Christian Singles & Dating

8 Ways to Set Emotional Boundaries in Dating

  • Annie Yorty Crosswalk Contributing Writer
  • 2022 24 Feb
8 Ways to Set Emotional Boundaries in Dating

“Why is dating so difficult?” I hear this lament frequently from single women I mentor. While dating methods have changed over the last few decades since I left the single life, there’s really nothing new. Exquisite anticipation of possibilities mingles with the terrifying risk of opening your heart to produce a relationship roller coaster.

Erin's Predicament

Erin’s dating story began slowly. In her twenties, she desired marriage but waited patiently for God to bring along the right guy. But nothing serious developed from the few friendly relationships she entertained. Now she’s crossed into her thirties. She wonders if all the good men are taken. So she steps up her effort, joining singles’ groups and even an online dating service. She’s gone out with several self-identified Christian men, but none display the maturity or values she desires. Even so, Erin finds herself compromising more and more with each date as her anxiety about the future intensifies.

Dating without maintaining emotional boundaries destroys your sense of peace and well-being. That’s why it’s important to understand the purpose of dating and arm yourself with practical ways to set emotional boundaries.

Purpose of Dating

Humans naturally desire fellowship. God created us that way. He also designed males and females to join in marriage. While not everyone dates for potential marriage, most sooner or later begin to consider the possibility. Dating, therefore, provides critical information to evaluate a potential marriage partner. If you get married someday, setting good boundaries during dating will help you arrive there healthy and whole, without regrets, and pleasing to God.

What Is an Emotional Boundary?

Boundary: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

Roads have obvious boundaries. They are marked by lines, shoulders, and guard rails. Road boundaries and emotional boundaries have many similarities. Painted lines delineate areas for travel so cars stay separated in their lanes. Without them, drivers would end up in a snarled mess. Similarly, brightly drawn emotional boundary lines keep our hearts from premature entanglement. Let’s go to God’s word rather than Google to learn about emotional boundaries.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (Proverbs 4:23 NLT).

Your heart needs boundaries to stay oriented toward God. So does your mind.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2 NLT).

In dating, as with everything in life, guard your heart and mind to maintain holiness that is pleasing to God and dignifying to yourself. But this is easier said than done. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. God creates boundaries for us through His word and by His Spirit. The psalmist appreciated the boundary lines drawn by God. He did not grasp for anything outside God’s lines because the Lord was enough.

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me (Psalm 16:5-6 NASB1995).

In the same way, God draws boundary lines for us. Boundaries that guard our hearts, especially in relationships, should not be ignored.

8 Ways to Set Emotional Boundaries in Dating

1. Avoid desperation.

Josiah feels a sense of completeness and accomplishment with a woman by his side. He lavishes her with gifts, hoping to win devotion and loyalty—he bares his soul, talking about his hang-ups and past hurts. Women gravitate toward his vulnerability—for a while. But eventually, his clinging dependence on them for fulfillment grows tiresome, resulting in ghosting. Josiah’s heart and hope shatter with every failure.

Approaching dating from the point of wholeness rather than neediness creates preexisting guardrails. Before dating, work on achieving spiritual and emotional health. Deal with past hurts to understand your inner motivations, so you do not repeat unhealthy patterns.

Most importantly, develop satisfaction through your relationship with God above all others. Depend solely on God, so you do not expect your date to fulfill or complete you. Consider abstaining from dating until you have worked through this process.

2. Prioritize thinking over feeling.

Feelings fluctuate, ranging from excruciating to delicious. We all have them, but we cannot allow fickle feelings to determine decisions. Discipline your mind to take control. Remember, the purpose of dating is to evaluate compatibility for a relationship and possible suitability for marriage.

3. Maintain strong physical boundaries.

Kayleigh values purity and plans to save sex for marriage. But while the Christian guys she’s dated say they agree in theory, they also simultaneously push for more and more physical intimacy—hugging, kissing, cuddling, spooning, and a lot more. Heart in tatters, she feels used as she cycles through man after man, allowing more touching than seems right to her. But where exactly is the line between right and wrong?

For both men and women, sexual contact outside marriage can quickly obliterate healthy emotional boundaries. More importantly, God sets a standard He expects us to follow. God says, “You must be holy because I am holy (1 Peter 1:16 NLT).” Holiness is God’s standard regarding all sin. Some think the “big sin” before marriage is sexual intercourse. Anything up to that point goes. This mindset is like scraping your car along the guard rails of the road. Like Kayleigh, you end up battered and wounded. Instead, why not breeze down the center lane of God’s holiness by avoiding any physical touch or “naughty” talk that leads to sexual thoughts and temptations? This may seem radical because of our free-for-all sexual culture. But whether you marry or not, you will never regret protecting your boundaries by following God’s standards.

4. Plan dates that match your level of commitment.

One of my favorite swimming pools is one that begins at a level of six inches and gradually deepens to twelve feet. Entering at the shallow end helps my body acclimate to the chilly, spring-fed water. Jumping into the deep end shocks the breath out of me. The same can be true of dating. Coffee together is the shallow end of the dating pool. Traveling across the country together to meet the family is the deep end. If you dive into the deep end too early, your emotions and heart leap ahead of reality.

Especially early in relationships, set up well-defined date activities with a pre-planned start and end time. Even talking on the phone for long hours may lead to unrealistic emotional expectations. The promise of so many words with no actions snares your heart before you can observe integrity. Spend more time in-person to hear words and evaluate actions for consistency.

5. Maintain privacy about prior relationships.

A match on a dating site followed by a few texts and coffee together should not prompt a litany of the rise and fall of every prior relationship. While there may be an appropriate time for sharing additional information, you do not owe a relative stranger any information about previous involvements. This is true even if they tell you about theirs. Knowing too much often produces emotional insecurity as you press for even more details and make inevitable comparisons.

6. Have fun in the process of getting to know each other.

In a rush to know and be known, it’s tempting to volunteer and ask for extremely personal information way too early. Of course, discussion is a vital part of the discovery process. But conversation that goes deep too fast leaves both parties at a disadvantage. For instance, if your date reveals intensely personal struggles early on, you may feel so emotionally bound to their problems that you neglect warning signs. Alternatively, if you share your heart issues before trust is earned, you offer a would-be jerk a blueprint for wrecking your reputation and emotional health.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying more shallow conversations and activities at the beginning of the relationship. Become more serious only as you find evidence that your date is respectful, caring, and worthy of deeper trust.

7. Pray for God’s wisdom.

If you’re trusting God with your heart and for your future, then ask Him to supply wisdom you need to follow and honor Him in dating. Not only will He direct your dating path, but He will also give you the strength to obey His holiness principles.

8. Be honest about your relationships with a mature mentor.

Accountability motivates us to stick to commitments. While a godly peer may be a suitable mentor, choosing a mature person outside your immediate circle who values confidentiality is usually best. Resist the urge to dissect your dating relationships with all your friends. It tempts you to pick and choose just the answers and advice you want to hear. Also, if you move toward marriage with a date, your earlier gossip may disrespect your future spouse.

What if Your Boundaries are Already Broken?

Perhaps you’ve read this far and feel defeated because you haven’t set strong emotional boundaries. Maybe you’re still in that dating relationship where godly barriers have been breached. Restoring boundaries may seem like putting toothpaste back into the tube. But with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). If God is speaking to your heart by His Spirit, hasten to obey. Start today. If you’re in a relationship that needs to be corrected, discuss your conviction with your partner. Hopefully, they will value your commitment. If not, do not be persuaded away from God’s holiness standard. It’s better to lose the relationship than disobey God.

Have you noticed the progressive nature of emotional boundaries? Dating should begin with narrow boundaries that widen over time spent observing and evaluating character. Traveling along this spectrum of deepening trust always carries a risk to the heart and mind. But if our deepest trust is always in God, we hold fast to His promise.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7 NASB1995).

Trust in God to help you develop strong, God-honoring emotional boundaries so dating relationships will please Him and enrich your life.

Related articles:

6 Respectful Things You Can Do in a New Relationship  

What Does the Bible Say about Sex Before Marriage?

8 Tips for Christians Pursuing Dating

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/g-stockstudio

Writer Annie YortyAnnie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down SyndromePlease connect with her at, Facebook, and Instagram.