When I was in high school a group I attended read a book about emotional purity. Though the author was undoubtedly well-meaning, I left our discussions of the book very confused. It seemed as if I could not interact with guys at all or I was at risk of compromising myself emotionally- and I wasn’t even sure what that looked like! Even today, the term “emotional boundaries” can be vague at best and legalistic at worst.
When talking boundaries in dating, physical or otherwise, I always return to the heart of the gospel. If you’ve read the Bible you know it doesn’t speak in a lot of specifics. We’re given moral laws in sweeping terms: Honor marriage and sexuality. Honor your neighbor. Honor your parents. The laws against extramarital sex, stealing, killing, and lying always point back to these principles of virtue.
Why does this matter? Because if we’re not careful, we can come up with a tedious list of emotional “rules” that maybe work for us, but aren’t essential for other people. Worse, they aren’t actually in Scripture! Boundaries should be led by the Holy Spirit and be consistent with the call to honor in the Word.
This said, here are a few biblically based guidelines for healthy emotions in dating.
Emotional Intimacy is Gradual
The biggest mistake people make in relationships is sharing too much, too soon. “Too much” can’t be defined in a blog post because only you know your story. However, one thing we can know for sure: opening up to someone about the hardest things of your life might feel good, but it’s not wise. Trust takes time. Build trust with the person you’re dating, and as you build that trust you can share more and more of your story, thoughts, and dreams.
This gradual build of emotional intimacy mirrors what we see for physical intimacy. Holding hands, kissing and hugging require a level of trust. Then biblically we know that the ultimate “knowing” of one another happens after covenant. Gradual emotional intimacy paves the way for this physical relationship, because sex is an emotional-physical act. This is why sharing too much too soon can cause you to believe there is more connection in the relationship than there actually is. Take time to build trust before you share your deepest secrets.
Use Wisdom in What You Share
Closely tied to the previous point, is the use of wisdom in what you share. The book of Proverbs talks about wisdom on a regular basis. You can’t read a single chapter without running into the word! I’ve heard wisdom defined as “knowledge applied”. A wise person takes what she knows about the world, about God, and about relationships, and applies it to her life. She is thoughtful and careful in what she says and does. She understands that patience brings rewards.
Wisdom often requires self-restraint, which is difficult in dating. We want to jump all in, get a move on, or make sure our relationship is going well! But once again, take it step by step. Go slowly. Emotional intimacy must be built over time. If you feel like you don’t have enough wisdom, James 3 says you can ask God for it! Not only will He hear you, He delight to answer that request.
Remember: No Relationship is Wasted
What if the relationship doesn’t work out? Is your heart like “used tape”, not able to “stick” to another person?
I’ve heard this analogy used in purity talks and it breaks my heart, because it leaves no room for the redemption of God! Our emotions should be used wisely; this is true. But love is a risk, and any relationship that ends will leave us with some emotional pain. This doesn’t mean you failed or that the relationship was wasted. To the contrary, God can redeem all things for His glory and our good! Your responsibility moving forward is to expose your heart to the Lord’s through His word and worship. Ask for wisdom. Then walk in that wisdom next time around.