How to Set Physical Boundaries in a Relationship11:00 AM
NetNanny will block this post from your view because it contains the word "dating." Among other things. I hope you can eventually see it. :) I love watching your relationship unfold -- tentative in hope, bold in love, pure in all respects. It refreshes me to see a relationship so unworrisome and drama-free as yours! In some ways, I wish my relationship started as yours -- with fewer mistakes and heartache. Right now your relationship honors God 100% and ought to encourage every girl who currently envies your position. ;)
While you're walking strong, I want to confess something to you: I did not walk strong. By the grace of the most merciful God, my boy and I remain together despite all odds (the details of which you mostly know, especially if they occurred with your shoulder nearby to cry on). He blessed us despite our confusion and flat-out sin.
You know how often I rolled my eyes at the silly courtship books that obsessed about physical purity. Yeah, yeah, yeah. . .we heard that lesson a million times at awkward Sunday school or youth group talks. Moving on!
What everybody told me then, I never listened to. Why in the world would I need to be reminded about sexual purity? That's for those public schooled girls who date for pleasure only. And besides, I didn't want to be a prude. Please -- people can kiss without taking it all the way. Couples can hold hands. No. Big. Deal.
I laughed. But when I found myself miles from the line of true physical purity, tempted and continually tempted to actually do the real thing, I found nothing to laugh at. I saw a hypocrite with a ruined reputation and a conscience in shambles, doing and desiring things I never thought myself even capable of. Other people too -- friends I trusted, friends who grew up with the same sort of lectures, fell hard like we did. It seems almost every relationship became marred by sexual sin -- not actual sex, of course, but almost anything leading up to it or toeing the line. Beautiful people in otherwise beautiful relationships saw their innocence, their conscience, and their days of never knowing temptation broken about their feet.
It is ugly, ugly, Bethany, to sin against yourself and the one you love most in this way. It is ugly to hear your conscience flaming mad at you -- or worse, completely dead from neglect. It is ugly to face the battle against passion awakened before its time because of physical acts, because of one moment of letting your guard down. It is the worst thing ever. It makes everything more difficult. It's like living with an emotional and spiritual disability -- this temptation to sin again, if not the guilt of sinning the first time.
Just don't even ask the question, "How far is too far?" Just run. Don't hold hands. Sit on opposite sides of the couch, opposite sides of the room. Just don't do anything that gets you anywhere close to sinning physically.
I say this to you because sinning physically can happen to your beautiful relationship. The odds are stacked way against you. You are hardwired as a physical, sexual being -- a beautiful thing in its proper context of marriage. Slipping into sin of that sort feels far more natural and loving than backing away and saying no.
Picking up the pieces of a relationship marred by hints of sexual immorality is another post -- one I can hopefully write someday from a positive, triumphant position. This post is about avoiding it altogether. . .by putting up boundaries. Just four simple, profound guidelines.
(1) Never ignore your conscience. Ever. The conscience of one person trumps the desires of the other person. If anything you ever do feels off, not right, questionable in any way, stop. Stop right there. We've talked about the whole saving-your-kiss thing. You don't need to decide that question for the whole world -- decide for you what feels comfortable, listen to your conscience if it starts flashing caution lights. Be a prude if you have to -- i.e. you don't need a logical reason for saying no to kissing, no to holding hands, no to any sort of physical contact beyond a hug. Stick to your gut and say no. Truly, you will not regret sparing yourself any hint of sexual immorality or temptation.
(2) If your conscience isn't clear enough, listen to your sex drive. (Sorry to be awkwardly blunt.) If anything gives you those chills that turns off your brain and your conscience and makes you desire something beyond the innocent -- that is, if any touch starts awakening a passion unable to be fulfilled while unmarried -- stop. Literally get up and flee the room until your senses and conscience kick in back to normal. Sure, maybe making out one time won't lead to anything worse than learning that kissing is actually grosser than you imagined, but feeding that desire, that raw hunger for a passion you never knew existed inside you, will always lead to something really regrettable.
(3) Remember your relationship with your twin brother! Kevin DeYoung points out that Paul instructs young men to treat young women as sisters in all purity. Until you marry your man, he is your brother. You are single. You are unmarried. How gross and wrong would it be to make out with your biological twin brother? As equally gross and wrong it should feel to make out or cross any other lines with your spiritual brother! Stick to platonic expressions of physical love. If something is questionable, ask yourself, "Could I do this with my twin brother?" If not, just skip it.
(4) Physical boundaries protect you from the burden of greater temptation and the scars of sexual error. Temptation and sin is your enemy -- not each other and not your physical touch. If you ever feel that the boundaries hinder your relationship with each other, think again. What's worse -- purity and a guilt-free conscience with unmet excitement and longing or a wounded conscience that fails to keep you out of trouble as you sin again and again, worse and worse, and struggle to come clean again?
In sum, err on the side of caution. Err on the side of the woman at church who told you not to hold hands. Err on the side of your parents who set up random rules and curfews when your boyfriend visits. It's easier to say not a chance in the beginning. Please trust me. I hope you never need to write a similar letter like this to our next sister. Be the example I can no longer be of a relationship wholly pure and without regret.
And lest I leave you on a despairing note -- the Holy Spirit is on our side! He leads away from and out of temptation. The fight for sin is already won, so we just need to walk in that victory.