Pursuing sexual purity in a long-distance relationship should be easy, right?
Well — yes and no. When you spend 95% of your time in different cities, purity is not a front-of-mind issue. After all, slipping into sexual sin isn’t as easy when you literally cannot touch one another.
However, as my husband and I learned while we were long-distance dating, the 5% of time you are together can be intensely intimate. After months of missing each other, desires and emotions can be magnified, and self-control will be put to the test.
This struggle is summed up by Desiring God’s Marshall Segal, who is also familiar with long-distance relationships: “The fight for sexual purity is much more focused and occasional when the relationship is long-distance.”
Healthy v. Unhealthy Boundaries in Dating
In the emotional context of long-distance dating, well-established and well-kept boundaries are powerful weapons against sin. Boundaries are limits you set in place to protect both of you from entering areas of weakness.
While boundaries in Christian dating can easily turn into legalistic rules, healthy boundaries reveal God’s glory and grace. Our need for limits reminds us we are not God, and our struggle to follow them leads us to depend on His power and mercy.
Boundaries by themselves are not enough to keep you from sin (Colossians 2:23). Unless you are deeply convicted that following God will maximize your long-term joy, your boundaries will be useless against the appeal of momentary happiness.
What Is Sexual Immorality, Really?
The biggest obstacle most Christian couples face in creating boundaries is determining the Biblical definition of “sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Ephesians 5:3, 1 Corinthians 6:18).
Sex, oral sex, digital sex, and sexual stimulation are all non-negotiable sins that fall under sexual immorality. But what’s “okay” beyond these obvious answers? Should you wait to kiss until your wedding day or make-out for hours? Should you never be together in private or sleep in the same bed?
A helpful starting point for answering these questions is found in the New International Version of 1 Corinthians 10:23:
“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ — but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”
Based on this passage, a better question than “Is this okay?” is “Is this beneficial and constructive for our relationship with God and each other?” The goal of treasuring Christ always surpasses technical compliance.
A Five-Step Process for Setting Boundaries
While there’s no Biblical formula for boundary-setting, this example five-step process combines the principles of searching the Scriptures (Proverbs 30:5, Psalm 19:7-11, Psalm 119:9, 105), seeking wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20) and confessing in community with others (Galatians 6:1, James 5:16):
- Learn God’s perspective on purity
- Find out what worked for others
- Establish your boundaries together
- Ask others to keep you accountable
- Review your boundaries often
The order of this example process is important. You must learn what God says about sexual purity before you listen to the words of others. You also need to list your specific boundaries before you can ask someone else to hold you to them.
Step Five reflects the reality that boundaries can, and often should, change. Even if you follow this process perfectly, you will have a much clearer idea of what types of touch are tempting for you six months from now than you do today.
We personally found it helpful to review our boundaries before every visit (so we didn’t forget them) and edit them every three months. While changing your boundaries every weekend kind of defeats the point, you can gradually introduce new things as your relationship progresses and your knowledge of Biblical purity increases.
Starting slow is always the best option. We established overly-strict boundaries in the beginning and didn’t regret it, even though we relaxed some of them later.
Helpful Resources for Setting Boundaries
If you’ve never dated anyone seriously, you might not know what situations and types of touch will increase your sexual temptation. Use these specific tips for physical boundaries as a starting point.
Often misunderstood, emotional purity is also important. Learn what it really means to guard your heart with boundaries in dating.
Finally, good boundaries aren’t that helpful if you’re dating for the wrong reasons. Make sure you understand the purpose of dating before you dive in too deep.
How To Respond If You Break Your Boundaries
However, our dating years were not regret-free. While we didn’t have sex, we touched each other in ways we knew were wrong.
These actions were a slow but serious poison in our relationship. The more we touched, the more tension we allowed between us and God.
How do you respond when you break your boundaries, when you indulge in dark delights?
First, you repent. Acknowledge your specific sins to God and apologize to each other. You can let Psalm 51 guide you as a prayer of repentance.
Next, you strengthen your defenses. Re-commit to your broken boundaries and add new ones if necessary. You can also use this as an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of your accountability network.
Finally, you rest in Christ. Forgiveness for your broken boundaries is offered by His once-for-all work on the cross. The power to keep them is supplied by His constant working in your life. You can find peace in His ongoing presence.
For after all our efforts, we must remember that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
If you’re like us and you struggle to keep your boundaries, do not be discouraged. You will need to face the earthly consequences of your actions, but you are not a slave to sin (Romans 6:6). You can have the living God inside of you, and He is strong enough to defeat your heart’s sinful desires.
Keep fighting for purity in your long-distance relationship — but do not fight on your own strength.