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.
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!
This article first appeared in Issue 20. To read the rest of the article, get your copy here.