Dating Reality Check: Is it Lust or Love?

When you feel a strong attraction to someone in a dating relationship, feelings make it difficult to know: is it lust or love? Understanding how each feeling is unique can help you set and maintain healthy boundaries with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Attraction is Natural

I talk to a lot of young adults who feel guilty about having intense chemistry with their partner. But you don’t have to feel ashamed of those feelings. Sexual attraction is normal in romantic relationships. Our bodies and brains are wired to make connections with others, and attraction is a natural part of that process. When our hormones get involved, that attraction (and the sexual desires that come with it) can be very strong.

Since lust and love both involve feelings of attraction, I want to share what I’ve learned about how lust and love are different. I hope that it will encourage you to build healthy boundaries in your dating relationship.

Singular Focus on Sex

The easiest way to differentiate lust and love is to be honest about how you feel when you’re spending time with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or when you’re thinking about them. If you’re only thinking about:

  • Their body, especially anything about their features that makes you feel arousal or sexual desire
  • How far you can go with sex or physical affection, and how you can keep going farther
  • The next time you can be alone with them, so that things can get physical
  • How the relationship does (or doesn’t) satisfy your need for physical contact

Then I’d suggest opening up to someone you trust about struggling with lust.
Something to remember you can have feelings of lust without having had sex with your romantic partner. The key to knowing if you struggle with lust is being honest in your answers to questions like:

  • Is my primary reason for being with them, and being drawn to them, physical?
  • Would I still want to be with them even if they wanted to wait until marriage to be more physically involved than we are now?
  • Am I overly concerned about their appearance? Do I criticize them for gaining or losing weight, for not wearing makeup, etc.?

If the answer to those questions is mostly yes, be encouraged about this opportunity to grow and mature your relationship. And above all, don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

Help for Struggles with Lust

If you struggle with lust, that doesn’t mean your love life is doomed or that you can’t have a healthy dating relationship. There are plenty of ways to work through those feelings so that your relationship is guided by love, not lust.

  • Talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend about what you love about who they are as a person, and what they bring to your life. Focus on encouraging your partner about their strengths and virtues, not their physical appearance.
  • Share your struggles with the person you care about. Make a plan to set boundaries that stop physical contact before you feel a lack of control.
  • Put your faith at the center. God cares about you and your relationship. He wants to help you overcome your struggles with lust and have a healthy, happy relationship. You can reach out to God for help through personal devotional time, time with your faith community, or asking someone to pray for you.

I have no doubt that you care about your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. And I admire you for having the courage to think honestly about your relationship and work on it with hope and faith.

If you need confidential, one-on-one help overcoming lust to focus on love, sign up for an email mentor or chat with a HopeCoach at TheHopeLine today. We are here for you: you don’t have to fight any battles alone.

Are you having a hard time finding a deep, long-lasting relationship? Read How to Find a Meaningful Relationship.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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