By Pam Farrel, Crosswalk.com
Starry-eyed, smiling couples often ask us, “How long should an engagement last?” To give a more complete answer, we need to first step back and look at the Biblical principles of relationships:
God created marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
“God made them male and female…” (Gen 1:27)
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24)
God wants believers to marry believers.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” (2 Cor 6:14)
God holds sex as a gift to be fully enjoyed WITHIN the context of marriage.
“…may you rejoice in the wife of your youth…” (Prov 5:18)
God holds sexual purity before marriage as an equally high priority.
“…must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…” (Eph 5:3)
God wants love to be the centerpiece and priority of all relationships.
“We love because He [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
The way we love reflects the way God loves.
“…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)
God wants us to be clear in our decisions.
“Choose you this day who you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
God wants us to be honest and authentic in our relationships.
“The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue [is] but for a moment.” (Prov 12:19)
God wants us to keep a pure heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart...” (Matt 5:8)
God wants us to be wise stewards of our money.
“…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)
God wants us to have godly priorities.
“Above everything else guard your heart, because from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23)
With all these verses painted into the background of a decision to marry, the next series of questions will help a couple discover how much they really know about one another to see if this is the time to marry.
We tell couples that pre-engagement counseling, or resources like The Before You Marry Book of Questions are there to make you confident. You will either become confident that “YES! God has called us to be married to each other for a lifetime” or, “NO, we are good people but not good together so we should free each other to move forward in life and perhaps marry another person.”
So the key is to gain the information to become confident (one way or another). Before you can ask and answer how long an engagement should be, you should first ask, “How well do I really know you?” For example, have you asked and answered these questions?
Have I met the family of the one I love—and spent time with my significant other WITH their family?
When two people marry, two families are joined, so spend enough time with the family of the one you are dating to see if you “fit” in each other’s families. Your future will be MUCH easier if you enjoy spending time with each other’s families. Things might not be perfect, relationships with the extended family will take time to develop; but can you picture your life ahead with these people in it?
Also, we can learn a significant amount about the person we love when he or she is with her family. You will observe family patterns, family strengths and weaknesses. Also your own flaws are often are exposed when spending time with your family of origin, so you gain a more comprehensive portrait of each other.
For example, my younger siblings will often tease me, their older sister, about being “bossy” or “pulling out my soapbox” to share opinions. It was important for Bill to know he was marrying a woman with strong convictions and strong leadership skills. Or conversely, you might observe that his or her opinions are not sought out, honored or respected within his/her family of origin. It might be a flashing yellow light of caution for you to slow down when a flaw appears as you spend time with family.
One or both of you might need mentoring or counseling to overcome some negative issue from your family of origin. You might also need to set a plan of growth and see if your beloved can mature and gain victory in an area vital for your future together. And, if someone in the family is not in favor of your marriage, have you sought counsel on how to handle this delicate situation?
Do I know his or her friends, church community and work colleagues?
You can learn a lot about a person by the company they keep. And you can learn more about your beloved by keeping company with people in his or her world. You will soon be able to see how others perceive him or her.
If you hear a plethora of compliments about his or her work ethic, talent, personal character and integrity, these can be green lights leading to the altar. On the other hand, if his or her peers, bosses, church friends and leaders seem hesitant about his or her readiness for marriage, or seem to be pulling you aside making sure you know “insider” information about your beloved, this is another flashing yellow light of caution to slow things down.
Have you gone through a calendar year of experiences?
If possible, travel life side by side, in the same city or region, for a calendar year, because you will experience making daily choices of who buys what, who cooks what, who drives where, etc. As you journey together, observe how decisions are made between the two of you.
A year also usually gives a couple a few challenges to overcome and disagreements to solve. The ability resolve conflict is one of the keys to a lasting marriage, so be sure to date long enough to resolve a few issues together. In a perfect world, your engagement would be the last few months of this calendar year.
Have you worked together?
People often have an unrealistic view of romance as because the media and culture encourage couples to spend the majority of time together having fun, lavish dates, and being entertained together. In reality, marriage is about teaming up and working together on shared common goals; raising a family and doing ministry together. Go on a mission trip, volunteer for the same ministry, do a building project and learn to be a winning team.
Is there a track record of truth?
All of the above questions are only helpful if you are being truthful and authentic with the one you love. Make sure to take all skeletons out of the closet. Dialogue over all areas of each of your pasts that you might be feeling shame, guilt or trauma over. A sure deal breaker is to think you are falling in love with one person only to discover he or she has been lying to you!
After you have traversed all these issues together, then some practical questions can be layered in that will help you nail down just how long your engagement should be:
To maintain our work and ministry commitments, how much time will we need to plan a wedding?
You need to have a real life to come back to after the “I do” so plan now how to stay successful as you plan for your big day. In reality, a wedding is like planning a special event. If a wedding is small and simple, it can be beautiful—and planned in just a few weeks. However, the larger the crowd and the more complex the event, the longer it will take to plan. A focused bride with the help of family and friends, or a talented wedding planner can pull together all the details in six to ten weeks if you are flexible on venue options.
What is a realistic budget for a wedding that will reflect our faith?
Will either or both families contribute anything to our wedding? (If you accept funds from family, honor them by asking their opinion on possible dates as their finances are impacted too.) If family is not contributing, ask, “Do we have those funds or do we need to save for our wedding?” Really weigh out how extravagant or simple your wedding should be.
Too many couples spend so much money on a wedding and so little time on the skills they will need after the wedding to create a love that last a lifetime. Also weigh out how you want to spend available funds. Paying off school or car loans, having a down payment for a home, or having a nest-egg of savings might be choices that would simplify your wedding but reduce unnecessary pressure on your new marriage.
Who will do our pre-engagement (pre-marital) counseling and what would be the time schedule to accomplish excellent marriage preparation?
There is a general consensus among pastors and Christian counselors that a minimum of six marriage preparation sessions are vital for success after the wedding. A pre-marital marriage conference hosted by a respected author or ministry is also a wise investment (Engagement Encounter by United Marriage Encounter, Family Life Weekends to Remember Premarital tract, or our Love-Wise conferences on Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti or Best Decisions a Couple Can Make).
You can jump start this process by doing the dates and discussions in a book like The Before You Marry Book of Questions; 101 Questions to Ask Before You Say I Do or other premarital work books. One of our family friends arranges for six to eight couples, each with a strength needed for marriage, to have a mentoring meal with the engaged couple while conversing on their specialty topic (money, sex, parenting, faith, building a network, home care and housework, etc.)
How long can we maintain our sexual purity? (Or, do we need counsel on how to repent and restart our sexual integrity?)
You will want your first decisions together as a dating couple to be ones of obedience to God and godly principles, so if you need to make a course correction, do so quickly to keep your relationship on track and going in a good direction.
For example, many today think they need to “test drive” their love by living together. However, this is faulty thinking as studies show that 90% cohabiting couples describe their relationship as “on the rocks” and of those who do make it to the altar find out they are twice as likely to divorce. Be realistic, set boundaries to help you make wise choices, and set a timeline that reflects your highest priority of honoring God as a couple.
Is there a natural day that makes sense for our friends and family in this time range?
Some couples have family traditions of marrying on a certain holiday or anniversary; or perhaps you have a school break or a date post-graduation or pre-deployment to work around. You might also want to take advantage of a holiday so out of town guests can attend. Or if finances are an issue, a wedding during the “off season” or midweek might be a way to save few pennies. You might also have a date that is special to the two of you (like the anniversary of your first date or when you first met).
Most importantly, have you prayed together for God’s leading over all of your relationship?
Pray about the date God might see as best for your beautiful, God-honoring wedding day, then book the pastor and place; all the other details will fall together!
Pam and Bill Farrel are international speakers, Co-directors of Love-Wise and authors of 44 books including bestselling Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti and The Before You Marry Book of Questions. www.Love-Wise.com
Publication date: April 27, 2016