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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