Wow! These are big questions and I’m not sure that I can address them all adequately in the space of a question and answer section on a website. I’ll give you some ideas, but I highly recommend you get some books on courtship and explore the topic more in depth. By far, my favourite book addressing the subject is I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris and his sequel to that, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. I think his books give a clear and fresh perspective on courtship. They are full of hope and humour, profound insights, real life examples, and above all, an understanding of human nature. They present the topic with clarity and charity.
I also encourage you to read through more of the information I’ve given on courtship on this website. There are many excellent questions to which I have given detailed answers. Many of those ideas will complement what I could only touch on here.
What are the dangers and pitfalls of courtship?
I’m not sure how to address this. I believe there are so many dangers and pitfalls to what our society deems as “normal” dating, that I really feel that courtship is a step beyond that.
I suppose one danger lies in that a couple could think just because they call it a “courtship” that it is automatically better than “dating”. The point though is this: it is not what you call it that makes it virtuous, it is how you live it.
I suppose another danger may lie in anticipating relationships too quickly. I think it’s important to enter into a courtship with someone that you are attracted to and enjoy as a friend and would seriously consider marrying. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out on a few dates with a person first before you entered into a courtship.
Obviously, going out on a few dates with someone would help you get to know them to decide whether or not you are really interested. No one expects you to go straight from meeting a person into a courtship; that would be foolish. But I think that going out on numerous dates without any real direction is potentially very dangerous. You either know within a matter of dates whether or not you want to pursue a relationship with someone, or you don’t. Perhaps you need to step back as friends for a while. Maybe the flames of romance will come later . . . at that time, you can try again. If they don’t come at all, then it’s best you don’t waste time and invest a lot of emotional energy in an intimate relationship with that person.
Each relationship is going to be very different. I don’t believe there are hard and fast rules here for courtship. There are some guidelines. But these need to be applied and custom fit to each relationship and each circumstance, in order to be successful.
I suppose another danger may lie in becoming so dogmatic about courtship that you miss out on the fun and the adventure of romance. But then again, regular dating can seem like fun and adventures in romance until there’s a series of broken hearts left behind!
Another potential danger to consider is that in a courtship relationship there is the specific direction of discerning marriage, which means the stakes are higher than just in a regular dating relationship. Some people might feel more devastated when this breaks off. But once again, there is devastation after dating relationships break off as well. The protection in courtship is that because a couple chooses to limit their physical relationship and guard their purity, when there is a break-up there is less chance of being overcome by regrets!
And, of course, because there is a definite direction to the relationship with courtship, the couple can be more honest; there are fewer head games. For example, how often in a dating relationship is the one of the persons involved left wondering: “Is he really serious about me?” “Is she getting too serious? I’m not ready for marriage!” There is an honesty and integrity about the courtship relationship that helps to protect a couple from the abuse of use! They know from the outset what direction the relationship is going – they are actively discerning marriage together, not second guessing each other.
Why is courtship necessary to the marital stage?
I believe that a courtship relationship lays a foundation for marriage in that it allows a couple to develop many of the virtues and skills that they will need for a good marriage: self-discipline, self-sacrificing, patience, right judgment, discernment, open communication, trust, fortitude, perseverance, maturity, faith, hope and love (to name a few).
Whether you call it dating or courtship is not the point. The point is the way you go about the relationship. I’ve outlined some ideas about courtship on my website, entitled “About Courtship”.
What are the stages and development of a pre-marital relationship?
Here again I reiterate that each and every relationship is different. The uniqueness of each person and every circumstance make it difficult to write hard and fast rules on any kind of relationship. What I can offer here are guidelines.
Acquaintance. At some point you have to meet. It could be as children who grow up together. It could be school mates. It could be a chance meeting at the grocery store. It could be at a party. It could be a blind date. Whatever the circumstances, you have to first make each other’s acquaintance. This stage can fun, exciting, frustrating, memorable, or go completely without notice. Whatever the experience, meeting is the first step.
Friendship. At some point your relationship has to evolve into a solid friendship. Sometimes that happens before romance develops. Sometimes romance develops first and then it is advisable to keep it cool so that a friendship has time to form. Take time to get to know each other – your interests, desires and goals in life. If you can share a dynamic friendship before you’re married, you’ll have a good chance of carrying on with a dynamic friendship after you’re married. Marriage is more than just romance – there are many ways in which a couple must be able to get along, resolve conflict, make decisions and share dreams. These are skills you can learn through friendship.
Courtship. At some point in your relationship you are going to make the decision to evolve from friendship to courtship. This could come quickly or take years to blossom – each situation is unique. But the decision to court is a decision to take time, as a couple, to discern whether or not God is calling you to marriage. An essential element during this time is prayer! Pray alone; pray together. We can not know God’s will if we never talk to God.
Be careful not to allow your heads to so rule over your hearts that your leave out the romance. Courtship should be a dynamic, exciting and fun season in your life.
The decision to marry is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make in life. Courtship provides a framework so that you can make a good decision . . . one you can live with for the rest of your life! Check out my section “About Courtship” to get some ideas about how to set guidelines for yourself as a couple and how to get the most out of this time of discernment.
Betrothal/Engagement. Having discerned God’s call to marry each other, the couple becomes engaged. Courtship is not engagement . . . it is discernment. Engagement is now a time for preparation for marriage . . . not just a time for planning a wedding.
Read, study and grow together in your understanding of marriage. There are excellent books and programs for marriage preparation. A mentoring couple still will be valuable to you at this time as you prepare for marriage.
This also continues to be a time of prayer and blessing, romance and adventure. It is a season in life that you want to be able to someday look back upon with fondness, not with regrets. Many of the guidelines you set for yourselves in courtship will carry on through the period of betrothal . . . you are not married yet and physical intimacy still needs clear boundaries.
Marriage. Entering into marriage following a pure and holy courtship relationship is, I believe, the best gift you can give to each other. Whatever your past (whether you’ve lived a pure life or not) you can begin today to choose purity and chastity. With every sacrifice you make to live a pure and holy life, you are storing up new treasures for your future marriage. The self-discipline and self-sacrificing that comes from the decision to live out purity and chastity will bless you and your future spouse and children.
Trust that God has a perfect plan for you! If you give Him your best, He’ll be able to meet all your hearts desires!
Thank you for your excellent questions. We pray for all our readers each day. We ask that you would remember me, my family and this ministry of promoting courtship in your prayers as well.
In His Most Holy Name,