Courtship

Courtship can be a truly wonderful season in the developing relationship of a couple. It was for my wife and I. Courtship is also a very important period and is worthy of a couple’s utmost consideration. A bad date can be quickly forgotten. It may cost you a little time, a little money, and perhaps a little annoyance. A bad courtship, however, will cost you a piece of your soul — your emotional and mental substance. Dating is observation. Courtship is involvement. Dating is time allotment; it is almost an end in itself. Courtship is directional; it is moving towards something. Dating has no strings attached. Courtship involves some mutual responsibility, more vulnerability, and a greater need for trust. Dating is marketing. Courtship is negotiating a potential sale to its close.

Unfortunately in our society at large most people take dating seriously, and then they continue to date without really taking the idea of courtship seriously. Few people truly have a clear understanding about when they move from dating to courtship. Essentially for Yvethe and I, we went from being friends to courting, bypassing a lot of the negatives and got all the positives of dating. We are recommending the principles of what we did to everyone, even though the way you meet and what God may direct you to do may be quite different.

WHAT IS COURTSHIP?

Courtship is the time when you begin to date one person exclusively, frequently, and with the purpose of determining if this is the person with whom you truly want to spend the rest of your life. Courtship begins with a decision to date only one person and ends in a formal engagement or a definitive dissolution of the relationship. In other words, the end of courtship is either an engagement or a breakup. A good courtship can be exhilarating and joyful. A courtship that is conducted poorly or ends badly can leave a person feeling bitter, angry, frustrated, disappointed, discouraged, and even depressed. Therefore let’s do courtship right!

Perhaps the appropriate word to describe a good courtship is growth. A couple should experience a growing together in closeness, a growing passion, and a growing identity of “us.” Courtship is not only allowing, but also cultivating the growth of a relationship. The word courtship comes from an Elizabethan era in which the ladies of the court were wooed and won by knights and lords of the court through the process of frequent visitation, attention, gifts and compliments. A man generally asked a woman’s father for permission to court his daughter, which implied that the man seriously and openly desired to pursue the possibility of marriage. In saying "yes" to a courtship proposal, the father was granting the man permission to visit his daughter, give her gifts, accompany her to formally to social events, etc. The two young people were rarely left alone, but perhaps were allowed to sit on the porch swing and talk, take walks together in the neighborhood, and perhaps even go on chaperoned buggy rides. In our world today, courtship is likely to be thought of as "going steady." Even though the social norms have changed, a good courtship still should be couched in extreme courtesy and respect. It should be marked by sexual purity. Before you begin to date a person, you should have carefully evaluated that person’s character. Dating gives you further opportunity to get to know the person from the inside out. Courtship is the time for evaluating consistency and for deepening communication.

We’ve all known couples who were on again, off again in their relationship. If such a couple ends up at a marriage ceremony, those who witness the event and have known the couple for a period of time are likely to think, "This is an upswing. A downswing is sure to follow." They may even be taking bets with their other friends about how long the honeymoon bliss will last. I have met and counseled couples who are worn out from their dating highs and lows, and then they have erroneously concluded, “We don’t seem to be doing very well in dating. Let’s get married.” That’s like saying, “I can’t bench-press seventy pounds, so let’s stack three hundred pounds on the bar.” Trust me—if you can’t get along with a person for a few hours a day, four or five times a week, you surely aren’t going to be able to get along with that person seven days a week for the next fifty years! There should be an easiness of compatibility in your dating relationship as you move into courtship. There should be a growing easiness in your relationship the longer you court. Don’t continue to add layer upon layer of time and commitment to something that does not have a solid foundation. Always provide a second chance but if there isn't any change and you have been clear, it may be time to move on.

A growing sense of togetherness is likely to be achieved through increased sensitivity, vulnerability, and depth of communication. Courtship is the time for sharing one’s deepest desires, hopes, and dreams. This should come about naturally because trust has been established during dating. Courtship is a time for telling life stories in detail, for exploring life’s future in detail, for sharing freely and fully anything and everything that you desire to share. In the Song of Solomon, the woman described Solomon this way: The voice of my beloved! Behold he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold he stands behind our wall; He is looking through the windows, gazing through the lattice. (Song 2:8-9) Solomon was eager to get closer to the woman and was joyful in his desire to know everything about her. He was looking into the windows of her heart, gazing through the latticework of her soul to discover her innermost thoughts, opinions, feelings and secrets. He wanted to know all there was to know about her. And he was calling to her as he came to her. He was just as willing to reveal himself to her as he desired that she reveal herself to him.

If you are courting a person and you suddenly realize that you are bored with the life stories or that you have lost or are losing interest in listening to the other person’s opinions, it may be best to "call it a day" for the relationship. If you feel “out of sight, out of mind” about the one you are courting, you perhaps should call it quits. In courtship, time should kindle, not dwindle, a relationship. There should be an increased desire to discover more and more about each other, and spend more time together. I couldn't get enough of Yvethe, no matter how much time we spent together. The same holds true today! Courtship is a time for baring one’s soul to another person, including revealing any dark secrets from one’s past. A person who truly loves you should be able to handle the full truth about you. I know of instances where the truth was such that the other person in the relationship couldn’t handle it. That being the case, it was wise that the couple broke up because the love between them truly was not a godly, unconditional love. Conditional love is never a good foundation for a marriage for several reasons: the conditions tend to change over time, no one can fulfill all the conditions another person might set, and self-righteousness tends to develop, which in turn can give rise to all sorts of manipulative, controlling, angry and rigid behaviors. Yvethe and I have fully communicated our past and have embraced each other fully in spite of it. The past is the past, whether or not you were a Christian at the time. If God is able to forgive and forget no matter what we did, we are called to do the exact same, and that we have.

Courtship is a time for making yourself vulnerable to the one you are considering as a marriage partner. It is a time for taking the risk to share what may initially frighten, surprise, appall, dishearten, or shock the one you are courting. Even so, sharing at a level of vulnerability is something you must do. In the process, you will discover a great deal about the person you love. One of the foremost things you will discover is how the person responds to situations that frighten, surprise, appall, dishearten, or shock him/her! Such situations are bound to occur after your marriage. I believe it is far better to have a preview of how a person will respond to the dark, tragic, or disturbing aspects of life before marriage than to make these discoveries after the wedding vows are said. “But why do I have to tell?” you may ask. Because it's the right thing to do and will probably eventually come up. No matter how “buried” you believe a past error or sin may be, it will find a way of surfacing at some time in your relationship. And even if it doesn’t, you will always wonder, with a certain degree of guilt for keeping it secret, whether it will emerge and how it may come to light. Let Jesus be your role model as you hear and respond to the past life of the person you love: “As Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Expose everything to the light!

Not only must you share fully the events of your past with your possible future spouse, buy you must also share your heartfelt dreams and desires for the future. Can you imagine the shock one young woman felt when after two years of marriage, her husband suddenly announced that they were going to Bible school and then to South America to serve as missionaries? “What happened?” she asked. “Did God speak to you at church last Sunday?” “No,” he said. “I have known since I was fifteen years old that this is what I am supposed to do with my life. I just haven’t been in obedience to God.” At the time the young man sought to get back into obedience, he and his wife had been out of college for three years and both were enjoying successful track records where they worked. They were expecting their first child and had just made a down payment on a house. He admitted that he hadn’t told her about this call of God on his life because he was afraid he would lose her. She did go with him to Bible school and to South America—willingly, not begrudgingly—but it wasn’t because he had kept his dream a secret. It was because God sovereignly spoke to her heart, because she was a woman of great character, and because her love for her husband was unconditional. Certainly not all dreams or goals are so dramatic, but even more routine dreams—about the house you want to have in the country, the number of children you desire to have, the way you desire to serve God in your community—should be shared during courtship. They should not be idealized images you think are the “right” dreams for a Christian young person to have; they should be genuine dreams that you have had for a significant period of time.

You should also share your expectations regarding a spouse. I recently heard a story about a young man who married a woman expecting that she would cook dinner every night, keep a neat house, and manage the family check book. His mother had done those three things, and she was his only image as to how a wife functioned outside the bedroom. During his courtship days, his girlfriend had cooked a couple of meals for him. She lived at home and her mother kept a neat, clean home. He automatically assumed that she would do the same. Not once did they have a discussion about how the two of them might divide the various daily-living chores and responsibilities they would face as a couple. What were her expectations? She hated to cook. She expected her husband to bring home enough money so that they could go out to eat every night or order in meals. If not, she expected him to cook. Furthermore, she expected to have a full-time housekeeper. She announced to her husband-to-be that she had a deep desire to shop and be a mother, preferably in that order. And to top it all off, she had never had a checkbook of her own and didn’t have the foggiest idea how to manage money. You can imagine the difficulties the two had in their first few years of marriage as both learned to make serious adjustments in their expectations of what a good wife or husband should do. They had a real struggle in finding common ground on which to build a daily living pattern that was satisfying to both of them. Don’t make promises about how you will live and act after you are married unless you have strong evidence that you have lived and acted in that way in the past. High expectations lead to disappointment which leads to bitterness, so be very careful about creating or having high expectations.

A good courtship should bring out the best in you and allow you to express yourself fully without any feelings of recrimination or apology. You should feel free to be who God created you to be. You cannot endure a lifetime of impersonating your mate’s ideal. Each of us is true to unique gifts. And that’s the way it should be. Courtship is a time for revealing your giftedness to another person and accommodating the other person’s gifts. If your giftedness blends together, what a blessing! If your giftedness competes or conflicts, you have a problem. If the one you are courting is resentful of your abilities and talents, jealous of your skills or achievements, uptight about your weaknesses or lack of ability in an area, take note. The two of you may have much in common and respect each other, but you may not “fit” together well for the long haul of marriage. Yvethe and I are amazed at how perfectly we fit together and bring out the best in each other, while making up for the other person's faults. Keep in mind you may have the same struggles or there may be things that bother you about the other person because God wants your mate to help you change. Who better than your spouse. But overall, you will compliment each other if that is truly God's best for you. Yvethe and I compliment and find completeness in each other, and you will have the same.

Communication at all levels—about the past, present, and future—should become completely honest and transparent in courtship. Such communication is risky, but it is vital to the establishment of a sound marriage. Secrets, facades, and future fantasies can be devastating to a relationship. If one person in a marriage relationship suddenly feels conned or betrayed in some way, intimacy and romance are going to fly out the window. It is extremely difficult to be sexually intimate or emotionally vulnerable with someone who is under a load of guilt or fear, or who is highly secretive about the past. It is very difficult to be vulnerable in romance with someone who refuses to open up and share who he is and what he dreams, desires, or hopes—or even worse, with someone who cannot forgive. Past secrets, untold dreams, and false expectations can cause a person to become “me” focused rather than “other” focused. A self-absorbed person will not be a willing giver of self. This will definitely have repercussions not only in the bedroom but in all areas of marriage.

As important as it is for the two of you to communicate at deep levels and reach a decision about commitment, it is very dangerous to share too much with a person too soon in a relationship. What you share should be at the level of trust you have established between you, and trust takes time to build. Some people are quick to say, “I love you,” when they barely know if they like the person to whom they are speaking. Too much, too soon. Courtship is not a time to be rushed. Exploring the depths of another person takes time. So does reaching deep levels of communication. Don’t expect a person to become immediately transparent, vulnerable, and totally self-disclosing to you. Neither should you do the same without first establishing a foundation of trustworthiness, sensitivity, and respect. Be certain that the person with whom you share your secrets will keep the secrets. Yvethe and I were able to quickly establish trust and communication, and communicate things openly, but we waited until Thanksgiving to fully communicate how we feel about each other. We are told in Proverbs, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Do not give your heart hastily... Handle it carefully and make sure the other person does even more than you, or it may be broken.

Can your relationship survive misunderstandings, arguments, and the occasional conflict of interest? If not, take heed. In the Song of Solomon we find a mutual commitment of the couples to face and resolve difficulties: “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes” (Song 2:15). Foxes are deadly to vineyards because they nibble the early blossoms from the vines. As a result, no fruit will mature from those blossoms. A number of things have the capacity to nip a relationship in the bud before it has time to develop fully. Little foxes might include communication glitches, unthoughtful acts, little resentments and disagreements, colliding differences of opinion, or unchecked premarital passion. The two of you need to learn to fight clean and to resolve conflicts fairly and in love. Courtship is the time for developing those skills. A woman doesn’t need a perfect man, but she does need a man who is perfectible. She needs a man who is willing to listen to her and to take her ideas and opinions into consideration. At the core of many marital arguments is this issue of “you never listen to me; you don’t care what I think.” Men, if your girlfriend or wife accuses you of poor communication skills, own up to them. In 99 out of 100 cases, she’s right, and the other 1 case isn’t worth fighting about. I have to do this with Yvethe as we often have misunderstandings, but that is part of learning about each other: learning how to communicate and have dialogue with them.

The humorist Dave Barry once wrote about the reluctance of men to commit to relationships and marriage, “If a man was a chicken breast and you put him in the microwave in July, he wouldn’t be ready till Thanksgiving.” Men tend to shy away from commitment, very often believing that it will be confining, restrictive or burdensome. Women are sometimes too eager to jump into a commitment, generally for very different reasons: they are looking for security, support, and faithful love. Even if you are not ready to make a commitment related to marriage, courtship is a time in which some degree of commitment should be expressed openly by both persons in the relationship. Commit to the degree that you are willing and able to commit. I strongly encourage every young man who is in a dating relationship to say to the young woman after a few dates, “I don’t know if you are the person that God has for me to marry, but I want you to know that you are the type of woman I would enjoy spending my life with, I like being with you, and I’m open to seeing if this relationship goes somewhere. If you want to back out of our dating relationship right now, then that’s all right. You owe me nothing but honesty.” If you discover after a few dates that a young woman is not the type of person you want to spend your life with, tell her as gently as possible that you don’t anticipate that your relationship is going to lead to marriage, and therefore, you think it’s probably better that you part ways now rather than later. Be honest about your feelings and forthright about your intentions. You feel either one way or the other—express your feelings. You’ll save yourself and the person you are dating a lot of frustration and heartache. You’ll also feel better about yourself for being honest and straightforward. Yvethe and I took our time (and still are) but we did not suppress our feelings. We only suppressed some of what we felt verbally and physically until the day God said we could (November 24th). Now we share our feelings openly, whether good or bad. This will inevitably cause conflict and misunderstandings at times but I believe it is the best policy.

Also, mark the point at which you begin to court and make it significant. Yvethe and I made it very significant and I encourage you to read our story. Don’t just slide into courtship. Make a statement like: “We’ve been dating for a while, and I’d like for us to date each other exclusively. I enjoy your company, and you are the kind of person I’d like to marry. I’d like for us to seriously explore whether we truly are meant to spend the rest of our lives together.” If at any time in your courtship you realize that you are not going to marry this man or woman, end your courtship as graciously and kindly as you can. Don’t muddle along until you both are so hurt, frustrated, and upset that anger and bitterness take root. Also, do not romance someone and then in a fit of spirituality decide to be “wholly God’s” and leave her. Word will spread about you, and rightly so. Be careful with someone’s heart. The Bible says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23)." My advice is this: don’t press for commitment, but do press for communication. You can say to someone who has dated you several times but hasn’t said how they feel about you or your relationship, “I’m not asking for any form of commitment, but I would like for you to communicate to me your feelings. Do you like being with me? Am I the kind of person you would consider spending the rest of your life with? Do you think there’s any possibility for this relationship to move to deeper levels?” Although you aren’t in a position to either expect or demand commitment, you can certainly probe for information. If they are totally unwilling to express their feelings, you have your answer. Either they aren’t willing to communicate with you, or they aren’t feeling anything—both of which mean they are not emotionally involved in the relationship. The point is, for any relationship to move forward from dating into courtship, and then from courtship to a formal engagement, somebody has to do some talking and somebody has to initiate the forging of commitment. Men, make that your responsibility. Take the lead! I made my intentions to Yvethe from the very beginning (in an email after the second time I got to know her) and I am very glad I did. In fact, I'll let you in on what I said:

I have been going to Calvary for over three years, am very involved there, and know a lot of people… I have been praying and have come to a conclusion: You are the one person I want to really get to know. Even though I don’t know you that well yet, so far you have fit my ideal in every way. The party seemed to confirm so much of what I had been sensing and I want us to proceed cautiously to sense what the Lord is doing. I would also like to know where you are in your walk… What is the Lord telling you regarding your relationships? Is this the right timing to consider something like this or do you need to focus completely on the Lord still? Do you have an accountability partner (your Aunt?) What I am saying is this and I want it to be clear: I want us to be closer friends, spend more time together in groups, seek the Lord and pray for guidance, and see if there is something here. All I ask is that you give me a chance and get to know me more.

Now if the time comes for you to part ways, do so in a way that leaves the other person encouraged, not devastated. Let the person know that you value the time you have spent together and that you want only the best for the person in the future. Let the person know that you will be praying that God sends him or her the right mate, and then follow through and pray that prayer. If your focus is on the Lord, you obey what He says, and make sure you hear clearly from Him, you cannot fail!


© Todd Tyszka
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