We all know boundaries are vital for healthy relationships, and especially for dating relationships. Even if you’ve been prone to cross the lines you’ve drawn in the past, you can admit that lines need to be drawn between the not yet married. We may never be more vulnerable in our lives than when we begin to share ourselves with a new boyfriend or girlfriend — slowly and carefully and intentionally opening our hearts and minds and schedules and dreams to someone else. If we ignore the risks we take, love will end up hurting more than it has to.
Likely you can list the typical Christian boundaries:
What kind of touching is allowed?
Will we spend any time together alone?
How late should we hang out?
Holding hands, basements, curfews, group dates, hugging, kissing — these are the common flashpoints for Christian dating. But far fewer are talking about one major set of boundaries in healthy relationships: talking.
Have you and your significant other spent any time talking about talking? This article is not an attempt to build an additional cell on the prison of Christian dating, but to liberate more of you from an overlooked, but widespread, trap in dating.
Many of us simply find out too late how much of our heartache in relationships can be traced to something we said too soon. After all, our most private part is not something anyone can touch. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Touching too soon will surely put our hearts in unqualified and dangerous hands, but our words can leave us just as vulnerable.
Let’s Talk About Talking
Most of us have never thought of setting conversational boundaries. I wasn’t ready when one girlfriend’s dad asked in the first couple months of our relationship, “Have you mentioned marriage yet?”
[Long, awkward pause.]
“Um, yeah . . . I think we did talk about it once. . . . ”
“I don’t think that was appropriate for you to talk about, and I expect you to care for her better than that.”
“Boundaries not only reveal what we say we believe; they reveal what we really prize.”
I was totally caught off guard. I had never even thought of certain topics of conversation as inappropriate or dangerous. If dating is supposed to be the pursuit of marriage, don’t we have to talk about marriage? Yes, we do, but carefully, and at the right times, and in wise ways. For some, talking about marriage can be as intimate as touching — or even more.
Trust in a marriage isn’t only for the bedroom, but for all of life. We weren’t meant to build a blueprint for life with three or four almost-spouses. It may feel fun and exciting now to talk about what time of year we might get married, or how many kids we might have, or where we might vacation, or what kind of ministry we might take on together, but it can be as spiritually dangerous as sexual immorality. Some may be tempted to talk about sex, to dream out loud about how great lovemaking would be in marriage. It may feel safe — we’re not even touching — but actually it’s just a lightly veiled effort to enjoy the intimacy of sex too soon without crossing physical boundaries.
You’ll have to have certain conversations eventually, but don’t rush into them, and when you do have them, have them with caution and self-control. You will be able to safely enjoy dreaming together for years and years — without a hint of guilt or danger — if you get married.
How Much Do We Talk?
There are at least two categories to think about when it comes to conversations with a boyfriend or girlfriend. First, monitor how much you talk and how much time you spend together. If we’re serious about guarding our hearts and minds, developing healthy independence, and anchoring our hope and joy in Jesus more than in each other, we’ll be careful with how much time we’re focused specifically on one another. It may feel ridiculous and unnecessary to resist the impulse to talk all the time — you’re both curious, and excited, and ready to hang out — but it will serve you so well in the future, whether you get married or not.
My wife and I dated long distance, so our situation will be different than yours. At first, we talked about once a week, typically for thirty to forty minutes, for a couple of months. Then it was a couple times a week. After six months or so, we started talking most days, typically for an hour or less. We never made it a habit of talking for hours every night. We’ve never regretted that in marriage, and we’ve had every opportunity to make up for any lost time.
Our rhythm wasn’t coincidental or accidental; it was intentional. We wanted to honor Jesus and each other even more than we wanted to talk to each other (and we really enjoyed talking to each other). Boundaries were not concessions we made because we were Christians. They were freedoms we exercised and enjoyed, and they reflected what mattered most to us. Boundaries not only reveal what we say we believe; they reveal what we really prize.
I don’t share our experience to write new rules or to try to limit you to an hour per day, but to give you categories for deliberate self-control and patience. Wisdom won’t be a predetermined amount of time for every relationship, so you’ll have to talk about what seems healthy and appropriate for you, and to ask friends and family for their input. I can tell you, from my own failures in this area, that it won’t happen by accident, so don’t be afraid to initiate the conversation about your conversations.
What Do We Talk About?
Second, think about what you talk about when you do talk. Limiting your time will focus your conversations, at least it did for us. Trading three or four hours for forty minutes meant we were more intentional with what we talked about. But it’s still worth talking about which conversations you don’t need to have yet — or even shouldn’t have yet.
“Conversations can easily become places we indulge desires for intimacy without touching.”
You don’t have to figure out your whole future together by the third date. You don’t have to talk about your relationship every time you talk, or even half of the time. You don’t need to remind each other why you like each other every fifteen minutes. You really don’t need to talk much about marriage until it’s reasonable that you might actually get engaged and married relatively soon. Conversations like these easily become places we compromise without realizing it in the moment. We indulge desires for intimacy without touching. If you don’t have anything to talk about now except your relationship and your future, you probably won’t have much to talk about if you do get married.
Have a conversation about how often you should check in about your relationship. Seek out counsel about a good timeline to talk about marriage. Draw in others to decide on a good time to talk through your pasts in relationships. Define the relationship every now and then, and communicate your feelings and intentions clearly, but spend significantly more time talking about what God is teaching you, how you’re growing in grace, and where you’re spending your energy and gifts for the sake of others.