7 Biblical Relationship Standards Every Couple Needs to Know

Borrowed Light
Updated Jun 25, 2024
7 Biblical Relationship Standards Every Couple Needs to Know

When my kids were much younger, we’d sometimes take them bowling. Usually, the bowling alley would see the little tots and do us a solid by putting up the “bumpers.” If you aren’t familiar with bowling, these bumpers are guard rails that keep the ball from going into the gutter. They can make a kid go from bowling a 4 to a 64 pretty quickly. (Not that I’m saying 64 is a stellar score—I can throw a solid triple digit score even without bumpers).

On one occasion, the bowling alley didn’t have the bumpers up. I went to ask them to pull them up, but my son, probably about 7 at the time, told me that he’d like to give it a go without them. It didn’t go so well. Almost all of his balls went into the gutter. He simply wasn’t ready yet to bowl without those things.

Now, you could take this analogy in many unhealthy ways. Even reality messes up my analogy a little. My son actually picked up bowling without the bumpers by about the 8th or 9th frame. I think the bumpers were hurting him a little. That reality absolutely kills my analogy—but hang with me here. In the real world, guardrails are necessary and helpful.

I think you could also fall off the edge here and think that when you’re married, you won’t need any guardrails and that a ring or a certificate will mean that you have these relationship standards nailed down. The reality is that they’ll always be helpful in this side of glory.

As I give these biblical relationship standards, I picture a couple of believers (strong or weak) who have decided to enter into a relationship with each other. It might be a new relationship, or it might be pretty serious. Either way, you want to know how you can honor God in this relationship as you try to discern if marriage might be a possibility. This isn’t all that could be said about relationships, but these are a few guardrails that I think will help you to thrive in your relationship with one another.

Photo Credit: ©Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

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1. Seek First God's Kingdom

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you." - Matthew 6:33 (CSB)  

It’s really tough in a new relationship not to make it the center of your existence. It’s exciting—as it should be. And it’s probably a little scary, too. All of this means that your mind, your body, your emotions, and your spirit will be elevated.

But you’ll benefit here if you prioritize your relationship with God above everything else. This relationship with God is the center of everything else. If it takes a back seat to your new dating relationship, you’re cutting off the legs of hope and building on the wrong foundation. By seeking God's kingdom first, you ensure that your relationship is aligned with His will and purposes.

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2. Pursue Purity

"For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles who don’t know God." - 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (CSB) 

We can go back to the illustration of bowling. If you spend the whole game in the gutter, it’s pretty hard to enjoy the game. And that’s really why God says the things that He does about purity. Sex is a good gift from God. And it’s best enjoyed within the context of a covenant. That’s what we call marriage.

If you end up in the gutter while you’re dating, it will be more difficult to grow in other areas. Your mind and body will continue returning, impacting every relationship aspect. For that reason, it is a good idea to commit to purity.

I’ve bowled quite a few games in my life and watched others bowl quite a few games. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve seen a ball hop out of the gutter and knock down a corner pin. I’ve never seen it go from the gutter to a strike. Likewise, you need to know that when you start down the gutter—you probably aren’t going to get things back on the lane. That’s why it is wise to put some bumpers up here and keep yourself from temptation. Maintaining physical and emotional purity in dating relationships honors God and respects your partner. Setting boundaries and being accountable to others can help maintain purity.

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couple sitting close together looking at notepad

3. Practice Honesty and Integrity

"Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another." - Ephesians 4:25 (CSB) 

I understand that you want to impress your new sweetie. And sure, it might be a good idea not to pass gas on that first date. But you really do need to be honest and have integrity. Be who you are. Again, that doesn’t mean you must disclose every detail about yourself by date number three. But you should commit yourself to transparency. You’re trying to get to know another person and want them to know you. It’s far better to know now who you are and who your partner is than to find that out a couple of years into your marriage.

Having said that, don’t put too rough of an edge on this. I’ve been married for twenty years and still have to study my wife. As soon as I think I have her figured out, she changes on me. She’s a person. And that’s part of what I love about being married to her. It keeps me on my toes. I’ve seen all of these changes because my wife is a woman of honesty and integrity. Deception would try to hide these changes. And deception relationships go against the gospel.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Ippei Naoi

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4. Show Respect and Honor

"Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor." - Romans 12:10 (CSB)

Listen, you don’t know for sure that you are going to marry this person. Do you really want to disrespect and dishonor the spouse of someone else? Also, what I just said is kind of dumb. It’s kind of dehumanizing, isn’t it? Your partner isn’t the property of some other person, nor will they ever be your property. They carry inherent dignity and worth as those made in God’s image. Treat them as such. That’s not a pragmatic point—it’s a gospel one.

Treating your partner with respect and honor is a fundamental biblical principle. This means valuing their thoughts, feelings, and boundaries and striving to uplift and encourage them. Edify them. And if you do show them the respect and honor they deserve as one made in God’s image, something beautiful will happen. If the relationship doesn’t work out, you’ll have way fewer regrets than if you treated them like trash. And if the relationship does work—you’ve built yourself a solid foundation of love and care.

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5. Commit to Selflessness and Service

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others." - Philippians 2:3-4 (CSB) 

Relationships tend to make us feel really good. A new relationship can make you feel desirable. “Somebody wants me,” we might think to ourselves. And this thinking and this feeling can quickly turn inward. We like that feeling—who doesn’t? In order to keep feeding this feeling, we can become a bit selfish. But commit from day one to look out for your partner's interest and not yourself.

I’ll bring this one back to physical intimacy. The key to this being a rewarding marriage experience is to focus on your partner's pleasure over your own. Why am I telling you this if you’re only dating? Because the foundation of any physical intimacy outside of its God-ordained boundaries is, at its root, self-serving. Because if the Scriptures are true, and I believe they are, this is not what is best for you or your partner. Why would you want something less than the best for them?

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Double date

6. Seek Wise Counsel

"Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." - Proverbs 15:22 (CSB) 

In one sense, dating and relationships feel like they come naturally to us—and they kind of do. God has created us to be in a community. He has also created us to be fruitful and multiply (for many of us, that will be partially fulfilled through biological children). This is one of those things that kind of feels like it doesn’t need an instruction manual like you could put the thing together by instinct. Oh man, is that wrong?

A healthy relationship will require work. You are going to hit some rough patches. You’ll have things that you aren’t even sure how to handle, maybe some differences that seem insurmountable (and they might be). You need wise and godly counsel to help you navigate this. Pursue some of them for your relationship. Not somebody who is going to be overly involved and hinder your growth with one another—but wise counselor(s) to help you make decisions that honor God and benefit your relationship.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/bernardbodo

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7. Have Fun

"There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven... a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." - Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 (CSB) 

Hopefully your relationship falls under the “time to laugh” and “time to dance” part of that equation. You should have fun. Enjoying each other’s company and having fun is an important aspect of a healthy dating relationship. God created us to experience joy and laughter, and it’s essential to incorporate these elements into your relationship.

I feel a little like the Joker these days. I want to say to so many younger couples, “Why so serious?” I get it. And I feel like I’m betraying years of pastoral training in saying this—but we might be taking this stuff a little too seriously. That feels really irresponsible to say, given the way our culture is running headlong into sexual immorality. So many relationships are burning to the ground, searing people along the way. I acknowledge this, but sometimes I wonder if we’re fighting this the wrong way.

Maybe the way to fight sexual immorality and unhealthy relationships is by telling a better story. Joy-fueled boundaries push out immorality far easier than dour disciplines. Enjoy this gift that God has given you. Entrust it to Him. And have fun together.

Related Podcast: Host Dana Che calls it the "hug, help, hear" framework.  Listen to today’s episode as she shares personal stories about maintaining boundaries, empathic listening, and fostering genuine connections in relationships.

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.

Originally published Wednesday, 05 June 2024.