The first time my boyfriend, Janson, and I had a conversation about boundaries, I was sweating profusely. Not necessarily from nerves (though that may have been part of it); I was mostly sweltering from the early October heat radiating off the nearby parking lot.
Late the night before, we had decided to “make it official” with the understanding that we would talk about boundaries the next day. So here we were, discussing boundaries right before I left to visit Kentucky with my girlfriends.
Setting our boundaries
Neither of us had dated before, so we were new to the whole boundaries thing. Thankfully, my roommate who had started dating her boyfriend six months prior gave me advice on what types of boundaries to set.
First, Janson and I discussed physical boundaries. We wanted to put physical boundaries in place that would honor God, each other, and each other’s future spouses, because back then we didn’t know if we would end up marrying each other. We both agreed to set the boundary at kissing, but without crossing over into anything else. Having a defined boundary here helps us avoid reaching a point where it becomes almost impossible to regain ground.
As we’ve progressed further in our relationship, we’ve learned that communication is key in the moment; if one of us feels tempted even though we’re within our boundaries, it is up to that person to communicate this because we can’t read each other’s minds. We also agreed to always leave the door open whenever we are in a room alone together. This keeps our interactions personal but not private and invites others into our commitment to accountability.
For emotional boundaries, we decided that if we were struggling with something, we did not want to be the first person the other person went to. We would first go to God and a friend or parent, and then tell the other person. We set this boundary so that we wouldn’t become emotionally dependent and rely on each other solely for love and affirmation during hard times. We have gradually become more vulnerable with each other as our relationship has deepened, but this vulnerability has been built on time and trust.
The time boundaries that we set were much less tangible than our other two categories. We wanted to be cognizant of how much time we were spending together so we were not the couple that was “attached at the hip.” We each have our own lives, responsibilities, friendships and hobbies. Maintaining our separate identities has allowed for a healthy balance of spending time with friends, family, school, the Lord and each other.
Have we kept these boundaries perfectly? Absolutely not. We’ve messed up plenty of times. We’ve adjusted boundaries and added new ones over time. Here’s the thing — living with boundaries is hard and sometimes I just don’t want to do it. It’s against our culture that tells us to do whatever feels right. It’s against our sinful nature that desires to seek our own pleasure over obedience to and love for the Lord. But living with boundaries is necessary because it helps us love the other person without idolizing them. It also allows us to prepare for marriage but not become too emotionally and physically intimate before it.
The DNA of boundaries
So what does living out of our boundaries look like?
It looks like prayer. I pray every morning that I will love Janson well, respect him as God’s child, and not tempt him; and he prays similar things for me. Even though we still mess up, the rhythm of praying every day helps us appeal to our heavenly Father for strength and wisdom to live within our boundaries.
Living out our boundaries also looks like communication. Sometimes one of us thinks we have crossed a boundary and the other one doesn’t, so we talk it through. Sometimes we both know we’ve messed up, and we ask for forgiveness. It takes a lot of courage and humility to initiate conversations about when we’ve messed up, but it’s so worth it. If we don’t talk about the mistakes we’ve made, we repeat them in the future.
Another important part of living out our boundaries is having a community around us that holds us accountable. I have a couple of girlfriends, also in relationships, who ask about how Janson and I are doing. Talking with them helps me reevaluate our boundaries every so often.
Lastly, living out our boundaries looks like boldly approaching the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) when we’ve failed. It looks like individually asking for forgiveness and strength from the Lord as we renew our commitment to walk in integrity.
Setting boundaries and living them out is not easy, but it is worth it. It’s a way of “paying forward” the fruit of discipline that will reap dividends in our current relationship, our future marriage, and our walk with God.
Copyright 2021 Maggie Heiskell. All Rights Reserved.