I’m going to start this article with the preface that I personally have not dated (I’m a firm believer of dating to marry so I’m waiting on God’s timing). In high school and college, marriage was not on my radar, but in the last three years, God began doing His work on my heart in the area of romance and marriage. Through a lot of Bible study and prayer, He has been molding my heart and preparing me for my future husband. Part of this journey has included studying what Biblical relationships look like. I’ve talked with my married friends about it, read books on the topic, and most importantly, spent a lot of time on my knees and in the pages of my Bible conversing with God about it. Unfortunately, dating as we know it today, is not memorialized in the Bible, so there is no quick guide or reference for a topic that is crucial to young people today. However, here is what all of this has led me to:
Know and enforce your boundaries.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification that you should abstain from sexual immortality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. –1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
Love does strange things to people. A lot of us hate to admit this, but it’s true. People change when they fall “in love.” In chapter three of his book, The Sacred Search, Gary Thomas talks about the scientific data and psychological theories explaining what happens with the human body and brain when you become smitten with someone. For example, common neurological symptoms of infatuation include: extreme energy, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, impulsivity, euphoria, obsessive thinking about their beloved, possessiveness, emotional dependency on one person, and sexual desires become intensified. Frankly, you stop thinking clearly and all logic flies out the window when it comes to your beloved. So, when you tell yourself (or your parents/guardians/youth pastor) that you can keep your hands to yourself and keep things under control, realistically, the odds are stacked against you. Like, way against.
Allow me to put it this way: if you have an obsession with chocolate and decide to limit your sugar intake, then keeping a drawer full of sweets in your house is bound to end in disaster, no matter how much self-discipline you have. A moment will come when you’re sad/vulnerable/lonely and it always starts with just one piece of chocolate. But in those moments of vulnerability, one chocolate is never enough. So, you let go and binge. It happens to all of us with our vices. That’s why almost every diet plan will tell you to purge all junk food from your house before you even start the diet. It’s the same with boundaries in relationships: you need to draw them in black and white and enforce them physically, not just with your words.
Some examples of boundaries that help:
- No texting/phone calls/Face-timing after 10:30 pm. Yes, I know, most young people are not even in bed by this time, but late night conversations behind screens raise two immediate red flags. First, studies show that we are more vulnerable at night. Second, there is something about being behind a screen that makes people feel protected and invincible. Combine these two things and we are more likely to let our guard down at night (especially when you’re in bed and tired after a long day), and we then feel an extra layer of security since you can’t cross any boundaries if you’re in different places, right? But, friend, it’s not just about physical boundaries. Emotional boundaries are just as important. From a neurological standpoint, it’s easier to say no to physical sexual passion than it is to regulate the rush of emotional infatuation.
- Limit your alone time. For centuries, young unmarried people were not allowed to spend any time alone before marriage. There was always a chaperone, and that’s probably for good reason. As we discussed above, rational thought and boundaries seem to fly out the window when hormones and passion get involved. Girl, I know that you think you can handle it. That you’ll say no or that he’s a Godly gentleman. But, it’s one of the oldest stories in the world. Things happen, emotions spark, hormones flare up, and one kiss turns into another which turns into sex. It happens, so guard yourself against it. Hang out in groups, go on double dates, spend time in public places, or have a curfew for alone time. The same goes for emotions: sharing all your hopes, dreams, fears, and every waking thought with one person can bind you to that person on a deep emotional level that can have damaging effects on a young woman!
- Until it’s official before God, that man might as well be another woman’s husband. This is a standard I’ve tried to establish in my life. I remind myself that the men I interact with – whether they’re single or not – are someone’s husbands and therefore I need to treat him accordingly. Similarly, you can ask yourself if you would say something or do something in a certain way if that person’s wife was in the room or your husband was in the room with you two. Yes, that’s a really stringent and lofty standard. But, I have heard of so many stories where a couple was 100 percent positive they would get married, especially during the engagement phase (I mean, you’re practically married, right?), only to have the relationship fall apart before the wedding. Nothing is guaranteed until it’s official before God (even then, marriage still takes work). So, don’t weaken your boundaries and relationships rules just because you’re now engaged or absolutely positive he’s the one.
- If the sexual temptation is too much, get married sooner rather than later.Apostle Paul totally gets the credit for this one: see chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians.
Get your parents involved.
Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established. –Proverbs 15:22
If you haven’t yet read When God Writes Your Love Story, by Eric and Leslie Ludy, add it your reading list. Although this book was written over 20 years ago, it is still one of the most relevant and helpful books on Godly relationships. One of the parts that stood out most to me is that from the beginning of their romantic relationship, Eric and Leslie got their parents involved. When they first began seeing each other in a romantic way, they sat down both of their families and expressed their desire to pursue a relationship together with the intention of marrying eventually. The couple then asked their parents to hold them accountable and to guide them through the relationship. As such, both sets of parents could act as mentors, chaperones and most importantly, prayer warriors.
Unfortunately, doing something like this has become incredibly outdated in our society today. We like to keep our relationships private and our parents out of our personal business. But, that’s not how God intended it: from the beginning of creation children were under their parent’s guidance until they were given away in marriage.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24
Although most of us no longer live in cultures where parents choose spouses for their children, there is still a great reward for those who obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), including in the areas of dating and courtship. If you haven’t yet, watch Princess Cut (an amazing Christian movie about welcoming parental input in your relationships!). Although your parents don’t have to be involved in every aspect of your dating life, keep them informed, go to your parents for advice, ask them to pray for you, to hold you accountable or just spend time together.
If for whatever reason getting your parents involved is not an option, then find a Godly adult or older couple that you trust (it could be a neighbor, older sibling, youth pastor, etc..) and ask them to be your relationship mentor(s). Set up a time to meet regularly for coffee, a meal or Bible study.
Study the Bible together.
There are a lot of fake Christians out there. Sadly, just because you’re dating the worship leader/golden boy of your church does not guarantee that he is truly a devoted believer. There are too many heartbreaking stories of young women marrying men they thought were Godly, only to realize a few months into their marriage that the man they married is not who they thought he was.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? –2 Corinthians 6:14
One way to protect yourself against becoming that statistic is to study the Bible together. Whether you join a Bible class at your church and study the Bible as a group, or meet up in a public place to do Bible study one on one, the point is to discover what each of you truly believe. Don’t be afraid to tackle the big issues in these topics: does he want to have kids someday? What does he consider good parenting as? What does it mean to him that a wife shall submit to her husband? What does he think a man should do as the head of the household? It is totally okay if neither of you has answers to these questions or if your answers change as you study what the Bible says on these topics. That’s the point of this: to get to know each other and to bring God into the center of your relationship.
If you do not feel quite ready to dive into Bible study on your own, there are some great devotionals, studies and books on the topics of Godly dating. Create your own mini book study (all the books I’ve mentioned in this article are great conversation starters!) by reading a chapter each week and discussing it on your next date. Or, start the day by reading the same Bible passage or devotional and then discuss it together.
Making Bible study a regular part of your relationship even in the early stages of dating will help build a strong Biblical foundation for your marriage. Because even though we like to think that things and people change after the marriage ceremony, that is not true. So, if you do not study the Word together now, chances are it will not be a big part of your relationship even after you tie the knot.
Pray together and for each other.
Bible study and prayer go hand in hand. So, make prayer a part of your relationship – start your dates and conversations with prayer. Pray for each other. Pick a prayer need in your families or church and carry that to God daily. Observing how a man comes to God in prayer – on multiple occasions, in private and in public – can tell you a lot about his relationship with God and his character.
In the modern world of rising divorce dates, serial dating, and glorifying sex before marriage, it is incredibly difficult to maintain a God-centered, pure relationship. But, it is not impossible. It just takes a lot of prayer, self-discipline, and wise counsel.