How to Set a Healthy Pace for Emotional & Physical Intimacy

You don’t have to be a track star to know the importance of setting a healthy pace when you’re running a race.

If you sprint as fast as you can during your first lap around the track, you’ll regret it when you reach the fourth. Doubled over with exhaustion, the end will feel miles away.

Just like running, relationships need a healthy pace. At best, you’ll experience an agonizingly long wait if you rush ahead too quickly. At worst, you’ll get hurt and realize you’ve wasted all of your effort running the wrong race.

I bring up this idea of a healthy pace because I previously wrote, “I’m not sure it’s possible to miss your boyfriend ‘too much’ — as in too deeply — as long as your emotional intimacy is not outpacing other areas of your relationship.”

That short statement raises an important question. How do you know if your emotional intimacy (or physical intimacy, for that matter) is progressing at a healthy pace?

Three Dimensions of Intimacy

Intimacy is the closeness you have in a relationship. When you’re dating, the two main types of intimacy are emotional and physical.

Sometimes, I’ll add spiritual intimacy to that mix. Many people caution against praying and reading the Bible together too much while you’re dating.

But I don’t think spiritual intimacy is really the problem. The main danger with spiritual intimacy is that it almost always deepens your emotional intimacy, too. And emotional intimacy almost always increases your desire for physical intimacy.

So, spiritual intimacy is only a concern if it is outpacing your emotional and physical intimacy in ways that are unhealthy for this stage of your relationship.

But how do you know if your emotional and physical intimacy are increasing at a healthy rate?

Three Milestones of Emotional & Physical Intimacy

If spiritual intimacy is dangerous when it outpaces emotional and physical intimacy, the other two types are dangerous when they outpace your knowledge of each other, your trust for each other, and your commitment to each other.

If you confess deep secrets, kiss, or make sweeping proclamations of eternal love before you know someone very well, you’re essentially gambling that the relationship will work out.

Dating always involves risk, but there’s a difference between a risk and a gamble. You take risks based on what you know to be true. You gamble based on what you hope to be true.

The most important thing for you to know when you’re dating is the person’s character. Are they a person of integrity? Do they obey God and treasure Christ above all else? Are they faithful to their promises?

Once you begin to know someone’s character, you begin to trust them more. You can let them into your heart because you know they aren’t seeking to hurt you.

Yet even when you know and trust each other deeply, your emotional and physical intimacy must be reined in by your level of commitment to each other.

I’m not talking about perceived commitment. Statements like “I want you to be with you for the rest of my life” don’t mean anything until you back them up with action.

The clearest commitment is exchanging vows in front of your friends and family and entering into the covenant of marriage. Other actions build to that commitment, like getting engaged. For me, moving to the city where my now-husband lived was also a small step of commitment, but still nowhere near the commitment level of marriage.

In my experience, most couples struggle with wanting to stretch their emotional or physical intimacy beyond their current level of commitment — particularly with physical intimacy.

Sometimes you both want to increase your commitment, but it’s not the right time because of the distance between you.

In that situation, the best thing to do is not to say, “Well, maybe commitment doesn’t really matter that much” and dive deeper anyway.

The best thing to do is pray. Pray for wisdom to know when to get engaged and married, and pray for perseverance to wait until that time comes.

How to Set the Pace

Practically, the easiest way to set a healthy pace for your emotional and physical intimacy is through boundaries. Boundaries are the lines on the racetrack that tell you where to run.

Not having boundaries is stressful, because you’re always wondering if you’re on the right track. Having boundaries is freeing because you know where to run before you even begin.

The following resources on boundaries cover:

If your relationship is new and you know you’re going to be long-distance for a while, it can also be wise to set time-based boundaries, such as “We won’t even consider kissing for XX months” or “We won’t talk about marriage together until this date at the earliest.”

Creating time-based boundaries is a way to acknowledge, “I have a feeling that our knowledge of each other and trust for each other are going to increase faster than we can increase our commitment. So, let’s be wise and take things slowly at first.”

How to Reset the Pace

If you think you’ve leaped a little too far ahead emotionally or physically, take some time to pray and process Scripture.

It’s easy to get caught up fearing what other people think about your relationship. Do they think we’re sinning? Do they think we’ve gone too far?

But the only person whose opinion on sin matters is God. Our Heavenly Father never scoffs at his children’s sin or sighs in disappointment.

God does not condemn those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). Instead, he gently and lovingly leads us to repentance, which brings freedom.

Repentance is the secret to resetting your pace. Christ’s forgiveness is the power to get you moving in the right direction.

Ready, Set, Go

Finally, take comfort in the fact that a need for a healthy pace means that moving forward is healthy.

Relationships are meant to grow and deepen over time. It’s a measured process, but it’s not mechanical.

You don’t need to run timidly, glancing down at your watch every second to check the pace. Set your heart on Christ and enjoy the run.

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