Courtship, Part 4: Courtship Pitfalls

I had to laugh when someone shared this typically snarky quote from Doug Wilson with me.

“Since I wrote ‘Her Hand in Marriage’, I have heard more than one courtship horror story. And more than once I have consequently said that the courtship model means that we have six idiots involved instead of two.”

Maybe this is why any post about courtship is usually met with at least a few negative responses. A lot of young married couples seem to be dissatisfied, frustrated, or even bitter, about courtship experiences they have had. If you talk about courtship very long, you’re sure to hear horror stories and negative reports from both the parents and children.

Unfortunately, we parents are just human, and without prayer and wisdom and good counsel, we can make a pretty big mess of things. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the reasons young men and women may react against the idea and practice of courtship. What might we, as parents, be doing that contributes to the frustration some couples experience?

  • Some of us are tempted to exercise too much control in a courtship. I think this is one of the primary reasons for so many negative reactions to courtship. In our hopes of having the perfect courtship for our children (or for those who are watching us), or motivated by the fear of potential hurt or sin, it’s easy to micro-manage instead of remembering that if these two courting people are old enough to consider marriage, they are old enough to be given the opportunity to show that they can make wise decisions.

We should be moving our children toward responsible adulthood all through their years with us, teaching them how to make wise decisions based on the truths of Scripture, and handing off more and more responsibility and decision-making as they go through their teen years.

We shouldn’t assume that we need to outline every policy and standard in order for our children to find their mates in a God-honoring way. We can insult and offend our grown children when we treat them like little children. Instead of grabbing hold of all the controls, we can have open, friendly discussions, working through the details of how the couple and their parents would like to see the courtship proceed.

Or we can give the young man the opportunity to exercise his leadership muscles by asking him at the very beginning of the courtship to explain verbally or in writing, how he would like to guide the relationship. This doesn’t mean he is given full authority; parents are still in the position of leading and protecting their unmarried, at-home daughters. But this does give a young man the opportunity to think through important issues and come up with standards that honor the truths and principles of God’s Word. Parents can always come alongside and humbly offer additional wisdom, if needed.

Along this same line, we need to remember that the nature of courtship will change as our children mature. We need to give more freedom and responsibility to our adult children. A 27-year-old daughter’s courtship should look different than an 18-year-old daughter’s.

  • Some of us may be too busy, distracted, or lazy to build strong, open relationships with our children while they are young, and then we panic when they start showing an interest in the opposite sex. We react by stepping in and imposing strict standards, often on young adults who have grown up without good, godly instruction. Our children will be tempted to resent such action, if they are not convinced that their parents love them and want what is best for them. They will also react if they see us imposing standards that are not consistent with our own walk with the Lord.
  • Some of us tend to view courtship as a problem to solve rather than a wonder to enjoy. It’s a beautiful thing to watch God knit the hearts of a man and woman together. It’s even more beautiful when it’s happening to one of the children God has entrusted to our care. We should rejoice in this, with our hands raised to God in prayer and praise, rather than arming ourselves with clipboard, pen, and checklist, ready to regulate and monitor all actions and attitudes. Welcome this sweet season of life. Trust God for the best and simply be ready to cheerfully and prayerfully address issues as the need arises.

The season of courtship is an emotional time — emotional for parents who are learning to let go and emotional for couples who are in the process of leaving their parents, while also learning more about themselves and about each other. We’re going to make mistakes, and these are just a handful of the ways we can err as we guide our children into God-honoring marriages.

We must pray — for our children, for their future spouses, and for ourselves — as we build loving relationships with them, as we teach them to listen to godly counsel, and as we show them how to make wise decisions based on the principles of God’s Word.

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  1. This was a beautiful and wonderfully encouraging post. Thank you for taking time to encourage us as we raise our children.

  2. I agree 100% with Barb! I used some Doorposts materials with my older children) now 28 and 25) and I sort of lost track of them over the years in the flood of everything there is now in homeschooling circles. . . some good and some bad. . . Last May I had a baby girl and realized I had totally forgotten what it was like to have a small child; my other youngest was ten! I went to a homeschool Bible Study using Pam’s Colossians 3 booklet and I have been blessed to discover your materials again!!! I am excited about using them with my little Joanna!!

    On Courtship, I love your thoughts on the subject. It has been beautiful for our family to see how a healthy, Godly relationship can develop between young people with the help and involvement of their families. My husband and I both came from less than perfect pasts. When we met, we had each given up on relationships altogether, we were relatively new Christians and I had two children without ever having been married. We became friends and I thought he was the perfect man for me but it was too late because of my mistakes. As I got to know him, I learned that he had some mistakes as well. We had a long engagement/courtship. We had no parents involved because he was over 30 and I was on my own with two children, my then 4-6 year old son was our accountability person. Of course, since he was my oldest, I thought he was VERY mature for his age ; ). We talked a lot to his pastor who also became my pastor. On our first “date” we discussed the fact that we were not interested in dating for fun but with the intention of pursuing marriage. Incidentally, when he invited me out to dinner that evening, he specifically stated that my children were invited as well!!

    The courtship period was very healing and renewing for both of us. My children got to know my future husband and we worked through many things. I suffered from PTSD from abuse issues, I could not bring myself to trust a human being because every human being I had ever trusted before had either died or hurt me. My mother has said that having my two first babies stole my youth. That was true, I had to give up my dreams of being a professional artist and work hard to support them. I had little help from anyone and my life was very hard.

    Entering into a way of doing things in which I made choices on purpose to honor God and live in a healthy way was wonderful and beautiful and fun!! It was not about having rules but about discovering a way of living which actually worked. It was hard but it was worth it.

    As we studied and talked about how to live in ways that honored God, we came across homeschooling which was another huge blessing. Everyone in homeschooling circles seems to be talking about ways to have a healthy family, that was what I needed to learn about since I never saw one growing up. It was also an opportunity to make friends who had the similar goals. It has been amazing!!

    I mentioned in a comment on the other courtship discussion that my oldest daughter and her husband practiced courtship. She and I have a very open relationship. I am amazed at the things we talk about. I never opened up to my mother like that!! It is all of the Lord!! When we take steps to do things His way instead of the world’s way, there are great blessings involved. We get things wrong and get in the way of His blessings but thankfully, He is bigger than our mistakes

    Let me just say that in my life, the Lord has certainly restored the years the locusts had eaten!! He turned the huge mess which was my life into something good. . . and it started with a form of courtship!

  3. I love this article and all it has to offer. We are new to the concept of courtship and are starting to encourage our children to take this path. I think we need to remember about any type of marriage through “traditional dating” or courtship is that the two in the marriage are humans and humans are sinful just by mature let alone human desires. I believe courtship (in whatever form a family uses) is God inspired. But again we need to be mindful that Satin is strong and he will fight tooth and nail for a collapse in a marriage. I don’t like it when people blame the courtship itself. Then we need to turn the tables and “blame” dating for the other +40% of failed marriages. Who is to blame – Satin. We need to keep Jesus Christ in the center of all we do – dating or courting and marriage.

    Thank you for the Spirit filled beautiful words of encouragement and advice on this journey with our own children and courting and marriage. blessings!!

  4. Hi Pam,

    I am enjoying your blog! Thanks for writing it, especially when you’re so busy.

    About the Douglas Wilson quote, I wasn’t sure if you really thought it was snarky or just a bit sardonic? I have heard him say it (in a sermon series) in the context of going on to say pretty much what you have said. He was just warning about the extremes.

    In Him

    Meredith in Australia