For the most part of my Christian life, all I heard about emotional boundaries was … well … I didn’t hear much about it.
We have so much to say on the topic of physical boundaries in Christian circles, but when it comes to emotional boundaries, it is as foreign to us as ice-fishing in Alaska!
I have always found it odd that we can get so obsessed with whether a couple should be allowed to hold hands, or kiss, or hug, but we don’t really talk about the need for emotional boundaries in a relationship. If we agree that physical boundaries are important in a relationship, why don’t we give the same priority to emotional boundaries?
WHY EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES?
I suspect that it’s because we think that emotions aren’t as “dangerous” as crossing physical boundaries. Yes, there are consequences if we take things too far physically in a relationship, but emotions? What harm can they do? Debra Fileta, author of True Love Dates, explains this in her book: “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 … when it moves too deep, too fast.”
Too deep, too fast. I think those are the key words. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I was in secondary school, I had a crush on a boy in my class and was so happy to find out that he liked me too. It was a strange relationship because we talked every other night but never ever went on a date or acknowledged each other in school! Despite not having much physical contact with him, I was so emotionally attached to him that when we finally stopped talking, I cried for hours!
Before you laugh at me, I have to say that I’m sure I’m not the only one! I know so many other people who have rushed ahead with their emotions when there is not enough commitment to follow. I call it being emotionally engaged — there’s no ring on their finger, but in their hearts they are running quickly forward as if a life with this person is guaranteed.
If I had set up some emotional boundaries as a teen, I might have saved myself some heartache, but since I can’t turn back time, I’ll share what I’ve learnt so you can avoid my mistakes.
THERE IS WISDOM IN TAKING THINGS SLOW
BUT FIRST, A DISCLAIMER
If I’m honest, emotional boundaries are extremely difficult to talk about. Physical boundaries can be measured, but emotional ones aren’t possible to measure at all! It’s extremely difficult to articulate emotional boundaries that everyone can agree on. For example, is talking every day okay? Is it okay to text that cute guy in class late into the night? I hesitate to even try, because I know that something as complex as emotions cannot be simplified into three simple rules.
That said, while it may not be the most helpful to discuss hard and fast rules on this topic, there are definitely principles that we can base our convictions on. As I said in Part I of this series, merely following what people say is right or wrong is not our aim; rather, we aim to respect each another and live holy lives that glorify God (2 Tim 1:9; Heb 12:14). I would also like to say that emotional boundaries don’t just apply to boyfriend and girlfriend — you can apply these principles to your friendships as well!
SO HOW DO WE DO IT?
If this is your first time thinking about emotional boundaries, don’t worry. Here are some suggestions I have to help you start forming your own convictions:
Don’t act like you are if you’re not there yet
It’s a simple piece of advice but it’s not always easy to put into practice. When we’re dreaming about Prince Charming and someone turns up, it can be easy to plunge head first into the relationship and act like the lovey doviest (is that even a word?) couple in the whole wide world. There’s nothing wrong with displaying affection but announcing to the whole world that this is the love of your life via Instagram when you’ve only been together for a few weeks may not be the best idea!
Resolve to put God First
When my fiancé and I first started dating, I noticed an obvious dip in my prayer life. Instead of hitting my knees when troubles came, I picked up my phone to whine and complain and received immediate replies. It’s easy to sideline God when we have a tangible person that we can run to, but part of setting up emotional boundaries is guarding your time with God so that your significant other doesn’t become an idol!
IT'S EASY TO SIDELINE GOD WHEN WE HAVE A TANGIBLE PERSON TO RUN TO
Don’t create an ‘Us’ when there isn’t one
The reality in Singapore is that most of our marriages will take place way past our teen years and into our mid or late twenties (thanks, NS). With that in mind, you might want to postpone talking and dreaming about your future when you’re not there yet. The more we dream about our future life together, the more we start to wish it would Just. Come. Now! That’s fine when you can quickly act on it, but when marriage is years away, it will only cause an unhealthy strain on your relationship, both physically and emotionally.
Keep Your Spiritual Life Yours
It’s great to hear of couples who do Bible studies and quiet times together. That might be you! It’s good that you want to put Christ in the centre of your relationship, but if ALL the time you spend with God is shared with your boyfriend, that’s one awkward triple date. Your personal walk with God should be exactly that — personal.
Now that you’ve heard about emotional boundaries, I hope that you’ll be motivated to start thinking about them and coming up with your own. Write down the principles that you want to base your relationship on and discuss them with your friends or leaders to really help them stick. If you’re not yet in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that all of this doesn’t apply to you! It’s never too early to think about how you want to honour God in your future relationship. Boundaries may sound like a scary thing, but at the end of the day, it’s there to protect us from getting too deep, too fast, and hurting all parties involved. Don’t be afraid to form your own boundaries — I’m sure you won’t regret it.