Why Boundaries in Dating?
So what do I do, set a bomb underneath his chair?" Heather exploded, only part in jest.
She was having lunch with her best friend, Julie. The conversation focused on her ongoing frustration with Todd, Heather's boyfriend for the past year. Heather cared deeply for him and was ready to pursue
marriage. Though he was loving, responsible, and fun, Todd had shown no sign of making any real commitment to the relationship. The couple enjoyed being together, yet anytime Heather tried to talk about getting serious,
Todd would make a joke or skate around the issue. At thirty-three, Todd valued his freedom and saw no reason for anything in his life to change.
Heather's outburst was a response to
something Julie had said: "You really need to help Todd get moving forward." Heather's words were tinted with frustration, hurt, and a good deal of discouragement. Frustration because she and Todd seemed to be on
different tracks. Hurt because her love felt unrequited. And discouraged because she had invested so much of her heart, time, and energy into the relationship. For the past year, Heather had made Todd a high
emotional priority in her life. She had given up activities she enjoyed; she had given up relationships she valued. She had tried to become the kind of person she thought Todd would be attracted to. And now it
looked like this investment was going nowhere.
No Kids Allowed
Welcome to dating. If you have been in this unique type of relationship, you are probably familiar with Heather
and Todd's scenario. Two people are genuinely attracted to each other and start going out. They are hopeful that the relationship will become something special that will lead to marriage and a life-long soul mate.
Things look good for a while, but somehow something breaks down between them, causing heartache, frustration, and loneliness. And, more often than not, the scenario repeats itself in other relationships down the line.
Some people blame dating itself for all of this, thinking that it's not a healthy activity. They would rather find an alternative, such as group friendships until two people have selected
each other to court exclusively. Though dating has its difficulties, we would not take this view. We believe in dating. We did it a lot personally, having been single a combined total of seventy-five years.
And we think it offers lots of good things, such as opportunities to grow personally and learn how to relate to people, for starters.
However, dating does have its risks. That is why we say, no kids allowed. That doesn't mean teens shouldn't date, but it does mean one's maturity is very important here.
By its very nature, dating is experimental, with little commitment initially, so someone can get out of a relationship without having to justify himself much. Putting lots of emotional investment into a relationship can be
dangerous. Thus, dating works best between two responsible people.
Problems in Freedom and Responsibility
This book is not about the nature of dating, however. You cannot
do a lot about that. Rather, we are writing about the problems people have in how they conduct their dating lives. There is a great deal you can do about that.
Simply put, many of
the struggles people experience in dating relationships are, at heart, caused by some problem in the areas of freedom and responsibility. By freedom, we mean your ability to make choices based on your values, rather
than choosing out of fear or guilt. Free people make commitments because they feel it's the right thing to do, and they are wholehearted about it. By responsibility, we mean your ability to execute your tasks in keeping
the relationship healthy and loving, as well as being able to say no to things you shouldn't be responsible for. Responsible people shoulder their part of the dating relationship, but they don't tolerate harmful or
Dating is ultimately about love. People seek it through dating. When they find it, and it matures, they often make deep commitments to each other.
Freedom and responsibility are necessary for love to develop in dating. When two individuals allow each other freedom and take ownership of the relationship, they are creating an environment for love to grow and mature.
Freedom and responsibility create a safe and secure environment for a couple to love, trust, explore, and deepen their experience of each other.
Actually, these two elements are necessary for
any successful relationship, not just dating. Marriage, friendship, parenting, and business connections depend on freedom and responsibility in order for the attachment to flourish. God designed love so that there can
be no fear (loss of freedom) in love, for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We are to speak the truth in love to each other (Ephesians 4:15), taking responsibility to protect love by confronting problems.
We believe that healthy boundaries are the key to preserving freedom, responsibility, and ultimately love, in your dating life. Establishing and keeping good limits can do a great deal to
not only cure a bad relationship, but make a good one better. So, before we take a look at the ways that dating problems arise from freedom and responsibility conflicts, let's take a brief look at what boundaries are and how
they function in your dating relationships.
What Are Boundaries?
You may not be familiar with the term boundary. For some people, boundaries
, may bring up images of walls, barriers to intimacy, or even selfishness. Yet that is not the case, especially in the dating arena. If you understand what boundaries are and do, they can be one of the most helpful tools in your life to develop love, responsibility, and freedom. Let's take a look at what a boundary is, its functions and purpose, and some examples.
A Property Line
Simply put, a boundary is a property line. Just as a physical fence marks out where your yard ends and your neighbor's begins, a personal
boundary distinguishes what is your emotional or personal property, and what belongs to someone else. You can't see your own boundary. However, you can tell it is there when someone crosses it. When another person
tries to control you, tries to get too close to you, or asks you to do something you don't think is right, you should feel some sense of protest. Your boundary has been crossed.
The Functions of Boundaries
Boundaries serve two important functions. First, they define
us. Boundaries show what we are and are not; what we agree and disagree with; what we love and hate. God has many clear boundaries. He loves the world (John 3:16); he loves cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). He hates haughty eyes and a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16-17). As people made in his image, we also are to be honest and truthful about what we are and are not.
Dating goes much better when you are defined. When you are clear about your values, preferences, and morals, you solve many problems before they start. For example, a woman may
tell a guy she is going out with that she is serious about her spiritual life, and desires that in people she is close to. She is letting him know about something that defines her, and it is out front between them, so that he
will know who she is.
The second function of boundaries is that they protect
us. Boundaries keep good things in, and bad things out. When we don't have clear limits, we can expose ourselves to unhealthy and destructive influences and people. Prudent people see danger and hide from it (Proverbs 27:12). For example, a man and woman who are getting closer in their relationship may want to set limits on dating other people, so as to protect each other's hearts from unnecessary harm. Boundaries protect by letting others know what you will and will not tolerate.
Examples of Boundaries
There are several kinds of limits we can set and use in dating, all depending on the circumstances. Here are a few:
- Words: telling someone no and being honest about your disagreement
- The truth: bringing reality to a problem
- Distance: allowing time or physical space between two people to protect or as a consequence for irresponsible behavior
- Other people: using supportive friends to help keep a limit
Sometimes you will use these boundaries to simply let your date know your heart: "I am sensitive and wanted you to know that, so that we can be aware that I might get hurt
easily." At other times, you may need to use boundaries to confront a problem and protect yourself or the relationship: "I will not go as far as you people withdraw to avoid hurt and risk, and end up empty-handed.
Doing Too Much in the Relationship
Many people with boundary problems overstep their bounds and don't know when to stop giving of themselves. They will put their lives and
hearts on hold for someone, only to find out that the other person was willing to take all that, but never really wanted to deeply commit. Good boundaries help you know how much to give, and when to stop giving.
Freedom without Responsibility
Freedom must always be accompanied by responsibility. When one person enjoys the freedom of dating, and takes no responsibility for himself,
problems occur. Someone who is "having his cake and eating it too" in his dating relationship is in this category. This is Todd's situation. He enjoyed Heather but didn't want to take any responsibility to develop
the relationship, though a great deal of time had passed.
More often than not, one person wants to get serious sooner than another. Sometimes in this
situation, the more serious person attempts to rein in the other person by manipulation, guilt, domination, and intimidation. Love has become secondary, and control has become primary.
Not Taking Responsibility to Say No
This describes the "nice guy" who allows disrespect and poor treatment by his date, and either minimizes the reality that he is being mistreated,
or simply hopes that one day she will stop. He disowns his responsibility to set a limit on bad things happening to him.
Couples often have difficulty
keeping appropriate physical limits. They either avoid taking responsibility for the issue, or one person is the only one with the "brakes," or they ignore the deeper issues that are driving the activity.
There are many more ways that dating can become misery because of freedom and responsibility problems. We will go over many of them in the book. And, as you will see, understanding
and applying boundaries in the right ways can make a world of difference in how you approach the dating arena.
In the next chapter, we will look at the first and foremost boundary line of any
- Dating involves risks, and boundaries help you navigate those risks.
- Boundaries are your "property lines" which define and protect you.
- Learn to value what your boundaries protect, such as your emotions, values, behaviors, and attitudes.
- Boundaries help you be yourself, instead of losing yourself in someone else.
- You want the person you date to take responsibility for his life, as you do.
- Good boundaries will help you choose better quality people because they help you become a better person.
Making Dating Work BOUNDARIES IN DATING by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend.
Zondervan Publishers, 2000.