If you’re a professional sales person, “no” never actually means “no.” Instead it means, “Maybe. You just need to convince me.”

Unfortunately, many couples believe it works that way in their relationships, too. When one person says “no,” even if it’s an adamant refusal, the other interprets it as “yes” to align with his or her desires.

If that describes your relationship, it’s time to set some boundaries. Couples who don’t respect each other’s refusals when they’re dating are on their way to deep problems if they end up engaged and married. Healthy boundaries are critical to a good relationship. They need to be clearly set up, and each person needs to respect them when they’re enforced with a “no.”

Respect Your Partner’s Moral Stance

One of the biggest areas of contention for Christian couples is chastity before marriage. The Bible tells couples to remain pure until they tie the knot, yet society sends out strong messages that pre-marital sex is okay. If you’re going to refrain from sex before marriage, that’s something you must discuss up front with your partner and get his or her buy-in. Otherwise, it’s going to be a big problem as your relationship gets more serious.

The tricky part about abstinence is that God built our bodies to enjoy sex. Our libidos don’t just automatically switch on after we say our wedding vows. It’s easy to say “no” when you’re thinking rationally, but if you get in a situation where you’re physically close to your partner and going beyond innocent cuddling, that ability fades. When hormones start raging, you might say no, but your partner might want to interpret that as yes, or at least a strong maybe.

This is a time when it’s critical for one person to accept the other person’s “No!” You have to put the brakes on when things get hot and heavy or you’ll end up doing something you regret. If you’re letting things go too far and your partner tried to put on the brakes, “No” doesn’t mean “Yes.” It means exactly what it says, so don’t try to turn it around. Respect the boundary and back off.

Dealing with the Smaller Issues

Boundaries around sex are very important, but there are many smaller areas where you still need to set and maintain boundaries. For example, some dating couples have conflicts over how much time one person spends with his or her family, long working hours, attitudes about certain things, or any number of other issues. Instead of fully working through those issues, you sometimes come to an agreement that makes it seem like a boundary has been set, but it doesn’t hold up to the “life test.”

When you make an agreement with your partner on any important issue, you have an obligation to fulfill it. Don’t try to change his or her mind or turn a “no” into a “yes” on an issue on which you made a prior agreement. It’s unfair to the other person, and it’s not a healthy way to build a foundation of a relationship that could eventually lead to marriage.

Keep Your Word

Moses spoke to the tribes of the children of Israel on the importance of vows made to God:

When a man vows a vow to Yahweh, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. Numbers 30:2

Shouldn’t you also keep your word when you give it to a partner you love? Is it fair to allow him or her to believe that there’s a boundary in place and then to suddenly renege on that agreement by trying to turn a “no” into a “yes”?

Stay out of this quagmire of potential conflict by respecting your partner’s boundaries. It’s not nice to hear the word “no,” but sometimes it’s necessary to enforce a boundary, and it means “no,” not “yes” or “maybe.” Take the word at its face value and things will go much more smoothly.

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