Emotional Sex: How to Practically Guard Your Heart

In Dating, Relationships by Debra Fileta37 Comments

How far is too far?  I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that I get asked this question all the time from well-meaning young adults, looking to set up some boundaries in their relationships.

But why is it that when we answer this question, we tend to fixate on the physical?

Don’t get me wrong, as a professional counselor and as a woman who has gone through the world of dating, I think the question of physical boundaries is really important and requires some serious thought and consideration.  It’s important to put mental time and energy in questions like this and to set your limits within a dating relationship- which is why I’ve devoted an entire chapter to it in True Love Dates (chapter 8) .

But is the physical the most important thing?

It seems to me that our Christian society can get so fixated on the “physical” aspects of intimacy, that we neglect the emotional and spiritual components that can be just as binding and just as devastating in the end. 

There is some deep power in emotional intimacy, more power than we give it credit.

More powerful than a kiss, more seductive than an embrace, there is something that happens when two people connect emotionally.  Something that has the capacity to outweigh even the physical.  A sort of “emotional sex” that can be just as harmful and heartbreaking, when it moves too deep, too fast.

My friend Emily learned this the hard way.  She decided not to “date around” but instead wanted to wait until she felt that dating would definitely lead to marriage.   As wise as that decision may have been at the time- when she finally did start dating Brian in her late twenties- she went too deep, too fast.  She had been holding onto her emotions for so long that when she finally entered into a relationship she let the flood gates open.

But here’s the thing about dating in an emotionally healthy way- it’s important to make sure that your emotional relationship is growing proportionally to your level of commitment.  Emily felt so connected to Brian, that when their relationship ended up not working out- she felt so confused, empty, and incredibly hurt.

Let me point out a few things to consider in order to avoid the pain of premature emotional bonding in a relationship- a relationship that may never translate into marriage:

1.  Play together….don’t Pray together:  This might sound contradictory to your Christian beliefs.  We’ve always been taught that prayer is such an important part of any relationship.  I know of so many couples who started their relationship by investing time in deep spiritual prayer with one another and spending time in God’s word together.  While this sounds well and good…in my opinion, it’s actually a really dangerous road to travel at such early stages in a relationship.

Seeking the heart of God and pouring out your heart and soul to Him through prayer is one of the most emotionally vulnerable places you will ever be.  It’s essentially like being spiritually naked because before God, you hide nothing emotionally.

It’s good to pray about your relationship and to seek God’s voice, but WAIT to seek it together. In the early stages of dating, seek to pursue God as an individual before allowing your relationship with Him to become a trio prematurely by including your significant other.  There will be a day for deep and intimate spiritual unity…but it’s not now.

Your dating relationship in it’s early stages is meant to be a time of getting to know each other, and learning all the superficial things you can know before taking it to the next level. Use this season for just that!  Don’t go too deep too fast, because the emotional intimacy that comes with deep shared moments like this can actually pull you in far deeper than you were ever meant to go, and in the end, leave you with a broken heart…and a broken spirit.

 2.  Know when to Open up and when Not to: Dating is such a special time.  It’s a time to really get to know someone and invest in who they are.  It’s a time to let your guard down a little at a time and begin to share the truths of who you are.

But that’s the key word.  A little…at…a…time.  When you enter into relationship, you should be at a point in your life where you are ready to be open, ready to share, and ready to communicate.  But there should always be limits to this kind of openness.  There are times to be open and share your heart–but, there are also times to withhold.

I don’t recommend sitting down at your first date and spilling every detail and secret in your life.  Relationships should be seen as a journey of building trust.  You build a little at a time.  You give a little at a time.  Lay the foundations first, then begin building the house.  Be real, be genuine, and be honest- but never without the anchor of boundaries and the weight of wisdom.

3.  Avoid talking about commitment, before you’ve actually committed:  There is such a temptation to talk about the future when you’re dating.  You want to dream together, to envision the future together, and to create this world up ahead to live for.  I think there is a time and place for this kind of discussion.  Later on in a relationship it’s important to be on the same page and to have a similar outlook on what is to come relationally.

But let’s be honest…that conversation should not be happening early on in a dating relationship.  It’s a problem when people commit to things far beyond the place they are at relationally.  It’s a problem when you commit to the future, before you’ve actually committed to the present (Tweet It!)

Take your time, allow your relationship to go through the necessary seasons before you allow your conversation to jump ahead.  Because where your conversation goes…your heart will go, too.

We always hear Christians talk about “guarding your heart”.  It’s become so cliche that I’m afraid that phrase may have actually lost it’s significance.  God knows how fragile our hearts can be, and he begs us to take the time to protect them, to watch over them, and to take care of them.  But guarding your heart does not come in the form of some magical process or spiritual language…it is practical, every day decisions.

Guard your heart…because out of it, flows your entire life.  That’s legit. 

Proverbs 4:23:  Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

For more on this check out chapter 7 & 8 of True Love Dates!

tld-3d-book cover

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray For Your Love Life – where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

Comments

  1. A good reminder for sure! We girls especially have so much love to give and just want to be loved, but we must protect ourselves too so we can give fully when we find a man who is willing to do the same.

  2. Thanks for this. But what about relationships where things do move quickly and the decision and commitment for marriage is only a few months? And when is a relationship ‘committed’? In my view only when the vows have been said has any commitment been made. You obviously need to talk about things before then!

  3. What a great write. I’m a guy that went too deep too fast and we’re now trying to step back from that. It’s taking such a toll in our relationship. I really love her and feel that I should be with her though. How can you step back from this and carry on together?

    1. I’m going through the EXACT same thing… It’s painful and confusing because everything inside you is telling you YES but something inside her says not yet (or even possibly no.) I don’t understand why it happens but I know that it hurts

      1. From a girls perspective, she probably isn’t doing that to hurt you. More likely than not, she feels the same as you but doesn’t want to risk “awakening love before its time”. She is trying to protect both of you. If that is the case, then she is acting out of selfless love for you, guarding your heart as well as her own. The best thing you could do is talk to her about it and about how you are feeling. Good luck!

        1. The other possibility is that for one partner the relationship ticks all the boxes, but for the other there are a few niggling doubts that they may not want to raise with the other person. They may feel pressure to go along with the other person, but are trying to weigh up in their own minds whether to continue with the relationship and go deeper, or pull out because of a few issues which may not end up being significant, or they might be able to live with.

  4. This is post has got to be one of your most important. Love it! Will be sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community.

    Also curious, if you know about Dr. John Van Epp at Love Thinks. If not you really need to. He’s put together an entire program centered around the issues you raise in this post.

  5. I was enjoying the reading that I didn’t even notice the end of it…wooow!very wise and rational.thank a lot for this article!remain blessed all

  6. I am so glad that someone has bought up the topic of Praying together. I had prayed with a boyfriend a few years ago and decided after that, that prayer was something too intimate to share with him. That relationship didn’t work out and a few years later I’m here courting another guy and i’m hearing a lot of people we look up too saying how important it is to pray together as your relationship emerges. The idea has never really felt right with me and i was wondering if i was just weird for thinking that way. Sometimes you just need someone to put into words what you feel unable to do. 🙂 Thankyou for your wise words and awesome article.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Rebekah! I know it can be a touchy subject but an important one to address. I appreciate you validating this topic and sharing your story! I think you are so wise in listening to God’s prompting for your life and relationships despite what others have told you. Blessings to you, thanks for taking the time to read and encourage!

  7. Anonymous I know it can sound repetative but pray and ask God for his will to be done he may reveal that he wants you to slow down, reveal she is the one, or even break it off, if she is not who he has in mind for you, which can be scary and disheartening know that God’s plans for you are bigger and greater than your plans for yourself. God knows about your desires and sees your heart he cares about how you feel, I would encourage you to trust him as you pray you can even ask him to help you to trust him don’t allow fear to steal your joy because it will kill your faith do not be anxious about anything just pray about your concerns.

    God holds your future in his hands we are not in control of our future (sometimes we try to be or think we are hehe) thankfully we are not because God knows whats best for us and his plans for us are good no matter what happens, isn’t that amazing! he has good plans for you and your partner and loves you both dearly no matter what happens the lord will be with you both weather he says yes to your relationship or weather he says no. His good plans you may share together or apart either way your future is bright and so is her future which is great!! 😀 meditate on that, renew your mind to that and pray if you have been praying for a while asking others to pray and fast with you can be really helpful.

    Godbless.

    1. Author

      Sorry to hear that, Danielle….you are not alone in that. I think a lot of people are learning the hard way…but may God give us all the grace to do things better the next time around.

  8. This is so true Debra…. most people think of the physical aspect of the relationship as the most intimate (don’t get me wrong .. it is important). However, the emotional and spiritual aspects are the strongest to deal with when a relationship ends. I’m widowed and found that it was the emotional intimacy was the hardest to overcome. And this became more evident after a 5 year dating relationship ended where there had been no physical intimacy. It took a long time to get over the emotional connection.

    1. Author

      Thank you for this piece of wisdom, Lianne! I think you’re right, we don’t often believe the power of emotional intimacy, until we’ve experienced it…it can take a really long time to heal from that type of connection when a relationship doesn’t work out.

  9. Thanks for this post! I went through this with a guy that I had dated briefly a number of years ago. About two years ago we met up again. He was going through a divorce and I became the shoulder he leaned on. The more time went on, the more hope I had that we had something real. When I finally said that if things weren’t moving beyond a friendship I couldn’t be his best friend anymore it ended. It has been really difficult to move on and I’ll be much more cautious in the future. I don’t think people tend to realize how powerfully emotional intimacy is!

    1. Author

      I think you are wise, Kim….when a relationship comes to a dead end, so many people end up staying for far too long hoping something will change. And end up really hurt in the end.

  10. These are some very good points, however I wonder if the bigger issue isn’t with our ability to commit? I went through a divorce prior to finding Christ. The one thing that I’ve learned about marriage as I’ve grown in Christ is that it is a covenant, one that both people have to make and commit to. I’ve also learned that problems will come. No marriage is without its trials. Whether it be infidelity, loss of love, or even a medical issue, we will have trials. One that’s committed will fight through these issues, sacrificing one’s self as Christ did for us. That’s what marriage is about, loving your spouse as Christ did the church (Ephesians 5:21-33). Christ died for the church, He didn’t hide his heart from it. The longer we practice at “not committing” the harder it will be to truly commit when the time comes.
    I also feel that the Proverbs 4:23 is taken slightly out of context (and not just in this article). It appears to be telling us that we should not allow evil into our heart, because it turns into us doing and saying evil, not that we should hide it from others.
    I am not saying that we should jump into relationships like we do a swimming pool on Labor Day weekend, but I am saying that we have to stop being afraid to love. Honor Christ with all of your relationships and the final answer will be a good one. You may find pain or our heartbreak, but you will never regret that you did not love. 1 Corinthians 13:1

  11. I like what Bryan said: ” love like Christ loves.” To learn what that looks like… That is our life journey, really. Also If that is what Proverbs 4:23 really means then I wonder what some practical ways are of protecting our hearts from evil?

  12. I thought it’s a great idea to pray together and I went in deep on the emotional intimacy. The guy ended the relationship, I felt to discarded, hurt and really wounded. Thank you for opening my eyes to this cause I didn’t understand why this breakup hurt me so bad. Lesson learned.

    1. Author

      Wow, Natalie, thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing your story. I believe it’s so important for others to hear, and I’m so impressed that you were able to identify some of the cause for your wounds. You are so wise!! I pray that God gives you the strength and grace to recognize that as you move forward in healing and in the direction He has for you. Blessings!

  13. Thank you so much for this. Just over a year ago, I got my heart broken and hurt by opening up too quickly too fast because I felt he was “the one”. I also did the whole “praying together” thingy. From your article, I realise now where I made my mistake. Thanks for expounding on the power of emotional intimacy. God bless you.

  14. If you are holding onto your heart so hard that you have not found any outlets for it- i.e., PLATONIC relationship with both the opposite and probably mostly the same sex- then of course when you finally let it go, it will flood.

    Emotional intimacy is meant to be shared with all of your fellow human beings, not just THE one. That is what *fellowship* is. Paul spoke of how much he agonized and prayed and loved his congregations. If you pin all your hopes, dreams, and trust on one person, they will drown under the weight, and you will be pulled down with them.

    Cultivate those deep friendships, and out of one, will come your spouse. And when that relationship will be inevitably stressed- because they always are- you will have those others for support and understanding, who respect you completely. Then you will be revitalized to make your marriage stronger.

    The body is saved for one person, but let the mind be free to love abundantly, just as Jesus taught us.

    1. Hello Molly,
      I wish we could click “like” on other people’s posts in this blog, because I really like yours!

  15. This was another good post. I have seen some of my own mistakes. I am an emotional man. The last relationship I sense that we were not at the same level so told her that I felt we were not on the same level and she told me the truth that she was not into me as much as I was into her. There were many signs that told me this. I thank God for giving the ability to see the reality and stop going after something that was not there.

  16. Its an eye opener…… i have always wondered why this last relationship hurt me so much?…. now i have realized yes we used to do all things together prayer inclusive despite the distance.
    when you pour your hearts together to God and cry out together to God trust me you honestly feel you are already one you feel you are already part of him which is not the case and when the relation ends …. my God you are torn to pieces…….

  17. Debra, I praise God for the wisdom he gives you! And that you share it with me ;0) I have been divorced for 2 years,after 20 years of marriage. Being back in the dating game is CrAzY!!

    I am learning to applying “the anchor of boundaries and the weight of wisdom.” Cloud and Townsend have incredible books on “Boundaries” which have benefited me greatly.
    Nelle

  18. Thank you so Debra I have been divorced 9 year’s. Yes it’s hard to get out there again. But I will wait for God’s timing. Love reading you texting. ☺

  19. I’m beginning to get scared of the whole relationship/love thingy. You don’t even know what’s right to do and what’s wrong to do. I’ll just trust God to lead me. Thank you for the write-ups, I’m learning! God bless you ma’am!

  20. Debra, I agree 100% with your post. My question is when is prayer appropriate in dating? It seems at some point a couple should start praying together, but when is that supposed to be? I dated someone for about 7 months before I called it off, but part of the reason was she was so closed off to praying in front of me, not even praying over a meal. For me, at that point in our relationship, where I was considering engagement, if she couldn’t even pray over a meal, it was a red flag. It signaled to me a deep fear of vulnerability, and at 6 and 7 months of dating, I wanted to see a little more of her heart before proposing we get married. Was I expecting too much? Was I expecting something which should be reserved for an even later stage of a relationship? Each relationship is different, and there is no specific timetable, but what are your thoughts?

  21. Hi Josh,
    How are you? I believe not praying over a meal and blessing your food is a bit extreme. In my family growing up during holidays, and family dinners, even when we are out to eat at a restaurant, we always bless our food before we eat. That is just the norm for me. I do believe it’s ok to pray for the person your dating, and ask them to pray for you, especially if your going through something major. I think what Debra is referring to, is not having intimate prayer time together in the first month of dating, when you barely know the person. I think that once you feel like you have built up trust with that person after a considerable amount of time, and you have built a bond with them, then it is ok to pray with them. But as Debra says, let the “getting to know you time” be just that. You find out about a persons morals, values, and character by asking them the right questions, having open and honest conversations, and spending lots of time with them, and around them.
    My advice would be to constantly seek God and ask him. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you, and guide you to the right time to do and say everything. God will lead you to where you should be, at the right time.
    Hope this is helpful to you. *smile*

    God Bless 🙂

  22. Debra, how do you handle a wife who upon finding out that she was doing cyber sex with his ex boyfriend, continues to deny it. Mounting evidence showed that she was chatting and emailing with her ex. All she says was some was purely playful communications, etc. She is a proud person so she continues to deny and not admit it. How can you move on and trust her future words when you know that she is lying and just saving her face to me?

Leave a Comment