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Principles for Courtship

You’ve finally found someone you think might be Mr (or Mrs) Right. What is your courtship supposed to look like? Google courtship and you’ll find a multitude of opinions. Ultimately though, the Bible is our guide. Call it dating, going out, or whatever you like. The point is that as Christians we need to seek God about the way we do things. Here are some principles I believe are relevant and applicable to couples in all kinds of situations . . .

1. Make sure you're both ready to consider marriage. Dating or courtship should only be entered into if both people are considering marriage, and are ready for it. Readiness can be defined as a willingness and ability to take on the responsibilities of marriage. Courtship is a time to seriously consider a lifelong commitment. If this is not the intention, you may be toying with the emotions and future of a sister or brother in Christ.

2. Seek out godly counsel. Listen to others, especially parents. My father is not a Christian and did not take an active role in setting standards for my relationship with Dave. However, I still asked him for his thoughts about Dave. I have heard many stories of people who ignored their parents’ warnings and came to grief. Unless parents’ views stem from selfishness or unbiblical ideas, they should be treated with the utmost gravity. If parents are not available to give counsel, seek out the advice of pastors and others. Dave and I asked the advice of friends and pastors as well as parents.

3. Honesty is essential in a courtship if both people are to get to know each other. There should be no pretence, and if possible it is good to see each other in a variety of situations.

4. Set clear standards with regard to physical contact. Dave and I are enormously grateful for our decision not to even kiss before marriage. You might not make that call, but other clear boundaries will be necessary if purity is to be maintained (unless you are unnaturally self controlled)!

5. Decide on a time frame. If you’ve decided on what you’re looking for, and you have godly counsel, it shouldn’t take years to decide whether or not to marry. If there is still uncertainty after the time frame you decided on, take a break to consider what God wants. Don’t tie someone up for years with no long-term commitment, especially if you’re not 22. It is not smart or loving.

6. Don't expect things to be perfect. Some people seem to think that if they can only hit on the right method of courtship, it will all be beautiful. They think that they'll be able to avoid hurts. However, our sin and frailties always make relationships risky.

Personally, Dave and I found courtship difficult at times. It was hard to define what our relationship was, and hard to keep saying “if” about our future. Conservative Christian ideas about courtship often focus on ideas such as “emotional purity” and withholding your heart prior to engagement. I found myself feeling guilty for loving Dave. In the end I realised that while remaining emotionally detached might be a good idea, it would require support and help from parents and friends who agreed with this viewpoint. In the points I’ve listed above, I’ve deliberately avoided recommendations that rely upon being part of a distinctive community or family.

Lara  – (October 17, 2008 at 11:05 AM)  

My husband and I also decided not to kiss until we were married. It wasn't easy, and we had a couple of people ridicule our decision, but we believed it was the right thing for us. We had no problems at all adjusting to a new level of physical intimacy after our wedding. In fact, I think that limiting physical intimacy before marriage meant that we invested more time in developing emotional and spiritual intimacy which is a much better foundation for a relationship!

However, I like the way you acknowledge that not all your readers will do the same. It worked for us, and was the right thing for us, but it's not a universal rule. Boundaries are incredibly important, but they won't be the same for everyone.

JD –   – (October 17, 2008 at 12:25 PM)  

Conservative Christian ideas about courtship often focus on ideas such as “emotional purity” and withholding your heart prior to engagement.

Yes, this is something I've been thinking about lately. Perhaps it's different for guys than for girls, but it is hard to see how one can propose without first becoming emotionally attached. I see the need for emotional protection, but we also have to be willing to take risks, and be vulnerable. As C. S. Lewis says,

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken... The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbation of love is Hell.

Can we really suggest that people ought not to love before engagement? If that were the case, how could we expect anyone to become engaged?

Sherrin  – (October 17, 2008 at 3:31 PM)  

Hello Lara, we were the same. There really were no problems when we got married (quite the opposite) and I think it was all the more exciting because so much had been out of bounds before!

Hello jd (I wonder if you are one of the jds I know?) . . .

I agree that it is hard to know where the balance lies. I have seen incidents where a man had really invested his heart in his girlfriend, only to be deeply hurt and disappointed.

I don't know what the answer is. Kinder, more honest women would help. There is a sense in which couples have to try to protect one another from unwise expectations. Most courting couples I've seen are quite bad at this, as there are often conversations that assume marriage. Marriage should not be assumed until engagement.

Laura  – (October 30, 2008 at 7:14 AM)  

Sherrin, I think this is all good advice! And it's interesting that you're pondering the "emotional purity" thing. I've recently read some horror stories about young women whose parents were so into the parent-dictated courtship thing that the women ended up marrying virtual strangers. There's got to be a balance somehow I think, between openness (which is a good trait!) and discretion.

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