit.
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. Just like physical intimacy, emotional intimacy is beautiful and binding in the correct context, but can be just as harmful and heartbreaking when it moves too deep, too fast.
It’s important to make sure your emotional relationship is growing proportionally to your level of commitment.
Here’s the thing about dating in an emotionally healthy way: It’s important to make sure your emotional relationship is growing proportionally to your level of commitment.
Of course this doesn’t mean we should completely close ourselves off emotionally during the dating process, but here are a few things to consider in order to avoid the pain of premature emotional bonding in a relationship that may never translate into marriage:
1. Play Together … Don’t Pray Together.
This might sound contradictory to your Christian beliefs. We’ve always been taught that prayer is such an important part of any relationship. I know of so many couples who started their relationship by investing time in deep spiritual prayer with one another and spending time in God’s Word together. While this sounds well and good, in my opinion, it can actually be a dangerous road to travel at such early stages in a relationship.
Seeking the heart of God and pouring out your heart and soul to Him through prayer is one of the most emotionally vulnerable places you will ever be. It’s essentially like being spiritually naked because before God—you hide nothing emotionally.
It’s good to pray about your relationship and to seek God’s voice, but it might be wise to wait to seek it together. Seek to pursue God as an individual before allowing your relationship with Him to become a trio prematurely by including your significant other. There will be a day for that unity in marriage, but it’s not during the early stages of dating.
Your dating relationship in its early stages is meant to be a time of getting to know each other and learning all the superficial things you can know before taking it to the next level. Don’t go too deep too fast, because the emotional intimacy that comes with deep shared moments like this can actually pull you in far deeper than you were ever meant to go, and in the end, leave you with a broken heart—and a broken spirit.
2. Know When to Open Up and When Not To.
Dating is such a special time. It’s a time to really get to know someone and invest in who they are. It’s a time to let your guard down a little at a time and begin to share the truths of who you are.
But that’s the key: a little at a time. When you enter into relationship, you should be at a point in your life where you are ready to be open, ready to share and ready to communicate. But there should always be limits to this kind of openness. There are times to be open and share your heart, but there are also times to withhold.
I don’t recommend sitting down on your first date and spilling every detail and secret in your life. Relationships should be seen as a journey of building trust. You build a little at a time. You give a little at a time. Lay the foundations first, then begin building the house. Be real, be genuine and be honest, but never without the anchor of boundaries and the weight of wisdom.
3. Avoid Talking About Commitment Before You’ve Actually Committed.
There is such a temptation to talk about the future when you’re dating. You want to dream together, to envision the future together, to create this world up ahead to live for.
Relationships should be seen as a journey of building trust. You build a little at a time. You give a little at a time.
I think there is a time and place for this kind of discussion—later on in a relationship it’s important to be on the same page and to have a similar outlook on what is to come relationally. But let’s be honest, that conversation should not be happening early on in a dating relationship. It’s a problem when people commit to things far beyond the place they are at relationally. It’s a problem when you commit to the future before you’ve actually committed to the present.
Take your time, allow your relationship to go through the necessary seasons before you allow your conversation to jump ahead. Because where your conversation goes, your heart will go, too.
We always hear Christians talk about “guarding your heart.” It’s become so cliche that I’m afraid that phrase may have actually lost its significance. God knows how fragile our hearts can be, and He begs us to take the time to protect them, to watch over them and to take care of them. But guarding your heart does not come in the form of some magical process or spiritual language, it comes in practical, everyday decisions—decisions about what to believe, how much to invest, how much to give in each stage of a relationship.
As Proverbs 4:23 says: Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.