How do I set boundaries with my boyfriend?


I'm a member of the church and have really enjoyed the encouragement from my brothers and sisters that I get here. I found your site a couple of years ago and have referred to it often when I have questions because I appreciate your Bible-based wisdom and advice.

Since entering college, I met a young man who I am very interested in. He asked me out soon after we met, and we have been on several dates and spent quite a lot of time together, especially in our group of Christian friends. Last night, three of these friends approached me about the closeness between my boyfriend and I. We had been watching a movie, and the friends were in a row of couches behind the couch that my boyfriend and I were sitting on. I spent most of the movie leaning on a pillow between the two of us, but it appeared to them that I was leaning entirely on him. This made them feel uncomfortable, and I'm glad they addressed it so honestly with me. I don't think anyone's talked to him yet, but I plan to bring it up very soon. We need to have a talk about boundaries.

Therein lies my question. I've never had this talk before, and I'm not sure how to approach it or address it with him. I'm also not sure where to set boundaries so that we can be together with "not even a hint of sexual immorality." Neither of us would dare touch any private areas of the other, but how do we set basic boundaries so that we don't ever come close to that or give the wrong impression to others?

I read a lot of Proverbs last night, to help me keep the right attitude toward the reproof from my friends. I look forward to hearing from you and adding extra wisdom to my decision and actions. Thank you!


A typical human characteristic is to take ideas to the extreme. If we learn that one thing is wrong, the gut reaction is to go to the other extreme because we assume it is right. But extreme views are not always correct. "Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all" (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18). Extremes are appealing because they usually take less thought. See Extremes for more on this point.

People also attempt to "help" God by making rules -- rules that are often more restrictive than what God said.

"Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men -- the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition"" (Mark 7:1-9).

Christians have seen the corruption that is in the world and the liberties people take when claiming to be dating another person. The result is a movement to the opposite extreme. Rules are laid down without thinking through whether they are required by God.

For example, let's say that you and your new found friend were traveling with others to a gospel meeting in another town. You're in a small car, so you're sitting shoulder to shoulder. Is that wrong? If not, then the position, taken by itself, does not determine morality. To say that a couple is wrong for sitting close while watching a movie is to make a rule without foundation.

You should have boundaries with the young man you are dating, but while your friends are well intentioned, there also needs to be boundaries set with them. When they wish to correct, I would suggest something like: "I'm so glad you told me that this bothers you. What passage did you base this on?" Do not accept feelings because feelings have no place in moral decisions.

But in regards to boundaries with this young man:

  • Do nothing that will cause the other person to be sexually aroused. "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints" (Ephesians 5:3). Neither of you should assume that just because something doesn't bother you that it could not bother the other person. You should not be in a rush. You want this relationship to grow at its own pace. "I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you do not arouse or awaken my love until she pleases" (Song of Solomon 2:7).
  • Do nothing that you would not do with your parents in the room. You need to maintain a sense of propriety. That is one of the things Israel lost. "Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD" (Jeremiah 6:15). Be protective of each others honor. It is more than just not doing sexual things, but also not leaving the impression that sexual things are going on behind everyone's back. You don't want anyone getting the wrong impression about the person you are dating.
  • Do nothing that you would not want someone doing to your brother or sister. "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (I Timothy 4:12). "Purity" is the opposite of uncleanness. It is the idea that you know your are set apart as dedicated to God and you will not pollute what belongs to God. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 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" (I Thessalonians 5:3-5).
  • Go out of your way to reduce the temptations faced by the other person. Love "does not behave rudely, ... does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth" (I Corinthians 13:5-6). So don't spend time alone with each other where someone else might not see you. Don't be provocative. "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).

Actually the early days of dating is easier than the later on, if you two decide to seriously consider each other for marriage. In the early days your own discomfort puts up boundaries. As the time for marriage approaches, you familiarity with each other means the reminders to behave won't be there. If you establish good habits early in the relationship, then the later days will be easier to stay true to God's teachings.