The word courtship lends itself to many interpretations based on culture, religious affiliation and sometimes denomination. Despite the varied connotations, one thing stands out for Christians. Courtship for Christians describes the period wherein a would-be couple gets to know each other prior to marriage. The purpose of the relationship is well-defined and made known to family and sometimes the church. Though courtship is not explicitly mentioned in the scriptures, sound doctrine regarding chastity, sexual purity, and the right way of contracting marriage provide direction as to how it should be conducted.
Thus, flowing from the principles of sound doctrine, courtship begins after parents, guardians or church leaders are made aware of the intention to enter into marriage. However, parties are not expected to live as married couples or commit themselves in any intimate way. On the other hand, the ‘worldly’ view of courtship seems to encourage cohabitation, intimate relationships with no direction towards marriage, and sometimes jumping into relationships for fun. Thus, to distinguish between dating and courtship, John Piper, a renowned theologian and Christian author, posits that courtship ordinarily begins when a single man conducts his relationship with a single woman under the authority of her guardians, or church after they have been made aware of his intention to marry her. Conversely, in dating, the man or the woman initiates a ‘more than friends’ relationship with the other and then conducts that relationship outside any oversight or authority.
Some factors make courtship needful. Most importantly, marriage contraction takes time. Thus, the time lag between the declaration of intent to guardians and the blessing of the marriage is the courtship period. During this period, certain relevant pieces of information about the person’s background, medical history, and profession are confirmed by both parties as well as their parents or guardians. Sadly, there are many instances where people have been deceived by outward appearances and statements of would-be husbands or wives. Out of trust, such persons did not care to even find out where they lived, confirm their professions, meet their family and, in some instances, ask more questions about previous marriages and children if there were any. In such cases, the consequences have not been too pleasant.
Also, the period of courtship allows both parties to avail themselves for counselling prior to the marriage. Premarital counselling basically prepares and equips both parties by helping them identify and discuss important issues. These include temperaments, long-term goals, finances, expectations, roles, intimacy, sex, and career goals. Counsellors draw attention to important details one is likely to gloss over due to either ignorance or youth exuberance, thereby shaping one’s perspectives on marriage. Premarital counselling may span between three to six months, depending on the denomination or church of both parties.
It is important to state that, aside from the advantages, this period comes with its temptations. Thus, both parties need to exercise discipline and be discretional in their decision-making. No-go areas include intimacy, holding joint bank accounts, sleeping over during weekends, making huge investments or acquiring landed properties together and cohabiting, among others. Since courtship is not synonymous with marriage, one must be careful and walk circumspectly.
Written by Mrs. Nana Adwoa Owusu-Boateng (PENSA, Sunyani Sector)