How to Create and Maintain Boundaries in a Relationship (And Why!)
Whether you’re in a long-distance or local dating relationship, establishing boundaries in that relationship is important. We at Catholic Singles believe that creating and maintaining boundaries can support the building of a healthy relationship. Below, we share the story of two individuals who took the time to talk about boundaries that guided them in the development of their relationship with one another…
Joseph and I met on a summer mission trip in western Kansas. After spending the week painting houses together, I was impressed by his generosity and easygoing personality. I got to know him better during that summer through phone calls and messages, and the night of my birthday, he asked me out on a date. I couldn’t have been more excited.
It would have been so easy for me to fall head over heels for Joseph, throwing caution to the wind. I hadn’t ever dated before, so I didn’t have a lot of experience in how relationships worked (except the stack of books that I’d read on the subject).
But in a conversation early on in our relationship, Joseph did something I will forever be thankful for. He started to talk about boundaries. Although I knew we needed boundaries in our relationship, I was also a little worried. Would our boundaries end spontaneous affection? Wouldn’t they kill the mood?
Are Boundaries Affection Killers in Local Dating and Long-Distance Relationships? Not at All
In romantic relationships, we can mistake boundaries as a bad thing, or think they’re unnecessary. But the boundaries in Joseph and I’s relationship weren’t rules that we put into place to take all the fun and excitement out of our romance. Instead, the boundaries we established kept both of us from getting hurt in our relationship.
Boundaries aren’t something just found in romantic local dating or long-distance relationships. More than likely, we already respect boundaries in our daily life.
We know that when the stoplight turns red, we don’t go into the intersection. In the neighborhood, we respect the property line that separates our neighbor’s yard from ours. We don’t put patio furniture or throw parties on their side.
The reality is that boundaries don’t stifle adventure or spontaneity. Instead, we put rules in place to keep us safe.
So what do boundaries in romantic relationships look like? And how should couples go about setting up boundaries in their relationship?
How Far is Too Far? Is It Affectionate or Arousing?
If you’re approaching boundaries in your local dating or long-distance relationship by asking the question ‘how far is too far,’ then you’re asking the wrong question. That isn’t to say that affection or sex are bad things. Both affection and sex are good if they are in the right context. It’s just that asking ‘how far is too far’ is like asking ‘how much can we do together before we start sinning.’
If you truly love the other person and desire to will their good, you’re going to work to get them to Heaven, not to get them into the confessional.
Physical affection in a romantic relationship doesn’t exist on a spectrum ranging from light kisses on the cheek to having sex with each other. Creating boundaries doesn’t mean drawing a line at “passionate kissing” and not crossing it. You don’t have to create a list of things you can and cannot do to show physical love. This is because there aren’t hundreds of ways to express physical affection in a relationship, there are actually only two ways: affection and arousal.
The question we really need to ask ourselves when deciding on boundaries for our relationship is “Is this type of physical romance affectionate or arousing?” If you’re getting to know each other, dating, or engaged, affection is a beautiful way to show the other person you care about them. But couples should save arousing each other for marriage. In his book, Love and Responsibility, Saint Pope John Paul II talks about what those differences in touch mean. He wrote:
“A very clear distinction must be drawn between tenderness and the various ways in which it manifests itself on the one hand, and various means of satisfying the demands of sensuality on the other. Their origins and objectives are quite different. Sensuality is naturally orientated towards ‘the body as a possible object of sexual enjoyment’, and aims at satisfying this need for enjoyment in the natural way: that is called finding a sexual outlet. Tenderness, on the other hand, comes from sentiment and its characteristic reaction to a ‘human being of the opposite sex’. It is not an expression of concupiscence but of benevolence and devotion.”
If you kiss goodnight affectionately, then you’re experiencing the tenderness that Saint John Paul II mentioned. But if your goodnight kiss leaves you wishing you didn’t have to stop at the goodnight kiss, your actions are leading to arousal.
Being Honest with Each Other Is Intimacy
The Church doesn’t have a list of things that couples can and cannot do while dating. Each couple’s boundaries will look different.
The key to discussing boundaries with each other is honesty. Know your strengths and sources of temptation, and be honest with the person you’re dating. If you’re aroused by something that your partner does, let them know so that you can avoid leading each other into sin.
But when you discuss boundaries within your relationship, it shouldn’t just be about how long you can kiss or how close you can sit next to each other. Chastity and boundaries aren’t just about not having sex. Boundaries should be in place in all areas of our lives – intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical.
Talk about areas of intimacy in your relationship. Here are some questions to get you started:
- How much time should we spend together as a couple?
- How much should we drink when we’re together?
- When should we spend time together? Does spending time together late at night help us practice chastity?
- Do we still spend time with our friends or are we isolated during our time together?
- How much of our relationship do we share on social media?
- How much time should we spend communicating throughout the day?
- Do we respect each other’s boundaries?
- What physical signs of love are affectionate and what is arousing?
- How can we grow closer to Christ together?
Use boundaries as a guide when you start a local or long-distance relationship, or strengthen the relationship you’re in right now. Boundaries provide structure that you need not only to guard your own heart from getting hurt, but also to set your relationship up for success.
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Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband, geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. You can find more about her on her blog "Old Fashioned Girl."