Marriage: Getting There ~ courtship, dating, betrothal ~ Part One




You know its June when every Sunday’s scroll through your Facebook feed produces beautiful wedding photos from the day before! Glowing brides, proud parents, adorable flower girls, Pinterest-perfect receptions, its all there in Instagram loveliness.

When Julie Newmar sang “They say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life” back in 1954, everyone assumed it meant being a lifelong bride to the same groom. But, “as long as we both shall live” is now “as long as we both shall love” and even the lesser cynics among us refer to the “starter marriage” in everyday conversation.

Christian parents of teens and young adults wonder how their children will ever commit to marriages for a lifetime when it is so rare even within the church. In fact, I believe the body of Christ has lost much of our credibility to take a stand against homosexual arrangements because of our unwillingness to hold a truly God-honoring marriage to a high standard. It wasn’t that long ago when a young mom told me that her desire for me to mentor her was based on the fact that I “had been married to the same man for a really long time.” She knew that was hard to come by, even in her expressly conservative evangelical and Bible-teaching church. I cringed as she spoke.

But I am not talking simply about the willy-nilly approach that has been taken toward any unbibical divorce and remarriage in the church. (Long-time readers here know I differentiate between genuine biblical and unbiblical standards for this.) I am also talking about things like the unwillingness for church leaders to intercede for women who are being abused by husbands, refusal for churches to practice church discipline when there is obvious unbiblical divorce, and serial adulterers whose behaviors everyone is supposed to “forgive and forget.” It’s a mess out there. Is it any wonder parents often enter into this arena with either blinders on or swords drawn?

I recognize this is one of those topics that is really touchy but also really important. So today I am launching a discussion on preparing children, older youth, young adults, and parents for marriage. What should we consider is important along this path? What should be a conviction, what should be a preference? What should we teach our children? How much involvement should a parent have in the process? Are there non-optional standards for believers? Where is the Bible clear and where is there room for making individual choices? What can the body of Christ do differently to prepare people for marriage? What can it do to build up both individual marriages and the institution itself?

This will be a multi-part series so it will be easier to follow some of the topics and not be too overwhelming! And for now, I still have comment moderation enabled. As always, I look forward to the input of my readers. We have a variety of ages and a variety of experience in getting and being married and raising children so I think we can have great discussion! I am looking forward to it.


The Necessary Parent

When we attended Bill Gothard’s IBLP Basic Seminar back in the mid-80s, one of the topics he covered was dating. This was before he had moved into his courtship teachings and even before anyone we knew of had started discussing things like courtship and betrothal. In fact, courtship, to us, was how our grandparents and sometimes even our parents would refer to meeting, getting to know, and preparing to marry each other. In fact, they didn’t often refer to relationships with the opposite sex outside of the goal of being married one day.

Our grandparents on both sides had been in “til-death-to-us-part” marriages and each of our parents were close to celebrating golden wedding anniversaries. We made the same commitment and we knew that, as parents, we wanted to encourage our own children to do the same. But we also knew we had not always chosen wisely along the way and hoped to see our children avoid some of the bumps in the road we had encountered.

Isn’t it interesting that often parents will do this with children when it comes to making career or educational choices, involvement in extracurricular activities, and financial decisions but it is hands off when it comes to dating and marriage?

So we began listening to the many voices of instruction and took away one really important truth that, I believe, is central to the whole discussion of dating, courtship, marriage, and our children.

Parents need to be involved.

In The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling ~ when the one anothers come home, a central theme I discussed is the importance of relationship building beginning before birth so that mentoring our children through the big decisions of life will be a natural, organic process. Too often we believe that once children reach a certain age, we are supposed to sit on the sidelines and watch them makes choices, for good or for bad, without giving them any input. This is folly. Scripture commands us to practice the one anothers of Scripture with our brothers and sisters in Christ, beginning with our precious children! As they become adults, we approach them just as we do other believers, admonishing, exhorting, bearing their burdens, forgiving, etc., all aspects of the dating, courting, and marriage years.

So I am beginning with the premise that parents are and should be involved and with that, will continue on to Part Two!


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  1. Carol says

    I know it’s not the point of your post and the ones to come, but I still thought it worth pointing out that marriage in the church is not necessarily in grim condition.

    I haven’t read the Feldhahn book yet nor have I attempted my own study of reliable statistics, but I do think it’s good to keep in mind that things may not be as grim as we’ve been led to believe. Again, I realize that your point is actually appropriate parental involvement.

  2. Jeanette Cole says

    I’m not so sure I think parents need to be involved. I’ve seen way too many parents completely ruin or nearly ruin their children’s relationships with potential spouses. In a perfect world, yes, parents should have a role, but one that is the natural outgrowth of an already healthy and respectful relationship with their adult child. A parent’s role is absolutely never to attempt to control the relationship but to offer advice and input when it is asked for. For me personally, (and I’m guessing a lot of people like me who grew up in patriarchal homes with heavy-handed parental authority), I can’t say I will ever be comfortable with allowing parental involvement if I, by some miracle, ever find someone. Pretty sure my rule will be “hands off” for the parents.

  3. Julie N says

    Hello, my friend! Another great beginning to a necessary series I hope will get lots of internet traffic! We’re just now navigating the waters of the teenage years and so far what’s working really, really well is us making all sex, dating, marriage talks very deliberate, open, and matter-of-fact. One Saturday night, my oldest (a boy!) and I spent hours and hours discussing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING he wanted to know (after my husband had, of course, the initial “talk” a few years ago). There was no blushing. No taboo questions. I made it clear I would give him the facts. All of them. And that there was no reason to ever be embarrassed. The world is this way, it bombards us on all fronts, so I want to be that real and open from a Biblical point of view. The sooner we stop freaking out about talking about all this, the better! I can’t control his choices or who he loves, but I feel like this ongoing conversation is the best I can do.

  4. Susan T says

    Statistics rabbit trail:
    Adding to what Carol said – I learned 30 yrs ago while in university, that the marriage/divorce statistics were not presenting an accurate account. It is always reported to be “half of marriages end in divorce”, but the way this stat happened was that someone looked only at the number of marriages one year i.e. 1999 and compared that number to the number of divorces from marriages which began any year but ended in 1999. It is strictly a numerical statistic. The number does NOT reflect the longevity of a given marriage. One cannot say that out of 100 marriages this year, 50 of the couples will divorce. Again, the statistic is saying that for every 100 marriages this year, 50 random couples married for *any length* of time from any year including this one will divorce. Further some of the couples who will divorce this year are already in 2nd or 3rd or subsequent marriages; they could have been married and divorced numerous times – skewing the stats against other long term married couples.
    I haven’t researched to see if anyone has collected data to show how many couples are currently still married/widowed from each year. One could make an accurate statistic by comparing the actual number of couples married in a given year and then following the same couples to see how many of the same couples divorced in subsequent years and how many stayed married until death. Maybe someone has started a data base for this; could be simple searchable data with so many public records online now.

  5. Kris says

    I think it begins with a good relationship with the parents already and a mutual trusting relationship for the parents to be involved. If the good relationship is not there, most kids won’t want their parents to be involved such as heavy handed parenting. I think still there is the free will of the children and the understanding of right and wrong choices in relationships that will have good and bad consequences. Getting to know the future spouse on a deeper level will help the relationship tremendously and talking through issues is helpful from the parent side also. I was married in my early 30’s. I would have appreciated input from my parents if the relationship would have been better. Ultimately, the decision was still up to me and what God wanted me to do.

  6. says

    The way my parents helped me with career, extracurricular activities, and financial decisions, was to give me time and space to develop as a person, provide support and encouragement for what I chose to do and very occasionally a reality check if I really needed it.

    Also, most of that ended by the time I was 20 or so. Long before I married. At that point, the only reason they would have interfered at all would be if I specifically asked for advice. They never would have dreamed that they would have special insight as to what job I should take, how I should spend my money or my leisure. They might have helped me think through it if I had been having trouble deciding.

    So while I do think there is a parental role, I think nearly all of it should be about helping children grow up into people who make wise choices, and *end* before the former child is ready for marriage. Advice if asked and a reality check if there is a serious danger (e.g. warning signs of an abusive relationship). That’s it.

  7. says

    Carol and Susan,

    I so appreciated your thoughts about statistics. I should have explained a bit better where I am coming from when I said:

    “Christian parents of teens and young adults wonder how their children will ever commit to marriages for a lifetime when it is so rare even within the church. ”

    The percentage of marriages of Christians ending in divorce seems to be about 42% right now, according to the stats that, as Susan pointed out, can be very flawed and skewed. The point I was hoping to make is that, while it appears that most Christians are committed to lifelong marriages through their own marriages, in fact, the increasing acceptance on the part of the church of all sorts of unbiblical approaches to relationships says otherwise. While a couple may be determined today to be faithful for life to a spouse and report so in questionnaires, passive acceptance of unbiblical divorce, etc. says something else about what they believe. In some cases, they leave the door open to change their minds if they ever “need” divorce down the road. (I have seen the same thing with abortion.)

    Does this make sense?

  8. says


    You gave the perfect example of the point I am hoping to make to parents!!!!! There first must be an organic relationship that is the foundation of parents being involved in the marriage process. Yours is also a scenario of one extreme, the other being a completely hands off approach to relationships. Neither is healthy.

    Btw, you are quite the catch….some guy will notice this one of these days! {{{}}}

  9. says

    Queen of Carrots,

    I think you hit on a word that is important to examine: “interfere.”

    In a healthy relationship between parents, there would to be no “interference” from either direction but instead, “one anothering.”

    As I thought about it, it brought to mind my own mom as the natural aging process set in and all of us were wading in unfamiliar waters. Because we had built a good relationship with my parents through the years, bringing her to our home was organic and she knew it was best for her. As time went on, what could have been seen as interference was not but rather giving input when needed and even taking action, practicing the one anthers, if you will.

  10. Susan T says

    One thing we’ve done thru the years is to point out all the exceptions in this part of “the game of life. 😉 Cuz- you know- Holy Spirit leads individuals in an individual way. Anytime some “expert” made up a rule – we pointed out the successful couples who did the opposite 😉 And we actually played the Game of Life alot in the K-8 yrs… just another opportunity and fun way to talk about character, education/training, budgets, marriage/babies…

  11. says


    What bothers me with that example–and the ones you gave above–is that you’re talking about cases of diminished capacity. (Either of an elder no longer able to care for themselves, or things like educational choices or extracurricular activities, which sounds more like the choices of teenagers.) But marriage, by definition, is a state that can only be entered into by legal adults with full capacity (unless we’re talking about the legal window for marriage only with parental consent, but very few people get married that young). Especially where so much of courtship teaching has rested on the presumed inability of people to make wise marital choices for themselves, these analogies seem very dangerous to me.

    A more relevant analogy would be–what would the role of an older couple be to another adult they knew who was contemplating a career change, or buying a house? While I wouldn’t exactly say the “one anothers” wouldn’t apply, I would be hard pressed to say how they were relevant, either. Or why the role of the one couple would be seen to be “essential,” other than that everybody needs friendship and support.

  12. Keri says

    Waiting for Karen to put up part 2 before I comment again. Impatiently

  13. Joella says

    “Any mathematician will tell you, always be wary of a person using statistics to support an argument because you can make numbers say anything you want them to say.”

    Marriages are disintegrating inside the church. And all of the Barna Research that told us divorce is on the rise, LIED.

    Look at Christians who have divorced: Charles Stanley, Ryan Dobson [James Dobson’s son], divorced his wife in 2001, was married in 1999.

    That is why Dobson left Focus on the Family, and started his own ministry, because policy of not allowing divorce persons work at Focus. James Dobson wanted to work alongside his son Ryan.

    Walter Martin, aka “Bible Answer Man” [Christian Research Institute] was divorced.

    Hal Lindsey divorced numerous times. Bob Larson divorced. John Jacobs of Power Team, divorced. Jim and Tammy Bakker

    Think about all Christian Music Artists: Amy Grant, Sandy Patty, Sheila Walsh, Kathy Troccoli, Randy Stonehill, recently Melody Green [aka Keith Green’s first wife] divorced second husband,

    Stephen Arterburn has been divorced twice, married thrice.

    Stephen is a hypocrite speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Think twice before using any of his materials, and sad to say he has written many books. The age of his new wife is 25+ years. She could be his daughter. And Arterburn starting “Women of Faith” in 1996. (Albert Mohler had it on his website, but has now been removed.)

    Todd Bentley divorced,
    Those who live in Canada can testify that after 19 years of marriage, and 3 kids, his first wife could never be helped from her disease and so he couldn’t continue preaching “God heals”

    Rousas Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstruction, father of the home schooling movement. Arda and R.J. separated in 1957. A year later, Arda filed for divorce, custody, child support (6 kids), and court costs. She charged her husband with “extreme cruelty” and inflicting “grievous mental suffering” on her. {Reverend Rushdoony transferred his membership (from PC-USA ) to the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. The OPC has a comparatively narrow interpretation of the Biblical texts dealing with divorce, remarriage, and post-divorce ministry. Supposedly, the presbytery investigated the circumstances of R.J.’s divorce and pronounced him the blameless party (and thus still qualified for the ministry).}

    3 out of 5 Billy Graham kids have experienced divorce: Ned Graham [youngest], Ruth Graham faced several divorces, Gigi Graham [ Gigi was married to a Stephan Tchividjian, a psychologist] He was older than she by enough to make a difference, and she was married to him at age 17 and off they went to Switzerland to live, where they had 7 children. A divorce was sought by one or the other and granted some time around 2005. Gigi then went on to marry someone named Chris Foreman, I believe – and they were seen fighting in a KMart parking lot in 2006. She was jailed overnight for spousal abuse at that time.

    The list of divorces are so numerous is scary, I would believe Feldhahn’s book is in error.

    5 Paths to the Love of Your Life compiled by Alex Chediak is a great discussion to get conversation going between your teen.

    Thank you Karen for reminding parents to always be engaged and encouraging discipleship!!!!

  14. says

    One of the hardest things about working as an attorney in family law is seeing just how ugly “christian” divorces often are. It really has lead me to spend a lot of time thinking about why it is so bad (worse than secular divorces by far), and how the Church seems to have dropped the ball.

    The one thing that does come to mind is the fact that, despite the fact that I largely grew up in fairly solid churches, with plenty of examples of great marriages, the actual teachings to the young people were heavily skewed toward sexual purity, with little to no help on actually forming solid relational bonds.

    In fact, I lost count of how many sermons I heard on not having sex before marriage and on the lines of physical contact. Even now, I have helped out with the youth group at our church – which is really led by a great couple, and has a solid group of young people. Still, I hear “purity, purity, purity” over and over again, but nearly nothing about how to actually function as a couple. Usually, this is limited to an admonition to the man to “lead,” whatever the heck that means, and especially to the woman to “submit.”

    This isn’t really helpful in keeping marriages together. I learned far more from the premarital counseling my wife and I received from a “secular” perspective than we ever did from the church, although the best “teaching” I ever got was watching my own parents in their marriage (40+ years of mutual love and kindness).

    I feel like the Church is in a position where they fit the Don Henley song, Frail Grasp on the Big Picture, where they are so focused on getting young folks to the altar as virgins that they haven’t even considered what it takes to make a solid, long term bond.

    You’re living in a hollow dream
    You don’t have the slightest notion
    What long-term love is all about
    All your romantic liasons
    Don’t deal with eternal questions like
    Who left the cap off the freaking toothpaste?
    Whose turn to take the garbage out?

  15. Annie says

    Regarding avoiding bumps in the road, I’ll use an analogy to make my point.

    I have a friend whose parenting style is quite different to my own. At the playground she would follow her two year old saying “no! Don’t do that! Stop!” and removing him from any dangerous situations. Whenever she looked away he was in danger because there was no reason for him to avoid things besides his mother’s intervention. I, on the other hand, would follow my two year old, and instead of yelling “no! Stop!” I’d say “Stop, look down, do you see how far away the ground is? If you fell it would hurt.” or ” if you climb here, hold tight and only lift one hand or foot at a time.” or “this is not a place for climbing because the ground is cement.” Because I’m providing them with reasons they can understand my reasoning and generalise it to other situations, and also know that the reasoning holds regardless of whether I’m there or not. Sure, they need to test it out from time to time, but since the result of the test usually confirms what I said, it’s a self reinforcing system. Even explaining that people can hear you better if you meet their eyes helps them have good manners.

    Have you read about the levels of morality? You can’t make enough blanket rules to cover every eventuality, you need to train children in decision making so that they can use those skills in novel situations. I explain my reasoning and coach my kids in their decision making from a very young age, stepping back and giving them more and more autonomy as they get older. I won’t let them make super dangerous decisions, but I’ll let them fall a short way, or waste a little bit of money.

    The same principle holds for everything I try and teach my kids. Our aim is not to produce utterly dependant descendants (if we keep our children dependant on us for decision making, we’ll need to parent their children and their children, and what will happen when we die?), it’s to gradually, step by step, produce a fully functioning adult. As I explain to my children, adults make allowances for kids, and other kids make mistakes too, so now is the time for them to be learning these things. When they are adults people won’t be so forgiving.

    I’d love to wrap my kids in bubble wrap and keep them safe forever, but little hurts along the way help prevent the big hurts.

  16. says

    Tim, I am glad you discussed the “little things” that drive couples crazy.

    When Clay and I first read through the McDonald’s 163 courtship questions for potential suitors, we were really left us scratching our heads! So, so many of them have never even been a part of our discussions after nearly 40 years of marriage! I believe most things that cause arguing and then fighting come from the small things that add up and those wax and wane through the years. We are human beings and human beings change, for good and for bad. Knowing how to address those changes and greet them rather than let them undo a marriage is a skill you have to learn. So is the art of apologizing and forgiving.

    And now here is my pet peeve….the over attention given to wedding planning as compared to the process of really thinking through what you want in a spouse and getting to know the person you think you want to marry. If only there could be a million Pinterest boards for that!!!


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