by Nathan Bailey
What is a real relationship?
A real relationship is one where you love that person enough to be honest. Honest about who you are, honest about what you plan to do and be, and honest about how you feel about them and what they do and say. If you haven't picked out the common theme in this paragraph yet, I'll lay it out for you :) Next to love, the most important ingredient in relationships is open, honest communication.
How do you develop in this area of honest communication? In the Western world (especially in Australia), we tend to be shallow in our relationships, comfortable talking about hobbies and the weather, but rarely talking about our struggles, vulnerabilities and insecurities.
As Christians, this should be one of our major areas of witness -- showing how the grace of God makes up for our inadequacies. Too often, however, we are too scared to talk about our inadequacies, and thus others never get to see the grace of God working in our lives. Worse, we don't even take these inadequacies to God, in the fear that if He "finds out about them", He won't love us, or He won't forgive us.
If, as someone who is preparing for marriage, you are not at the point where you can communicate with transparency and vulnerability, then you need to work on these areas! Communication is a crucial foundation to every marriage, and open communication is necessary in order to understand what is truly motivating each other when you have differing points of view.
There are two key relationships you should establish to help develop these skills -- a mentor, and an accountability partner. A mentor is someone who is further along the path that you want to travel. They should be someone you respect and someone who holds similar views and convictions to you in the area you want to be mentored. An accountability partner is a friend who is more of a peer -- someone who is going through the same things you are, and with whom you can share your success and failures and find encouragement from the synergy of shared experience.
These relationships will not only help to prepare you for marriage, they will also serve you to keep your marriage well established and growing healthily.
Together with open and honest communication, the other major component in any successful relationship is love. What does it mean, to love someone? We have all heard the idiom "love is a choice", but what kind of choice is it? Pastor Craig Hill sheds some light on this issue by bringing in 'loving your neighbour' and Romans 12:10.
Pastor Hill says that love is "choosing what is best for the other person". That's NOT the same as choosing what the other person wants. It's always having the other person's BEST interests in mind. Sometimes, this may mean disciplining them, correcting them, or exhorting them to change. Other times it may be to quash a selfish desire in your heart in favour of their desires. Basically, it means taking the focus off yourself and looking at what you can invest in the other person.
In the context of courtship, there are two neighbours that we should love (i.e. keep their best interests at heart). Firstly, there is our future spouse. Keeping her/his best interests at heart would result in things like saving your sexual and emotional purity for her/him, developing your character and preparing resources for a stable marriage with her, etc.
Secondly, there is the future spouse of that person you are interested in. Unless you are ready for marriage, you should not be having 'emotional exchanges' with any member of the opposite sex. You should treat every friend as thought they will be someone else's spouse. Loving that spouse as a neighbour means treating this person as a brother or sister in Christ, not defrauding their emotions or their purity but investing in them without motive for selfish gain.
Some people wonder about a relationship where there is 'no romanctic involvement before marriage' and the possibility that a couple could get married only to find out they have no sexual or romantic feelings for each other. To clarify, however, my conviction is that you shouldn't be romantically involved until after the commitment to marriage. This is the only way I can see of ensuring that you only romance one partner in your lifetime.
If you allow the romance before the commitment, then there is the possibility of several romances, with all the pain and emotional baggage that it entails.
Now this isn't the same as saying there no romance before the marriage/wedding ceremony! I think as well as being time for planning for the wedding, the engagement period is also the time when the couple fall head-over-heels in love with each other, so that by the day they get married, they are totally besotted with each other ;-)
Another comment has been that romance should be the very last stage a couple goes through before they consider marriage. I almost agree with that statement -- it's only the "consider" bit I disagree with. I think they should consider first, then romance.
I guess my conviction arises out of the fact that people's feeling wax and wane -- romance is a subjective feeling and when the rough times come, romance isn't what will keep you together, it's your commitment that will. Thus the Bible says to "love the one you marry" (Eph 5:28,33) rather than to "marry the one you love."
If, after working through all the courtship process and making a commitment for marriage, no attraction or romance develops, I would be quite concerned. But many surveys have shown that older couples say their love increased over time -- so getting married on the love you feel in your 20s isn't necessarily a good standard!
As far as attractiveness goes, I think that's one of the first things people consider in a relationship (whether that's a good idea or not is another story, but like it or not, we do judge people by their attractiveness to us!) so I think sexual attraction would follow as a natural consequence of the initial attraction and the growing feelings of romance and love.© Copyright 1997-2012, Nathan Bailey, All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to print these articles for personal use, in whole or in part, provided the extract references the original URL, http://polynate.net/books/courtship/, so that people can find the latest version.