Thank you so much for your question (and for giving me some extra background information to you personal situation). The struggle of staying chaste through a courtship, dating relationship or during the time of engagement is one that many couples face. I hope I can offer you some practical ideas and encouragement to help you win the battle for purity.
There are many ideas I can write down for you to consider, but I honestly think the best three resources I can offer you are the following:
Josh Harris’ books, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship.
Any of Chris West’s works on the Theology of the Body. (For a free sample of one of his talks, Marriage and the Eucharist, you can go to http://www.catholicity.com/.)
My novel, Arms of Love, which you can order on-line off this website.
I really believe the combination of these three resources will not only help you to overcome the battle for purity now at the engagement stage of your relationship, but ultimately open the path for you to have God-glorifying romance in your marriage.
Josh Harris’ books are filled with wonderful and practical ideas and many examples of other couples who struggled with the same issues you struggle with. His writings help you to see how every expression of physical intimacy seeks consummation. If we are not able to consummate our love in the act of the marital embrace – we should refrain from stirring the passions within us to do so. Josh’s books help to keep a practical perspective on things.
The Theology of the Body is the work of Pope John Paul II – a fresh and wonderful understanding of the gift of human sexuality, the meaning of marriage and the dignity we share as children of God, created in His image and likeness – male and female. Christopher West has taken the Pope’s writings and presents them with energy, humour and passion. The Theology of the Body inspires men and women alike, breathing new life and beauty into our wounded notions of sexuality. Once you’ve heard and understood this message, it is hard to go against the dignity of who you are by transgressing the gift of your chastity, whatever your state in life may be.
Chris West’s book, The Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching, is an absolutely invaluable resource! Every couple preparing for marriage should read it! And as you mentioned in your email, chastity does not end with marriage – this resource will help to guide you through chaste love in marriage as well.
Arms of Love is a completely unique resource. It is a novel: the fictional account of a young couple striving to live out chastity in a courtship relationship. As such, it has been a very powerful source of inspiration for both men and women, young and old. I would highly recommend that both you and your fiancé take time to read this book. I’ve heard from so many men and women who said it completely changed their outlook on life, faith, and romance, and helped them to have the fortitude it takes to live out chastity in their own lives. That is the work of the Holy Spirit – but, beyond a doubt, the Holy Spirit has been working through the humble instrument of this novel to bring hearts to Jesus and in line with His teachings.
Everything I will suggest to you here, in terms of guidelines for you and your fiancé, you will see lived out in the lives of the two main characters of my book. As you identify with their struggle, I’m sure you will find the ability in yourself to live out chastity in your own relationship. And what Arms of Love does for so many people is to help them see the reward that comes with living out a chaste courtship and engagement. You’ll come away feeling like, “That’s what we want for ourselves and we’re not going to settle for anything less!”
What God has in store for you in marriage is so worth the sacrifices you make now for each other. Often couples struggle with chastity before marriage because they are focussed on the pleasure that sex will hold for them once they are married and so they have a hard time waiting for it. It’s like a child waiting for a treat with terrible impatience.
While it is perfectly natural for your longing for physical intimacy to grow as you grow in emotional intimacy, it is for that very reason that you must be ever on guard. And by that, I mean that you must be very practical. Every act of physical intimacy stirs the deeper desire within for union in marriage. A lingering hug or a kiss is like a spark which wants to be fanned into a flame. The more a couple expresses their love for each other in these “little” and “harmless” ways, the more they are stirring their passions. A couple committed to chastity will experience a great deal of frustration in waiting, if they repeatedly stir their passions.
Instead, I think you need to consider limitations to your expressions of affection now. There is nothing wrong with a kiss or hug. It certainly is not sinful! But, when a couple chooses to refrain from these ways of showing their love for each other – they often find it much easier to wait until marriage. Does that mean you can’t ever kiss? No. But some couples do make that choice. They decide they will not kiss (again) until marriage. While that choice is not for everyone – for those who do choose it, they find themselves incredibly blessed!
You may decide to limit when and how you kiss! Again, the goal is to not stir your hearts to desiring something for yourselves now that is not yours to have!
Another area of caution is in fantasizing your future relationship. This is a dangerous thing! Some people feel they can justify sexual fantasy, because they are engaged or married. They feel that it is alright to dwell on thoughts of being together because of the nature of their committed relationship. But this is not so.
As a married couple, sexual fantasy that centres itself on your married love with your spouse (free of any thoughts of sexual sin) can be appropriate – but the danger of indulging in this type of sexual fantasy is that it can lead one to view his or her spouse as an object for selfish pleasure!
Fantasizing your future relationship is wrong – because if you are not married yet, then you are not married! She is not your wife. He is not your husband. Aside from the practical aspects of not stirring passions that will ultimately frustrate your decision to remain chaste, you are avoiding the sin of lustful desire. Passing thoughts about sex are not sins. Indulging in those thoughts and allowing them to entertain you for pleasure is a sin! I suggest you guard yourselves now to not set a pattern for sexual fantasy if that is a problem for either one of you.
Guard what you are exposing yourselves to in terms of entertainment: movies, books, magazines. Many forms of media are geared directly toward stirring sexual desires – sex is a huge marketing device: it sells! But it is not appropriate for us to allow ourselves to be entertained by others’ sins! Be choosey about what you read and watch. If you want to be pure in heart, you can not be consistently nurturing your mind and heart in sin! There are great movies and books out there. You don’t have to settle for the junk!
I’m not sure if any of the areas I identified are sources of frustration in your own relationship. Without knowing you personally, I can’t be specific. What I hope to do here is to provide you with some food for thought (and for anyone else reading this page on my website). So please, don’t be offended if I’ve addressed things that are completely non-issues for you and your fiancé. Take what applies to you and put it into practice!
Finally, for you to remain pure and chaste in your love for each other the most important thing I can recommend to you is . . . pray! How could I emphasize this enough? You mentioned that at the beginning of your courtship you were very focussed on keeping Christ at the centre. You would spend time in prayer together before dates. If you have dropped that practice, it would be a good thing to pick it up again! And spend time together in adoration. I can’t think of a better thing way for you to arm yourselves in purity and to help you lay a solid foundation for your marriage!
I want to close by reminding you to consider getting for yourselves the resources I mentioned above. I really believe as you take time to arm yourselves well spiritually, you will regain your strength physically! All three of the above recommendations are geared to help you focus your hearts on Christ and to form your love for each other in purity. They are filled with practical ideas, good humour and above all – hope!
If God has called us to live chaste lives, He has also given us the grace to live it out according to His will! There is much reason for hope – for you and for our world. As you turn your hearts to Christ in all your needs, let the joy that comes from living out your love sacrificially be a great sign of His love to all those around you! The witness of His love in you has the power to change the world – one heart at a time!
We keep all our readers in our prayers daily. We ask that you would remember me, my family and this ministry of promoting purity in your prayers as well.
In His Most Holy Name,