Every individual, family, and situation is unique, and therefore, 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 and a possible pattern to consider, but they are not exhaustive. Each couple, along with their parents or other mentors, must seek the Lord and discern His direction for their specific courtship.
Guidelines, such as those that follow, are not meant to be looked at as limitations of rights or restrictions of freedom, but rather as a framework of principles that are meant to provide protection, safeguard the heart, and give direction along the way. The modern-day method of casual dating, on the other hand, may provide more perceived “freedom” but also may leave wide-open the gates that lead to confusion, heartache, and impurity.
Marriage is a covenant: a lifelong agreement between two individuals and the Lord for the benefit of both. In order to prepare for the covenant of marriage, a wise son or daughter will establish basic commitments long before it is time to consider marriage. A person should not enter into courtship until he or she is at a place in life when marriage is a realistic possibility. The following questions should be thoughtfully and prayerfully considered by the person before entering into a courtship:
- Am I devoting my energies to deepening my relationship with God, so He can build into my life a strong foundation for marriage?
- Am I prepared to make a lifelong commitment to marriage?
- Is the potential life partner a believer in Jesus Christ?
- Have I purposed to reserve my physical and emotional affections for the one whom God leads me to marry?
- Am I praying for my future spouse by faith, that God would protect, prepare, and guide him or her to know and love Him?
- [For men] Am I prepared to provide for, protect, and lead a family in the ways of the Lord?
- [For ladies] Am I willing and ready to keep a home, nurture a family, and follow the loving leadership of a husband?
Initiating the Courtship
When a man senses God has prepared him for marriage and is leading him to pursue marriage with a particular woman, he would be wise to first seek counsel from his God-given authorities. In most cases, he will present the idea to his parents, but in some situations, such as the absence of parents due to death, he may consult other mentors, like a pastor or another Godly man or couple.
As God’s direction to pursue courtship is confirmed through prayer, insights from God’s Word, and the man’s authorities, he should next contact the woman’s father or guardian to request permission to initiate the courtship. The father or guardian of the woman should then discuss with his daughter the possibility of a relationship and listen to her feelings on the matter. When the woman’s father has given the man his blessing, and the daughter desires to enter into a courtship relationship, the man is free to pursue winning her affections toward the goal of marriage.
Just as the husband, who is the head of the family, has a unique role, so the man who initiates the courtship has special 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 helpmeet.
- He should follow the admonition of I Timothy 5:1–2 to treat all young ladies to whom he is not married as sisters, with absolute purity. The man should be careful not to treat any woman as he would a wife unless she is his wife. As he is getting to know the lady he is courting, 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. Adam was engaged in his work to provide food and had dominion over the place where God had placed him to live and work.
Getting to Know Each Other
Because the family knows their son or daughter well, the family plays a critical role in helping him or her identify characteristics and traits of a potential partner that are important for marriage. Sometimes family members can help evaluate a potential marriage partner with more objectivity than the couple, especially once their emotions are more involved in the relationship. Asking questions of one another is a good way to learn about each other’s values, goals, and desires related to a future home or marriage.
Participating in a variety of activities together as families is a way to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Even if the families live a great distance from one another, making the effort to connect can help the courtship process. Family members can have a significant role in any marriage relationship, and their support to the couple throughout the years can be an important component of a successful family. Spending time with each other’s family can help the couple see different aspects of the person’s character and personality, especially as they relate to others in their family. If the man and woman only ever do the “fun” things together as a couple, they tend to be so focused on one another and the excitement of the new relationship, that they are naturally on their “best behavior.” When with others, the dynamic changes in a way that helps everyone to see more of the real person.
When families are long distances from each other or unable to spend time with the couple, the couple can consider spending time getting to know one another with other trusted friends or mentoring couples. This outside interaction is another way for the young man and woman to see how they interact when in the presence of other people. Ways to publicly interact with and enjoy time with others can include attending church functions together, participating in a volunteer community activity, or going on an outing with another couple.
The man initiating the courtship should demonstrate leadership with regard to the nature and pace of the development of the relationship. He may consult with his parents, the woman’s parents, and the woman herself in determining such guidelines. However, if he is serious about keeping these commitments, having accountability is crucial. He and the one he wishes to court should decide to whom they will be accountable for the spiritual health and progress of the relationship. The persons they choose should be able to freely inquire about how the relationship is progressing spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
Each courting individual should freely share plans and thoughts for accountability and guidance. In a courtship relationship, a couple usually turns to their God-given authorities, such as their parents or pastor, to be their mentors, but mentors could be other Godly, mature, and trusted people willing to fill this role.
Failure to be accountable and not safeguarding your affections can result in hurt or emotional pain that could have been avoided with counsel and patience. If this issue isn’t settled before temptations come, you may make choices that you will later regret. As you choose to be accountable and carefully guard against premature emotional attachment and inappropriate physical intimacy, you can avoid much heartache and pain, particularly if the relationship does not culminate in marriage.
Treating Each Other with Honor and Respect
During courtship, as the man and woman spend time together getting to know one another, they should keep as their highest priority honoring the Lord by honoring each other. As the friendship deepens, both parties are responsible to be open and honest with one 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.
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 looks at him. 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.
If taking time to be alone with one another, make sure that your time is spent wisely. Caution should be taken to minimize times together in a secluded manner. Too much time spent alone opens the door to premature emotional attachment and temptation to experiment with physical intimacy. The couple can meet in public or take a walk in order to stay visible and avoid seclusion. A public place such as a park, restaurant, or church may allow such times for private conversations where others are nearby. There is no need to seclude yourselves and thereby expose yourselves to unnecessary temptation.
If the couple does not live close to each other, creativity and flexibility will be needed in order to plan opportunities for their interaction and fellowship. They can learn more about each other, while minimizing the temptation of physical intimacy, by communicating through phone calls, texts, email, and letters. If they feel the need for extra accountability, they can even share these communications with their accountability mentors.
If the relationship does lead to marriage, you will discover the great rewards of being faithful and self-sacrificing during the courtship. 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 meaningful. Ideally, you should be able to look back at your courtship without shame, regret, or fear, confident that you honored God and each other throughout the process.
Discerning God’s Timetable
Although there may be reasons for a courtship to be prolonged, there are practical reasons for not extending a courtship longer than necessary. As the couple’s hearts are knit together through their deepening friendship, it will become more challenging to manage emotional attachments 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 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 as each discerns God’s purpose for their lives. 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 is not necessarily best.
Remembering the Goal
Throughout the courtship, both the man and the woman should diligently seek the Lord to discern whether or not they should be married—whether they can serve and honor God more effectively 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 whether or not the Lord is leading the couple to marry. Sometimes, the result of the courtship may be the couple learning that marriage is not God’s will for them. In agreement, they can then step away and continue to pursue God individually for His divine will for their lives.
What if a courtship does not end in marriage? Should one of the individuals discern that marriage is not God’s will, with the counsel and affirmation of his or her parents, the courtship should be ended. Instead of becoming bitter or resentful, everyone involved can choose, by God’s grace, to have a grateful heart. Thank God for the provision of His direction and the protection that was afforded by a Christ-honoring courtship. God often brings people into our lives so that we might learn and grow (see Proverbs 27:17). Because the conclusion of a courtship can be painful, the couple should seek the prayer support and encouragement of parents, mentors, and friends. However, their chief comfort should be found in the Lord and His 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 desires 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 an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). A relationship that brings honor to the Lord will contribute to the prosperity of a lifelong covenant marriage relationship.