Welcome to dating. If you have been in this unique type of relationship, you are probably familiar with some of the struggles. Two people are genuinely attracted to each other and start going out. They are hopeful that the relationship will become something special that will lead to marriage and a lifelong soul mate. Things look good for a while, but somehow something breaks down between them, causing heartache, frustration, and loneliness. And, more often than not, the scenario repeats itself in other relationships down the line.
Some people blame dating itself for all of this, thinking that it’s not a healthy activity. They would rather find an alternative, such as group friendships until two people have selected each other to court exclusively. Though dating has its difficulties, we would not take this view. We believe in dating. We did it a lot personally, having been single a combined total of seventy-five years. And we think it offers lots of good things, such as opportunities to grow personally and learn how to relate to people, for starters.
However, dating does have its risks. By its very nature, dating is experimental, with little commitment initially, so someone can get out of a relationship without having to justify himself much. Putting lots of emotional investment into a relationship can be dangerous. Thus, dating works best between two responsible, mature people.
Freedom and Responsibility
Many of the struggles people experience in dating relationships are, at heart, caused by some problem in the areas of freedom and responsibility. By freedom, we mean your ability to make choices based on your values, rather than choosing out of fear or guilt. Free people make commitments because they feel it’s the right thing to do, and they are wholehearted about it. By responsibility, we mean your ability to execute your tasks in keeping the relationship healthy and loving, as well as being able to say no to things you shouldn’t be responsible for. Responsible people shoulder their part of the dating relationship, but they don’t tolerate harmful or inappropriate behavior.
And that’s where boundaries come in. We believe that healthy boundaries are the key to preserving freedom, responsibility, and ultimately love, in your dating life. Establishing and keeping good limits can do a great deal to not only cure a bad relationship, but make a good one better.
What Are Boundaries?
You may not be familiar with the term boundary. For some people, boundaries may bring up images of walls, barriers to intimacy, or even selfishness. Yet that is not the case, especially in the dating arena. If you understand what boundaries are and do, they can be one of the most helpful tools in your life to develop love, responsibility, and freedom.
Simply put, a boundary is a property line. Just as a physical fence marks out where your yard ends and your neighbor’s begins, a personal boundary distinguishes what is your emotional or personal property, and what belongs to someone else. (Read What Are Personal Boundaries? for more information.) You can’t see your own boundary. However, you can tell it is there when someone crosses it. When another person tries to control you, tries to get too close to you, or asks you to do something you don’t think is right, you should feel some sense of protest. Your boundary has been crossed.
Boundaries serve two important functions. First, they define us. Boundaries show what we are and are not; what we agree and disagree with; what we love and hate. The second function of boundaries is that they protect us. Boundaries keep good things in, and bad things out. (Read What Are Healthy Boundaries? to learn more.)
How Boundary Problems Surface in Dating
There are many ways that dating suffers when freedom and responsibility are not appropriately present. Sometimes, one person will give up her identity and lifestyle to keep a relationship together, for example. Then, when her true feelings emerge, the other person doesn’t like who she really is, having never been exposed to her real self.
Many people with boundary problems overstep their bounds and don’t know when to stop giving of themselves. They will put their lives and hearts on hold for someone, only to find out that the other person was willing to take all that, but never really wanted to deeply commit. Good boundaries help you know how much to give, and when to stop giving.
So why are boundaries important in dating? When we have well-developed boundaries, we are more drawn to healthy, growing people. We are clear about what we will tolerate and what we love. Good boundaries run off the wackos, and attract people who are into responsibility and relationship. But when our boundaries are unclear or undeveloped, we run the risk of allowing people inside who shouldn’t be there.
To learn more about boundaries and how they apply specifically to a dating relationship, get the book Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Adapted from Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.