Don’t Get An Emotional Divorce Before You are Married: Dating Mistakes

December 10, 2014

Don’t Get An Emotional Divorce Before You are Married--Dating Mistakes
Deepak Reju

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Deepak Reju

Don’t Get An Emotional Divorce Before You are Married--Dating Mistakes

You are dating, and you really like each other a lot. You’re having a lot of fun. And you talk virtually every day. Most couples, even in the early stages of dating, will open up their lives, and start sharing a lot about themselves. You’re vulnerable early on, and you emotionally give yourselves to each other.

Here is my warning: deep emotional intimacy should not be established in the early stages of a relationship. Often times, you’ll hear from Christians (especially your parents or pastors or Christian mentors) about the importance of having physical boundaries in order to maintain purity in a dating relationship. But a guy and a gal can go too far emotionally as well.

The modern idea of dating relationships is to test the waters of marriage by acting as much like you are married as possible. You are not actually married, but you take on some of the privileges of marriage before you make a commitment. This continues until you both decide what you want—either you get married, or one of you decides it’s not a good fit so you go through what feels like a divorce because you’ve been playing house.

A dating relationship should gradually and normally progress to a point where a boyfriend and girlfriend are emotionally attached and deeply fond of one another (especially when they get engaged!). But again, hear my warning:

Don’t let this happen in the early stages of dating.

Why do I say this? Let me suggest two principles to guide the early stages of dating:

 1. Don’t get an emotional divorce; rather, guard your heart.

There is so much uncertainty in the early stages, so it is not wise to let yourself get too emotionally attached. Or else you’ll run head-first into an emotional divorce. What’s an emotional divorce? If you’ve made yourself vulnerable, and you’ve let yourself get emotionally attached to someone, you’ll experience great pain and sadness when your two intertwined hearts are torn apart.

In the early stages of dating, you must guard your heart. Consider Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes to his son, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The Bible describes the heart as the center of your life. It is the most central or core part of who you are (Jonah 2:3; Matthew 12:40). From your heart flow your thoughts, feelings, and choices (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:43-45). When you become emotionally attached to someone, you give him or her your heart.

Your heart is described as a “wellspring of life,” or source of life for you. Just as a wellspring is a source of water, (and water is a crucial commodity for daily living and survival) so also the heart is the source or fountain from which our life springs forth. Solomon wants his son to protect his heart because his heart is the fountainhead from which his life springs forth.

So also, in the early stages of dating, why would you give your source of life (your heart) to someone who has not committed to you yet? Why take that risk? Don’t give your heart away to someone who is still trying to decide whether or not they want to be with you.

An important caveat: I’m not encouraging cold or emotion-less relationships. Far from it! In a dating relationship, it should be normal for a couple to gradually and deliberately open up their lives such that they grow emotionally attached by the later stages. But what I’m advocating is pacing yourself; which means at the early stages of dating, you need to guard your heart.

2. Intimacy should not outpace commitment.

I admit that there is a delicate dance between building unhelpful emotional intimacy and having a relationship with an emotional component—I’m not encouraging emotionally detached relationships. But I’m also discouraging emotional attachment that exceeds commitment. That needs to be a guiding principle in your dating relationships: our intimacy should not outpace our commitment.

Rather, what you want is commitment to set the pace for intimacy. As commitment grows in the relationship, emotional intimacy can follow.

Dating can be fun and enjoyable, but it can also be hard. Sometimes we can make it even harder because we are not wise in how we conduct the relationship. So, be wise. Early on, guard your heart; and pace yourself in the relationship. Gradually and deliberately open up your life. Let commitment lead intimacy and not the other way around.

A Special Word to Women

Ladies, the next time you begin a dating relationship, if the guy tries to get you to open up and be emotionally vulnerable, graciously decline. Don’t give your heart away too soon. Guard your heart. Let him know that you want to get to know him, but giving over the most vulnerable parts of your life early on in the relationship is not wise. Tell him that will come with time, especially as commitment grows in the relationship.

Or maybe you are starting to date a guy, and you really dig him. Don’t give in to the temptation to give over everything because you really like the guy and you want the relationship to work out. That’s dangerous. If you give him everything, only to find out later that he is no longer interested, you’ll be left with a heart that is torn apart because you’ve let yourself get emotionally attached too soon. Some gals do this often, only to leave themselves with a trail of broken relationships, and broken hearts. And sadly, you torture your heart because you keep putting it through this process of growing close and then being torn apart.

Join the Conversation

What words of “dating counsel” would you give to dating couples?

8 thoughts on “Don’t Get An Emotional Divorce Before You are Married: Dating Mistakes

  1. I would like to know how you can have different levels of commitment, to pace intimacy with. With dating there is no real commitment, that is binding, you stay with the person until you feel like you don’t want to. That’s not real commitment. So I struggle with seeing how intimacy can grow beyond a certain point without the real commitment of marriage.

  2. Fran (below) I think it is possible to have real commitment — it is a matter of what you are committed to. Individuals can be committed to Christ, they can be committed to handling their dating time in a manner that pleases him. They can be committed to the other person’s good. They can be committed to not pressuring each other, committed to not moving too quickly. Marriage isn’t the only type of commitment, but I agree with you, it is more binding and should be permanent unless the Lord takes one of the spouses home.

    But a person can be committed to guarding their emotions. And even be committed to guarding the other person’s emotions (in so far as it depends on them).
    So to say “with dating there is no ‘real’ commitment” is, in my opinion, incorrect. The commitments are real, but they aren’t of the same type or kind as marriage.

  3. I have heard many, many times that the “guard your heart” passages in Proverbs are about courtship/dating relationships. While they may can be applied to that, I think it is a shame that they are most often taught in that light.

    I believe Solomon was warning about our hearts’ purity as that relates to worship and devotion to God. It relates to truth, doctrine, and false teaching. It relates to false vs. right paths and ways of living. An emotional attachment can be a wrong path, especially when that emotional bond becomes idolatrous, but that is only one example, and perhaps shouldn’t be the main focus of the passage.

  4. Did Jesus “guard his heart” with Peter (who would go on to deny him 3 times) or, even more heart breaking, Judas who betrayed him? The risk of loving someone is not having them love you back. That’s what makes falling in love so scary but also so rewarding.

    Also, the “guard your heart” passage is always quoted when talking about dating. Solomon was not talking about dating. How do I know that? Dating didn’t exist until the last 100-150 years in human history.

  5. What does this look like practically? I went through a difficult break up nearly one year ago and it’s still hard sometimes. But I had heard all this before all my life and we started slow and had our families’ blessing and I thought I WAS guarding my heart. What exactly do you mean by not becoming emotionally attached to someone or giving away your heart? And how do you not become emotionally attached to someone that you are considering spending the rest of your life with, especially if you have been dating seriously or for any length of time? How do you flip a switch from dating emotions to engagement emotions to marriage emotions? I can’t think of ways that I could have better guarded my heart and yet I still struggle with the emotional pain that followed the breakup. If I’m ever brave enough to be in a relationship again I really don’t know what I would do differently. I agree that we should guard our hearts and not act married before we really are but I don’t understand what that looks like practically.

  6. Laura, emotions should be followers, not leaders. The best way to keep from being “too” emotionally attached is to guard what you do (more actual dates to be kept, rather than lots and lots of hanging out like you would if you were married), guard your time, guard your conversation, and guard the settings you find yourselves in (lots of moonlit walks, recreating romantic movie scenes?). This is very, very, hard to do, especially when you are strongly attracted to each other. I think guarding your emotions doesn’t have to mean not allowing yourself to “fall in love” or to feel emotions that go with that. However, it is wisest to pace yourself as to when it is right to share these deep feelings with the other person. This is not being dishonest, but wise. Time reveals many things that the first few months in a relationship may disguise. Pray about these feelings, tell God about them, ask Him to help you sort them out. Seek Him first.

    I believe God will lead and guide us as we seek to love him first, and as we seek to put the good of the other person first.

  7. Nathan, I agree that we are to love whole-heartedly, both God and neighbor. But is that the same thing as becoming emotionally and romantically involved? Loving someone isn’t the same thing as emotional involvement. Many, many people mistake emotions for real love. When emotions lead, it is rarely a good thing. I think love must be tougher than emotions, but love is not devoid of emotion.

  8. Yes, he’s using the term “guard your heart” as a label for what he’s talking about. But in reality, what “guard your heart” means is pretty irrelevant to what he’s saying.

    Regardless of the definition of “guard your heart”, what he’s saying is that people who just started a relationship shouldn’t be sharing their deepest darkest secrets (like issues from past relationships, things about sex, childhood trauma, issues with parents, etc.). They should wait until the relationship is very serious and developed before sharing these deep, personal feelings. And that’s probably wise.

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