How does courtship work?
Every individual, family, and situation is unique, and therefore, the process of each courtship is unique. What worked well for one couple might not be the best choice for another couple. The concepts presented here are helpful guidelines to consider, but the list is not exhaustive. Each couple, along with their parents or other mentors, must discern God’s direction for the specific steps of their courtship.
Courtship Is the First Step Toward Marriage
Do not enter into courtship until you are at a stage in life when marriage is a realistic possibility. Understand the importance of the decision you are making regarding marriage, and establish commitments about your relationships prior to entering a courtship. Until you are ready for marriage, ask God to lead you in developing friendships with Godly men and women, but do not try to win the affections of those friends.
The Man Initiates the Courtship
When a man senses God leading him to pursue marriage with a particular woman, he should seek counsel from God-given authorities. In most cases, he will consult his parents, but in some situations, such as in the absence of parents due to death, other Godly mentors such as a pastor may fill this role of counselor.
As God’s direction to pursue courtship is confirmed through the man’s authorities, through insights from God’s Word, and through prayer, he should contact the woman’s father to request permission to initiate the courtship. Only when the woman’s father has given the man his blessing to enter into a courtship relationship with his daughter is the man free to focus on winning her affections.
The Initiator of the Courtship Has Special Responsibilities
The husband, who is the head of the family, has unique responsibilities. Similarly, the man who initiates the courtship has unique responsibilities.
- He should have a dynamic walk with God prior to marriage, so that he can be the spiritual leader of his family. God prepared Adam for marriage through His personal relationship with Adam—before He provided Eve as a helpmate.
- He should follow the admonition of I Timothy 5:1–2 to treat all young women to whom he is not married as sisters, with absolute purity. The man should take care not to treat any woman like his wife who is not his wife. Of course, he must get to know his courting partner well enough to make a decision about marriage. However, prior to the decision to marry, he should always interact with her in a way that he would be happy for other men to interact with her.
- He should demonstrate leadership and a willingness to bear the risk of rejection by defining the nature and pace of the relationship. He also should seek to ensure that an adequate amount of time is spent with their families, other couples, and friends.
- He should determine how he will provide for his future family’s basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. Prior to the union of Adam and Eve, God made provision in the Garden for all of their basic needs. (See Luke 14:28–30.)
The Couple Should Get to Know Each Other’s Families
The family plays a critical role in helping a man or woman identify characteristics and traits of a potential partner that are important to know before deciding to get married. (See Proverbs 1:7–9.)
The couple should get involved in family functions by going to each other’s homes and doing things with parents and siblings. Even if family lives far away, make the effort for potential future spouses and the families involved to get to know each other well. Family members will have a significant role in any marriage relationship, and their support throughout the years is an important component of a successful family.
Accountability Is a Key Factor
It is human nature to strive harder to achieve a goal when we know someone will be checking up on us. The courting couple should be held accountable to God-given authorities for the spiritual health and progress of their relationship, as well as for their emotional attachment and physical intimacy. In a courtship relationship, a couple turns usually to their parents to be their mentors.
Ideally, the two families will communicate with each other to establish the best way to encourage and protect the couple with a plan for accountability. Love should be the motivation for accountability, with a goal of supporting the couple’s decision to obey God and honor one another with their words and actions.
As the couple experiences the joys of a deepening friendship, they will also face many challenges. Their mentors should guide the couple, helping them keep on track and stay focused on the goals of a Biblical courtship. Mentors can hold the couple accountable to consider insightful questions to gain wisdom as God leads them forward in the relationship or directs them to end the courtship.
To defraud another person is to stir up in them desires that cannot be righteously satisfied. A woman can defraud a man by the way that she dresses, talks, or acts. A man can defraud a woman by improper touching or by talking about a marital commitment that he is not able or intending to carry out.
Failure to safeguard your affections can result in disaster. If you don’t settle this issue before temptations come, inevitably you will make choices that you will regret. As you choose to carefully guard against inappropriate emotional attachment and physical intimacy, you can avoid much heartache and pain, particularly if the relationship does not culminate in marriage.
If the courtship relationship does lead to marriage, you will discover the great rewards of being faithful and self-sacrificing to one another. Guard your heart so that you don’t ignite passions that should be reserved only for marriage. The wait will make the expression of physical intimacy that much more exciting and wonderful. Ideally, you should be able to look back at your courtship without shame or fear, confident that you honored God and each other.
The Couple Deepens Their Friendship by Spending Time Together
During courtship, the man and woman should spend as much time together as is reasonable. If they do not live close to each other, creativity and flexibility will especially be needed in order to plan opportunities for their interaction and fellowship.
As the friendship deepens, both parties are responsible to be open and honest with each other. The topics, manner, and frequency of conversations should be characterized by the desire to become acquainted with each other more deeply, but not in a way that is defrauding.
When taking time to be alone, make sure that your time is spent wisely. The temptation to go off alone and spend countless hours talking often leads to premature emotional attachments. Too much time spent alone also serves as a temptation to experiment with physical intimacy. Whatever you do—stay visible. Be accountable to your authorities. For times of private conversation, take a walk together, or do something else that offers you some privacy, but avoid seclusion.
Participating in a variety of activities together is the best way to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Get out there and have fun.
- Get together with like-minded friends and enjoy group activities.
- Go out for dinner.
- Play sports together.
- Get involved in ministry together.
- Read books out loud to each other.
- Study the Scriptures together.
- Pray with one another.
- Participate in small group Bible studies and other activities at your church.
A Short Courtship Is Best
There are practical reasons for keeping courtship short and not extending it longer than necessary. Obviously, as the couple’s hearts are knit together through their deepening friendship, it will become more and more challenging to manage emotional attachment and remain objective in the decision-making process. When they both sense God’s direction to move forward to the commitments of engagement and marriage, and this direction is confirmed by their authorities, they should joyfully take those steps.
A long courtship can become confusing and frustrating, often leading to disillusionment. Also, the deeper the friendship becomes, the more painful a separation will be, if the courtship does not lead to marriage. The couple should seriously, earnestly seek for God’s direction, and the parents or mentors involved should not unnecessarily lengthen the process of courtship.
While single, both the man and woman are free to concentrate on pleasing the Lord. However, married couples are directed by the Lord to see how they can please one another. (See I Corinthians 7.) During the time of courtship, neither person is able to focus his or her full attention on either of these goals. Therefore, a lengthy courtship should be avoided.
Remember the Goals of the Courtship
Throughout the courtship, both the man and the woman should diligently seek to find out whether they should be married—whether they can serve and honor God better together than apart. As they seek the Lord’s will together, they will discern God’s direction for the courtship. (See Proverbs 3:5–7.)
It is important for both the man and woman to understand that a decision to enter into a courtship is not a commitment to marry. The goal of courtship is to determine if the couple should get married or not, according to God’s direction. It is likely that many Godly men and women will participate in more than one courtship before God leads them to the right life partner.
Receive Hope and Healing if the Courtship Is Ended
As soon as one of the individuals discerns that marriage is not God’s will, with the counsel and affirmation of his or her parents, the courtship should be ended. If either person or any of their family members or friends are tempted to become bitter about the outcome of the courtship, they should remind themselves of the goals of the courtship: to discern God’s best, for His glory.
By God’s grace, instead of becoming bitter, everyone involved can choose to have a grateful heart for the provision of God’s direction and the protection that was afforded by a Biblical courtship. The conclusion of a courtship can be painful, and the couple should seek the support of parents, mentors, and friends, and the Lord’s healing. (See Psalm 147:3.)
Each one can find hope in God’s promise: “The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee” (Psalm 84:11–12). God wants to guide every man and woman to His best provision for each of them. (See Jeremiah 29:11–13.)
Marriage is part of God’s plan for most of His children, as is evidenced clearly in Scripture. “The LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22).
These basic guidelines are recommended to encourage you to honor God’s design for marriage, even before you enter into it. Jesus said: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4–6). A Biblical courtship will bring honor to the Lord and will contribute to the prosperity of a lifelong covenant marriage relationship.