Reclaiming the Heart of Purity with Emotional Boundaries

We talk a lot about physical purity in Christian dating.

We talk about it for good reasons. Spiritually, abstaining from sexual immorality is a command from the Lord. Practically, setting and keeping physical boundaries is a challenge for most couples.

But we don’t seem to talk enough about — or place a high value on — emotional purity. When we ask, “How far is too far before marriage?” we’re usually thinking about where our hands wander more than where our hearts drift.

What Is Purity of Heart?

Perhaps part of why we leave emotions out of the conversation is because Biblically, purity of heart is much broader than romantic relationships.

Purity of heart really means treasuring Christ with all of our affections and abilities: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

This type of purity is crucial to the Christian faith, for as Matthew 6:8 tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 6:8)

Such a sweeping view of purity makes it all the more clear that we can’t achieve it on our own. King David was called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), yet he realized he needed God to purify his heart for him. Grieving over his sin, David prayed in repentance, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

All this means that we need a more holistic approach to guarding our hearts than simply walling up and waiting. If through Christ “the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23) flow from our hearts, watching over our wells means drinking deeply from them just as much as it means protecting them from contaminants.

If we desire purity, we must go back to the only source of clean water: Jesus Christ (John 4:14).

How Do We Guard Our Hearts?

The term “emotional purity” might be misleading because our hearts are inseparably entwined with our minds. Since emotions result from thoughts, we need to train our minds to guard our hearts.

Practically, we do this by soaking in the knowledge of God and taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Once we’ve identified a threatening thought, we can stop it before it works its way into our hearts.

Any number of false or sinful thoughts may be affecting our hearts, and we need to guard against them with the Holy Spirit’s help, whether we’re single, dating, or married.

Setting Healthy Emotional Boundaries

When you’re dating someone, a proactive approach to emotional purity is establishing healthy emotional boundaries. These aren’t as easy to define as physical boundaries, but the two go hand in hand.

If you’re new to boundary-setting, start by learning the basics of setting Christ-honoring boundaries. The example five-step process works for emotional boundaries as much as physical ones.

Since step two of that process is “Find out what worked for others,” I’ve assembled a list of things I recommend you consider when you’re setting emotional boundaries with your boyfriend.

This list isn’t law, but it contains pieces of wisdom I’ve picked up from other women and my own experiences.

1. Define the words, “I love you.”

Different people attach different meanings to the words “I love you” and “I’m in love with you,” so you should discuss what you will mean when you say them.

There’s no right or wrong answer about which one comes first, but love is distinctly deeper than infatuation or attraction. 1 Corinthians 13 is a helpful starting point for defining love.

2. Establish a schedule for healthy communication.

Long-distance couples tend toward two extremes: talking too often or too infrequently. Both can be unhealthy for your relationship.

A bit of intentionality goes a long way here. Discuss expectations for how you will stay connected and establish a realistic schedule. Do you prefer to call for several hours twice a week, or talk for 20 minutes every day?

Whatever you decide, be flexible and don’t freak out if your expectations get broken sometimes.

3. Wait to talk about marriage other than defining your purpose in dating.

The purpose of dating is to determine if you should marry each other.

However, talking about marriage too much too soon can cause you to perceive you have a greater level of intimacy and commitment than you actually have. Research shows that idealism is more common in long-distance relationships, so you need to be critical of your feelings and slow to believe you’ve met “the one.”

For example, questions like “Where would your ideal honeymoon be?” is not relevant for most dating couples. Focus instead on getting to know one another with healthy conversation-starters like “When you travel, do you prefer to do touristy things or go off the beaten path?”

4. You don’t need to study the Bible and pray together constantly.

A Christ-centered relationship does not mean your boyfriend is your primary spiritual companion and accountability partner.

While this is true for marriage, it’s not wise for dating relationships. The powerful spiritual intimacy created by extended prayer times or worship sessions can outpace the growth of healthy emotional and physical intimacy, causing your relationship to mimic marriage a little too much.

5. Commit to opening up slowly.

Revealing past abuse, ongoing trauma, or deep sin struggles early in a relationship can place you in a vulnerable position.

You have no guarantee that your significant other is sticking around for the long-term. Creating a foundation of trust is advisable before gradually revealing the harder parts of your story.

6. Don’t make hasty promises.

It’s easy to say, “I’ll always love you,” or “I’ll wait for you as long as necessary” in a long-distance relationship. You may even mean these promises — but that doesn’t mean you should make them.

As Christians, we need to take our promises seriously and not make them hastily (Ecclesiastes 5:5). Promises of lifetime love are the equivalent of a wedding vow, so wait to say these words until you’re ready to marry.

However, some short-term commitments are healthy. You should promise to be faithful to each other as long as you’re dating. But you shouldn’t promise you’ll never break up and date anyone else.

Complement Your Physical Boundaries

A good set of emotional and physical boundaries works in harmony, pulling your relationship along at a steady, healthy pace.

So, if you haven’t already, make sure to read the specific suggestions for establishing physical boundaries.

I’m praying you and your boyfriend can set a strong foundation for your relationship.

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