Marriage is one of the most important decisions anyone can ever make. The implication is the commitment to spend a lifetime with someone you may not know so much about. Due to the improper preparation for this journey, it is believed a big number of all marriages end in divorce. Nathan Kiwere explores the idea of dating and courtship and their importance to having a successful marriage.
Relationships are one of the most meaningful and important aspects of life and the cause of more joy, laughter, love, and, regrettably, sorrow than most anything else. The question is: Is there such a thing as dating and/or courtship the Christian way? How should believers prepare themselves before entering the sacred institution of marriage?
Dating and courting are an intentional relationship that ask you to seriously consider whether the two people in question are compatible and would work well together in marriage. Some people may get along well, with similar interests.
Until they date or court, they may not realise they have fundamental differences that might not enable them to be together in the long run. The effect of this ill-preparation is usually echoed by the manner in which couples live their marriages – happily or otherwise.
This is where courtship becomes central before marriage. Courtship is an often misunderstood term, but it is an essential tool for building a successful, lifetime and healthy relationship. Moreover, not many people distinguish between courtship and dating. To some these two can be used interchangeably, yet this should not be the case.
Separating dating from courtship
The main difference between dating and courtship involves the goals to be reached by spending time with a potential marriage partner. Men and women who choose to date often have no commitment to consider marrying the other person.
Maturity and readiness for marriage are not considerations in the decision to date. Instead, couples usually date with selfish goals of having fun and enjoying romantic attachments. In contrast, courtship is undertaken only when both parties are prepared to make a commitment to marriage.
Dating tries to answer the question: How can I find the one who will make me happy? Courtship strives to answer the question: How can I honour God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?
During dating, there is little, if any, accountability for the couple and little or no interaction with family members. The dating couple is merely attracted to one another in some way and often pursues an exclusive relationship independent of others’ influence or counsel.
Since the boundaries of the relationship are self-determined, the couple may easily succumb to temptation and fail to consider their responsibility to honor each other in purity and genuine love. One source, who preferred anonymity, said most young people consider dating for sexual pleasures (fornication) “while courting is for marriage”.
In this digital era, dating has found its way on the virtual platforms, including some that describe themselves as ‘Christian dating sites’. Some include match.com, eharmony.com, and christianmingle.com, among others. Unfortunately, these sites are full of people who have created a false profi le for themselves. Since people are unique, each courtship will be unique.
While those who choose courtship will hold to general guidelines for the relationship, their specific choices about when, where, and how to court may differ according to their needs and circumstances.
It is commonly observed that if, during courtship, one or both parties realise marriage is not God’s will and they end the relationship, courtship has not failed. On the contrary, courtship is successful because God has given direction that was sought.
What courtship is and what it isn’t
According to Annie Mueller, relationship counselor with Dating Match, there are three accurate definitions of courtship. First, courtship is a period of time during which one person seeks the affection of another, usually the male pursuing the female, traditionally with the intent of gaining her hand in marriage.
Second, more recently there is the concept of courtship as an alternative to dating, usually referred to as ‘Christian courtship’, and most famously detailed in Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Third, and most accurate for our purposes, courtship is the behavior of a person seeking to attract, impress and secure the affections of another person. A successful relationship, Mueller adds, must have four elements: romance, commitment, trust and unconditional love.
It may have many other elements as well, such as common interests, shared sense of humor, similar backgrounds or complementary personalities, but without those first four it will struggle and, most likely, fail. According to Family life Network (FLN), over 40 per cent of marriages in Uganda end up in separation, and most families/marriages can be summed up as “unhappy”.
“Polygamy, adultery, materialism, breakdown of the traditional values, adoption of the global culture and the general degeneration of our morals as a society are among factors contributing to breakdown of the family institution in Uganda,” says FLN.
Stephen Langa, FLN executive director, is a proponent of courtship premised on Godly principles.
“Although there are many challenges today facing courtship, if the youth can decide to run their courtship on God’s wise and loving guidelines, they will not only keep themselves pure, but will also be able to conduct successful courtship which will end up in happy and fulfilling marriages which will honor God,” Langa said.
According to Rev Can Dr John Senyonyi, the Uganda Christian University vice chancellor, the success of marriage should not be measured by the time lapse in dating or courtship. “There is yet an implicit self-deception that assumes that you can actually know a person before marriage.
When the Bible says ‘Adam knew his wife …’, or whoever, it is pointing at more than just the physical intimacy of knowing.
We know when we love, and grow in knowing because we love,” says Dr Senyonyi. He urges young people to avoid playful or flippant relationships, but determine that they want a lifetime relationship rather than a trial relationship.
Marshall Segal wrote, in Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating, that “A lot of the heartache and confusion we feel in dating stems from treating dating mainly as practice for marriage (clarity through intimacy), instead of as discernment toward marriage
(clarity and then intimacy).” In a dating relationship, self-gratification is normally the basis of the relationship. Instead of focusing on God’s pleasure, the couple is often looking for personal pleasure.
This oblivious self-centeredness can lead only to dissatisfaction, promoting an attitude of lust (taking what I want) rather than the Scriptural attitude of love (giving unselfishly to others). Consequently, dating opens the door to many temptations. If defrauding (stirring up desires that cannot be righteously satisfi ed) occurs, the couple can foolishly and tragically give away both emotional and physical affections that should have been reserved for a life partner.
Thus, in a dating relationship, intimacy precedes commitment. A courting couple can evade numerous temptations by the choice to be held accountable to God-given authorities. The dangers of defrauding can be avoided more successfully, and an honest, open friendship can be nurtured and protected. Thus, in courtship, commitment precedes intimacy.
When courtship fails
One can suffer a heartbreak in both dating and courtship. Courtship does not fail every time, but when it does, it can, admittedly, be just as harmful as dating done the wrong way. Although terminating courtship most likely will cause pain and bitterness, it can as well be avoided.
Dr Senyonyi says time for courtship should be used to prepare for marriage, preferably with married mentors. He argues that when courtship is used to prepare for marital life, and if the couple continues ‘courtship’ into marriage, their marriage will be strong.
“Marriage is not the end of growing friendship but the intensification of investment in the relationship. True love is foundational to marriage, and love never ends,” he says.
Jesus gave this instruction with a promise: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
When a person makes a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ the foundation of all decisions – as he or she seeks God’s kingdom – God will provide all that is needed, including the marriage partner.
What other people say