That is a great question. I have been asked it many times before in person. This is the first time, for my website that I'm addressing it.
It is true, sometimes family is not available for a couple to be able to enjoy a family-based courtship. Perhaps the courting couple lives far from family, or they themselves are in a long distance relationship. Perhaps family is not so supportive: maybe there is no faith to speak of in the home or the family has suffered from divorce or separation. So, in the absence of family what is a courting couple to do?
First, I'd like to examine what are the benefits to family-based courtship? I believe family-based courtship serves many purposes!
One purpose is for you to see how the other person will interact with your family, because family is so important. But it also is for that person to see how YOU interact with your family. I can't emphasize enough how much you will learn about how your future spouse will treat you, relate to you, resolve conflicts with you, etc., just by seeing how that person treats family, relates to family, resolves conflicts with family, etc. The fact is, once you are married, YOU become the family. Patterns learned in family life carry on — unless they have been changed through concerted effort.
Another benefit is for your family to be able to provide you with valuable feedback on your relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend in courtship. Their vision is often clearer because they do not have to deal with all the "in love" emotions that come along with a courtship. They can offer great insights in how they see you behave, or if they see changes that concern them.
Also, family — especially parents — make great "accountability couples" or "mentoring couples" for the couple who is courting. This not only helps to give direction and keep the young couple on track, but it also can lay a wonderful foundation for an on-going supportive relationship through the years.
As you see, interaction with family is SO important, it's benefits cannot be underestimated! When family is not around, where and how can a couple have these needs met in their courtship?
As much as possible, try to make the effort to spend some time with each other's family. Plan holidays in each other's home towns. Invite your parents and siblings to come spend time with you where you live. To the best of your budget and abilities, set family as a priority!
Phone home often. Long distance calls are relatively cheap, when you consider what is at stake here! Write home. Everyone loves to receive a letter, even your parents! Use e-mail. It's cheap and you can fit it into your schedule, day or night. Involve your parents in decisions. Let them know how things are going. Seek their guidance. Keep the lines of communication as open as possible.
Seek out at least one mentoring couple. This should be a married couple who know well the Church's teachings on marriage and have had enough life experience to be able to offer you good "parental" advice! If you are not sure who to ask, go to your parish priest and ask for a suggestion. Perhaps parents of good friends of yours in the place where you are living would be willing to assist you.
Explain what you are hoping to achieve by meeting with this mentoring couple:
- Advice for your questions about relationships, marriage, finances, faith, parenting, family planning (this is where knowing the Church's teachings is really essential!)
- A couple who will provide accountability for you in your physical relationship. Give them permission to ask how you are doing — to check up on you to see that you are keeping your relationship pure. (Set guidelines for yourselves as a courting couple. Share these guidelines with your mentoring couple and allow them to ask specific questions.)
- Arrange to meet on a monthly basis or more often if it is agreeable to all involved.
Especially in the absence of family, be sure to spend much time with your friends. Friends can also provide valuable feedback. They have an outside perspective on your relationship that can be very insightful. There is a dangerous tendency for dating couples to isolate themselves from their friends — don't cut yourselves off.
Become involved in your church community. Attend church together. Do outreach and service activities together. Find church-based support groups: Bible studies, prayer groups and other social networking that you can both be involved with. Growing in your faith as a couple is vital to your relationship.
The broader the base of your community, the more support you will have to stand on as a couple — whether you decide to call off the courtship or proceed into marriage. And think of the joy of celebrating with your community of faith, friends and family when you do get married.
This advice is not just for those who live far from home. Every courting couple should seek to be a part of a larger community. Do not carry out a courtship in isolation! While family is very important to courtship, a couple must learn to make do with what they can when family is not around. God provides for all our needs in every situation. Look around. There will be a family of faith for you, willing and able to support you, if you are willing to allow them to share in your courtship experience.
The courtship movement is growing in North America. More and more young couples are discovering the benefits and wisdom of this age-old practice! Get resources and read about it. You'll be surprised how able you are to accommodate your courtship needs, even when you are not living in the "ideal" situation.
God wants to help you write a beautiful love story with your life. He will provide you with all the ingredients you will need when the time is right! All you need to do is trust Him and be open to His holy will. Pray and discern!
I hope these thoughts on the subject of family-based courtship are helpful in addressing your question. It's hard not to get "broad" in the answer to any question on this matter, since there is a need in our culture to "re-learn the lost art of courtship".
Be assured that you are in our prayers! Please pray for our apostolate work of promoting courtship and purity. Thank you.
In His Most Holy Name,