If you’re single and hope to get married someday, you have to go from being single, to starting a relationship, to getting engaged, to walking down the aisle. Some people choose the modern dating path to get there. Some choose the “old-fashioned” courtship route. And others choose a combination of both dating and courtship. No path is perfect, but we’ve found that you’ll be a lot more successful if you have a well thought-out, Christ-focused plan before you get there!
What is the Difference Between Courtship and Dating?
Not everyone defines modern dating the same way, but the majority of Americans view it kind of like this: A casual romantic relationship between two people for the purpose of having fun and enjoying one another. The dating relationship may or may not be for the purpose of marriage.
In modern dating there is usually little to no accountability from family, friends, or mentors. The couple spends a lot of time alone, often in intimate settings. The motives for casual dating are typically self-serving and tend to include heavy doses of physical intimacy. Often, it’s just for fun.
Instead of answering the question, “How can I find someone who will make me happy right now?” courtship strives to answer the question, “How can I honor God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?”
The process of courtship seeks to avoid many of the pitfalls that often exist in dating relationships. Courtship is a commitment to honor and protect both individuals in the process of getting to know one another.
Because each person, family, and set of circumstances is unique, each relationship will be unique! While those who choose a courtship model may hold to general guidelines for the relationship, their specific choices about when, where, and how may differ according to their needs and circumstances. The concepts presented here are simply helpful things to consider. Each couple must discern God’s direction for the specific steps of their courtship, and it can be helpful to seek advice from parents or other mentors.
If, during the courtship relationship, one or both parties realize that marriage is not God’s will and they end the relationship, the courtship has not failed. Quite the opposite—the courtship was successful, because God gave the direction that was sought through it!
Courtship is Centered Around Family
Each courtship is unique. Sometimes the individuals live in the same town, but in other cases, they live hundreds or thousands of miles apart! If possible, it is good for a couple to find time to spend with both families. Group activities with family and friends can often provide a safe and wholesome environment in which the couple can get to know one another and observe how each respond in different situations.
Family and mentors often play a significant role in helping a man or woman identify characteristics and traits of a potential partner that are important to know and consider before deciding to get married. (See Proverbs 1:7–9.)
Couples can greatly benefit from getting involved in family functions and doing things with parents and siblings. Even if family lives far away, it is good to make the effort to get to know potential future in-laws. It is a wonderful thing to strive to create quality ties early on. If the relationship leads to marriage, this support and connection will be invaluable to you both.
Participating in a variety of activities together, whether working or playing, are some of the best ways to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Get out there and have fun!
The Importance of Accountability
Another difference between dating and courtship is accountability. In a dating relationship, there is usually little, if any, accountability for the couple and limited interaction with family members. The dating couple often pursues a relationship that is independent of others’ influence or counsel. When there is a lack of accountability, the couple may easily give in to temptation and fail to consider their responsibility to honor each other in purity and genuine love.
In courtship, a couple seeks the accountability of their parents or other mentors. It is so essential to have older, godly mentors in our lives. We need people we can trust to give us good advice—to not only tell us what we want to hear, but also what we need to hear. We need people with whom we can communicate our relationship standards, knowing they will help to us stick to the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
We need people in our lives who are seeking our spiritual good, who love us enough to ask tough and uncomfortable questions, and with whom we can be totally open and honest. If you do not have a wise mentor you can trust, seek one out. Get involved in a solid, Bible-teaching church and find a mature Christian you can come alongside of and learn from.
“Secret” sins are often the ones that have the most power over our lives and the greatest ability to destroy. So, if we are being tempted in certain areas, bringing these struggles into the open by talking with a trusted mentor can put us on a path to overcoming those sins and walking in freedom.
It is human nature to strive harder to achieve a goal when we know someone will be checking up on us! Love should be the motivation for accountability, with a hope of supporting the couple’s goal to honor God and one another with purity in their words and actions.
Communication is Key
During courtship, a couple naturally desires to spend time together. It’s essential to make time not only for being together, but also creating space for meaningful conversation. Communication is key, and couples benefit from daily opportunities to talk and get to know each other. Get creative! If you can’t see one another face-to-face, phone calls or video chat work great.
Ask each other questions and let both have a chance to give his or her opinion. It’s easy to talk about your day, or favorite hobbies, but don’t stop there. Discuss things you feel strongly about, whatever that may be. Talk about theology, politics, or how you want to raise future children. As Christians, it is especially important to communicate regularly about your faith—how you are growing through your study of God’s Word, and how you can be praying for one another.
As the friendship grows, both parties are responsible to be open and honest with one another. For times of private conversation, you can choose to take a walk together or talk on the phone—anything that offers privacy while avoiding seclusion.
A courtship is the time to figure out as much about the other person as possible. You want to do your best to see if you are aligned in your thinking and goals, or if there are things you learn about the other person that you feel could be a “deal breaker.”
Remember the Goals of the Courtship
Throughout the courtship, both the man and the woman should diligently seek to find out whether they should be married—whether they can serve and honor God better together than apart. As they seek the Lord’s will together, they will discern God’s direction for the relationship. (See Proverbs 3:5–7.)
Every individual, family, and situation is unique, and therefore, the process of each courtship is unique. What worked well for one couple might not be the best choice for another couple.
As the couple experiences the joys of a deepening friendship, they will also face many challenges. Mentors can help the couple to consider insightful questions to gain wisdom as God leads them forward in the relationship or directs them to end the courtship. It is important for both the man and woman to understand that a decision to enter into a courtship relationship is not a commitment to marry. The goal of a courtship relationship is to determine if the couple should get married or not, according to God’s direction. It is likely that many individuals will participate in more than one relationship before God leads them to the right life partner. Ideally, the goal is that you should be able to look back at your courtship without any regrets, confident that you honored both God and each other.
Each person can find hope in God’s promise in Psalm 84:11–12: “The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.” God wants to guide every man and woman to His very best for each of them! (See Jeremiah 29:11–13.)