How long should a healthy relationship be before you and your significant other get married? One year? Two years? Less? More? Whatever you want? Does it even matter???
If you read the Christian relationship pundits long enough, you’ll find comments on how long a healthy relationship should be before marrying. Some writers say you shouldn’t drag your feet and should marry quickly. Others say you shouldn’t rush but should take all time the you need to know you’re ready for marriage. I have a couple friends who began a romantic relationship and proceeded to marry within a year’s time. Did they marry too fast? I have another couple friends who began their relationship in high school and waited until after they graduated from college to marry. Altogether, I think they were a couple for about six years before they married. Did they wait too long?
What makes the difference between a relationship that’s too long, a relationship that’s too short, and a relationship that’s right on time? And how can we reliably discern how long any given relationship should be?
Pick Up Your Feet
Let’s first take a look at the biggest reasons some Christians say relationships should be short. The first reason is the strong sentiment within much of American Christendom that marriage should be pursued with intentionality and without hesitation. I believe this sentiment is greatly supported by the influence of Courtship on our Christian culture. You might recall from my post The Matrimonial Trinity: Betrothal, Dating, and Courtship that Courtship originated in great part in response to the bad habit of many people to stay in a relationship for the enjoyment of it without seriously pursuing marriage. One result is the idea that a couple needs to fish or cut bait when it comes to marrying. The thought is that a couple should either determine they want to marry and promptly do so or determine they won’t marry and promptly break up. Long relationships can be frowned on as lacking in decisiveness, lacking in willingness to commit, or simply self-indulgent. Courtship doctrine aside, there’s definitely a point when a couple should reasonably pull the trigger and go to the altar.
Brakes Don’t Come Standard On A Sex Drive
Another of the biggest reasons Christians recommend a short relationship is the reality of a couple wanting to have sex with each other. The human sex drive can be strong enough when considering a complete stranger. Add on top of that the powerful force of the emotional attraction that binds a couple and you typically get a recipe for a strong desire between a couple to have sex. The longer a relationship lasts, typically the stronger this sexual desire becomes. In response, many Christians counsel couples to marry quickly so they have place for biblical sexual expression. This idea holds merit. Even the Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthian believers to marry in order to have a place to find godly sexual satisfaction and thereby avoid sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:2-3,9). For couples facing the especially strong temptation to have sex with each other, the decision to marry quickly can be wise.
Get A Better Perspective
But now let’s turn the tables and explore a couple of the biggest reasons why Christians might counsel a couple to take their time in getting married. The first reason is that having a longer relationship can provide greater perspective with which to choose whether to marry. It’s possible for a short relationship to mask issues within an individual’s personal character or within the dynamics of the couple’s relationship. Writer Ashlie Stevens describes in a blog post how she saw this phenomenon produce unhealthy marriages.
After attracting the attentions of one of the seminarians, the female students [at the Seminary I attended] would talk about getting asked to coffee at the small campus café. The one year count-down clock began ticking right then and there. There was no room for casual dating…
A friend of mine who was engaged at 17, called her mom after her honeymoon crying. She asked between hiccupped tears, “Is this how it’s really supposed to be?” Parents of married children in the church were familiar with this phenomenon, and laughingly referred to the first year of marriage as God’s way to sandpaper out the couple’s selfish imperfections.
I would leave it to life and God to burnish our defects—instead of basking in the glow of an unrealistic courtship, only to be surprised on your honeymoon by the realization that you don’t actually know your spouse, and then counting on this stranger to turn you into the ideal mate you’re supposed to be.
Having a short relationship creates a greater risk of not knowing your significant other as well as you should or not resolving personal or relational issues that need to be settled before entering into marriage. Especially for individuals who are younger or have less experience with romantic relationships, it may be all the more important to allow more time to develop a sound foundation of relational experience. Having a longer relationship could even reveal it really isn’t a good idea to marry the person you thought you would. Better to discover that before marrying than after.
Those Pesky Emotions
Another reason a longer relationship may be wise is that it can provide greater clarity to the couple. Romantic relationships typically progress in three stages: (1) at the beginning of the relationship the couple experiences euphoric “honeymoon” feelings as they feel very in love and excited to be together; (2) the two significant others gain a deeper knowledge of each other, including each other’s flaws and weaknesses; (3) each significant other decides if he or she wants to commit to marrying the other in the full light of the good and bad characteristics of each. This is a healthy progression. It includes the strong romantic attraction that binds two people together, but it also develops a healthy knowing between the two that becomes a sound foundation for marriage. A short relationship has the potential to short circuit this process. Strong emotional attraction is typically present throughout a relationship, and those strong feelings can hide personal or relational issues within the individuals or their relationship.
I once talked with a friend of mine about how he and his wife felt a strong desire to get married as they pursued their relationship. In light of their strong feelings, they decided to pull the trigger on marrying. Afterward, they quickly discovered challenging issues in their marriage. My friend speculated that if they’d waited longer and worked on those issues before marrying it might have made the process much easier. It doesn’t mean it was wrong for them to marry. It only means they may have had an easier time of resolving issues if they’d taken time to do it before introducing the added complexity of married life. Giving a relationship more time can sometimes help a couple see through the strong feelings and settle critical issues before tying the knot.
What Timeframe Is Right?
There are arguments on both sides for either a shorter or longer relationship period. So what timeframe is right for a relationship?
Some Christian relationship pundits quantify (give a particular number to) how long a relationship should last. Scott Croft, for example, writes in a blog post for Boundless about why he feels a couple should proceed from beginning a romantic relationship to getting married within one year’s time. Croft’s reasons include ones I discussed earlier such as sexual temptation, though I recommend you read his expanded thoughts. Is one year the proper amount of time to teach people to stay within when it comes to getting married?
I have to say no.
“Really, Justin? So do you think the time should be longer or shorter?”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
It does when you understand that it’s wrong to quantify any particular timeframe as the one all couples should follow. In other words, there’s no one particular timeframe that’s right for every couple. See, I have no issue with Croft teaching principles such as “don’t stay within a state of strong sexual temptation for a long time” or “don’t drag your feet for self-serving reasons.” The issue I raise with Croft and anyone who gives a particular number of months or years for a relationship is that the circumstances of every relationship are different. That means the proper timeframe for each relationship is different.
For example, one couple might begin a romantic relationship, quickly come to know they’re right for each other, and need to marry quickly in light of strong sexual desire. It may be wise for such a couple to marry within eight months and unwise for them to try to wait a full year. On the other hand, another couple might have significant issues they need to work through during the course of their relationship. They might need a couple years to determine they’re ready to marry. If they were pressured into marrying within a year, their marriage could very well end up being unhealthy because they didn’t have the time needed to work through the pertinent issues.
This is why I say there’s no proper quantified timeframe couples should follow in pursuing marriage. Wisdom will reveal a different proper timeframe for each different relationship. Instead of trying to put a number on how long a relationship should be, we should instead practice using wisdom to discern how to best apply the principles that inform how long a given relationship should be.
Finding What’s Right For You
So how do you know what timeframe is right for you and your significant other? In determining how short or long to wait before marrying, it’s wise to consider a number of factors in judging how soon to pull the trigger on marrying. These factors include but aren’t limited to:
Personal Character – Do you and your significant other both demonstrate personal and spiritual maturity? Do you both understand what marriage is like and what each of you will have to give and sacrifice in order to maintain a healthy marriage? Are you both willing to serve each other in love? Make sure that both of you have the personal character needed to have a healthy marriage. If either of you aren’t healthy, your marriage won’t be healthy either.
Good Relational Dynamics – Maybe both of you are mature as individuals, but has your relationship grown to maturity as well? Do you know how to resolve conflicts in a constructive manner? Do you have a good understanding of your personalities and how their dynamics will influence your marriage? Do you need more time learning how to interact as a team rather than as individuals?
Sexual Desire – How greatly are you itching to get in bed with each other? If the desire is strong then it might be wise to marry sooner in order to reduce the temptation to have premarital sex. Just don’t let this desire push you to make a foolish rush to get married. Getting married primarily because you want to have sex can result in all kinds of problems once the honeymoon is over. On the other hand, if your self-restraint is strong then it may not be a bad idea to allow more time.
Finances – You shouldn’t put off marrying just because you don’t already own a house. Many married couples look back on memories of making it through their “poor years” with fondness. On the other hand, if marrying means you won’t be able both to pay your bills and put food on the table then it may be wise to wait for a bit more financial strength before marrying.
Issues – If there are significant issues in your relationship (and these could be any of a number of things) that leave you doubtful as to whether it’s right for the two of you to marry or whether you’re ready to marry then you should probably stop and resolve them before tying the knot. Seek the help of a good counselor if needed. It’s better to be glad you had the patience for full preparation than regret getting married without it.
Notice that some of these factors might conflict with each other. For example, you and your significant other might really want to have sex but also see issues in your relationship that need to be resolved before you marry. The desire for sex says, “get married,” while the outstanding issues say, “give the relationship more time.” Should you marry or wait? Only wisdom can determine which is the right choice. Understand that neither I nor anyone else on this side of the internet can tell you whether you should marry or wait because we don’t know the circumstances of your unique relationship.
Get Good Counsel
That’s why I recommend that, if you and your significant other feel uncertain about whether you’re ready to marry or what timing is best, you seek wise, godly counsel from spiritually trustworthy people who know and love you both. This might be parents, pastors, mentors, mature and trustworthy friends, or a professional counselor. And in addition to human help, always seek God’s wisdom and guidance through prayerfully seeking His help.
How long should your relationship be before marrying? It depends. With the help of wise counselors, prayerfully consider with your significant other what’s best for the two of you in your unique circumstances. Don’t be afraid to marry quickly if the two of you are ready and if you’re right for each other. You can never be perfectly ready for marriage, so don’t hesitate to go for it when it’s time. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to take extra time if you know the two of you need it in order to enter marriage with both wisdom and proper preparation.
What do you think? Do you lean one way or the other when it comes to the timing of marriage? What’s your story with determining when to marry? Please share in the comments!
And share the post by clicking any of the below buttons!