Learning to Love: The Importance of Boundaries and How To Set Them

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)

We are all called to love in all things. So when it comes to romantic love, especially in today’s world, the lines are blurred between the fraternal, Christian love that is a part of our inherent mission and romantic, sensual love between two people. It is no coincidence that these lines are blurred because by creating a gray area it means anything goes – people can prioritize pleasure over commitment, they can deny the natural order of the World for the sake of their own lust, and the reverent becomes irreverent. All these things are goals of the Enemy.

To understand what love is and how it exists in all areas of life as well as how we are called to act on love in various areas are crucial for living intentionally. Most of us know what it’s like to be led on or even perhaps to lead on someone else – it’s not a fun game to play. Some people may say they like “playing games” or “just want a good time” but that is never wholeheartedly meant, at least not for the long term. At some point, life is going to take a turn, times will get tough, and the desire for support, friendship, and a true connection will arise. True love is the blessing that sustains us through the desert that this World can be.

In some ways, the best way to figure out how to love is to understand how NOT to love. When we determine our boundaries, we protect our morals, beliefs, and feelings (“keeping the reverent reverent” so to speak) from those who do not see eye-to-eye. It’s kind of like when you’re online shopping and you filter the colors, pricing, and styles to only focus on those items you know you want and need. Boundaries provide a similar filtering in dating – they are healthy, they are good, they are needed.

Joyfully Setting Boundaries 

I have also noticed that we tend to make dating much more complicated than always necessary. Granted, we’re talking about an area that is filled with the full spectrum of human emotion and passion – complexity and drama is warranted at times. That being said, our society today is saturated with unhealthy expectations and understandings of love and emotions. We live in a world where everyone is always wanting more, more, and then even more then sit back and wonder why they get no fulfillment from their choices. We are not fasting with our feasting. We need boundaries.

“We are not fasting with our feasting.

We need boundaries.”

So, how do you determine your boundaries? Simple: sit down and list out what you want and do not want in a relationship. Make it as long as you want – then go through and circle the non-negotiables. Write down anything and everything; it could be certain physical traits, character traits etc. but then go through and really ask yourself, “do I really have to have this in a partner/spouse?” Whatever you end up circling are the boundaries you’ll place on YOURSELF as you start going on dates. For example, if you know you definitively want to only date Christians, don’t open yourself up to anything outside of that. If you’re open to any religion, then that is not a boundary you would emphasize.

The next list: sit down and think of your vices. What are you easily tempted to do? Gossip? Sex? Impurity? Drinking too much? Gambling? Be blunt and put them all down. Then next to them come up with traits and virtues that battle those vices – ex. if you struggle with vanity, write humility. Think of past relationships (not necessarily just romantic) and how they may have hurt or helped you taming your vices. What boundaries do you want/need in place of your next relationship that will help you be better? Because a healthy relationship does that: it brings out the best in you, not the worst.

Finally, brainstorm different ways of introducing these boundaries to others. Make sure you do this in a way that it is positive and get acquainted with your statements so that they easily come up when the time comes. If you’re on a date and the person asks you if you’re open to hook ups, responding in a way that makes you sound unsure of yourself or shy doesn’t properly represent your morals if you don’t believe in doing that. It’s not just about the message you’re sending to the other person (sounding unsure could potentially make them think you might be convinced) but also about being true to you and true to God. Make sense?

Crossed Boundaries + Shame

While we should all remain vigilant and hopeful that we will keep our boundaries in place…more than likely, we’re all going to cross a boundary at some point. I pray that that is not the case for many people but if it is for you (because it is for me), know that to err is human. The solution: get back up (figuratively speaking), go to confession, and repent of any potential sins – not all crossed boundaries are necessarily sins – then reflect on what caused the boundary to be crossed.

Sit with any emotions that may come up: embarrassment, frustration, shame, hopelessness, whatever you may be feeling, and just kind of watch those feelings go by. Recognize their existence but try not to let them rule yours. I will go to a trusted friend or family member for feedback (or even a priest) and sometimes just to vent. Once you feel capable of approaching the boundary objectively, try to think of what needs to be done in the future to make sure it is not crossed again. Another very important lesson would be to discern what God is trying to teach you through all of it as well.

Remember, that shame is a tool of the Devil. The Enemy wants us to be defeated and hopeless – to feel that is what keeps us from moving forward and seeing our God-given purpose. If a lot of the emotions you are feeling are overwhelmingly feelings of shame, my advice would be to step back and take some time for yourself. Go and talk with trusted people, especially priests, for guidance then just focus on your life as it is without anyone in it. Just for a little while! Enough time to not let the shame keep you from enjoying and participating in your life. Don’t let one crossed boundary be the destruction of your whole life.

Reclaiming Boundaries

I’m only going to say one thing about reclaiming your boundaries: you are allowed to re-set them (or set them in the first place) even after breaking them or never having any at all. You are worthy of that. If anyone says anything differently, they’re manipulating you. 

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

Journaling Prompts – Relationships and Boundaries:

  1. Grab a journal or piece of paper, set aside 30 minutes or so to reflect. Be completely honest with yourself doing exercises like this – you’re only hurting yourself when you aren’t honest about what you believe or want.
  2. First: make a list of the qualities you admire and would like in a relationship. It could be a characteristic of the other person or perhaps even a dynamic you want between the two of you (praying together, communication etc.)
  3. Go through and circle the non-negotiables. These are qualities that would be deal breakers.
  4. Now, go through again and ask yourself if you are emulating the qualities you want in your significant other yourself. If not, write a list of these things so you can make an action plan for doing them yourself.
  5. Secondly: meditate on what your vices are. What are the temptations you constantly fall to or battle? Write them.
  6. Now, go and write the opposing virtue next to each vice or sin and perhaps an action item to help cultivate the opposing virtue.
  7. For those temptations on your list (if any) that could easily come up in a relationship, write how you can set a boundary to protect yourself from falling to that temptation.
  8. Finally, for each boundary you wrote out, come up with a sentence you would actually say (word-for-word) to another person to set that boundary with them. Pro tip: make it sound positive, as if you’re happy to be setting it.

So, what do you think of these journaling prompts? Let me know!

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