The engagement period (2)

Posted by on Jul 6, 2014 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

The engagement period (2)

‘Will you marry me?’ Her boyfriend asks. “Yes” she replies breathlessly. This implies an agreement. They make a promise to each other to use the engagement period to prepare themselves for the union of man and woman that marriage involves.

Have you as a couple sat down together and considered what marriage truly mean?

A Christian marriage is not:

  • A contract that is nullified if either party doesn’t keep to the prenuptial agreement;
  • An agreement where one or the other partner moves on if he or she is dissatisfied sexually or otherwise;
  • An open relationship where monogamy is optional and infidelity is accepted; or even…
  • A duty bond that keeps you bound as husband and wife, where faithfulness is a chore rather than a joy.

Christian marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, a one-flesh, naked and no-shame bond between them (Genesis 2:23–25). One of total vulnerability one to the other in the certain knowledge of mutual trust. Engagement is a training period for this mutual trust between man and woman.

It is a lifelong union (Matthew 19:4–6); an exclusive, intimate connection between them which mirrors the exclusive, intimate relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:21–33). In the Christian marriage ceremony, a person agrees to take their wife or husband to ‘live together according to God’s law. To give [the other] the honour due to [them] as [their] wife/husband and, forsaking all others, love and protect [the other] as long as [they] both shall live’.

They vow ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live’.  These are powerful declarations made before their family and friends in the presence of God.

Jesus spoke strongly on the permanence of marriage (Mark 10:11–12), as did Paul (1 Corinthians 7:10–13).

The Genesis 2 narrative of marriage uses the phrase ‘united’ for the marriage relationship. This means to stick or hold together and resist separation. The marriage proposal and its acceptance is the mutual promise of this cleaving together for life. The engagement period is one of preparation for this lifelong ‘gluing’ together as man and wife.

How do two people who come from two very different families, with different parenting and behaviour patterns, prepare for the gluing of their lives together in total vulnerability and mutual trust?

You are in the haze of romantic love where the other seems faultless and wonderful.

You need a reality check: You need to be reminded that this person God has given you isn’t all that perfect. Every person who marries is a sinner (that means both of you!) so neither searching for a spouse, nor preparing to be a spouse, is a pursuit of perfection. It’s a decision to work together, as two flawed followers of Jesus, to build the foundations of a marriage that will mirror Christ’s love.

The engagement period is a time when the engaged couple get to know each other. And this means you need to spend time together in communication—talking.

Iron out those ‘you do/want/expect what?’ moments. You may think you are already doing this. After all, you spend hours together, your eyes locked saying ‘I love you’, ‘you are the best thing that has happened to me’, ‘you are perfect’, and the other sweet nothings that lovers share. This is not what I mean. Take time to discuss values, attitudes and beliefs, and how these may impact the relationship you are to enter into. And sex is an important part of this—just not the whole.

This blog is manly on sex, so I won’t discuss the relational aspect of marriage preparation in detail. An excellent resource with which to do this is a short e-book by John Piper called Preparing for Marriage.  Take time to read it; discuss the questions. Your church may also offer marriage preparation courses such as Prepare Enrich. Take the time to thoughtfully and prayerfully engage in this preparation.

Understanding the sovereignty of God and his plan for your marriage will put sexual activity in its place. Sex is a wonderful and exciting gift from God to us. In your highly erotic state of waiting for marriage it may be difficult for you to accept that sex is not the most important thing in your marriage relationship. Keep reminding yourself, and each other, that it is just one part and not the whole.

In marriage you are to be yoked together for life! Deuteronomy 22:10 tells us, ‘Do not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together’. Get your values and attitudes in sync before marriage. Take at least as much time to prepare spiritually and emotionally for marriage as you spend planning the wedding ceremony and the honeymoon. You are going to be ploughing together with the same yoke for a very long time.

Honest communication is not always easy. Past experiences, sexual and otherwise, will come up in your conversation. These can be painful for both of you. Maybe you have been sexually active, have watched pornography, or have been a habitual masturbator. Or perhaps you have been the victim of child sexual abuse or violence. In the covenant marriage relationship, you are committing to your future as a married couple. Whatever you did or desired sexually in the past is just that—in the past.

In Romans 8:1, Paul writes, ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. Trust in the promise. Repent. Seek forgiveness from God and each other. Then leave the past in the past, and move forward together.

There is one proviso we need to add here. Some sexual sins, like childhood abuse and sexually inappropriate behaviours, leave deep scars. If you feel that this is your situation, then you need to seek help from an older, wiser Christian couple, your pastor or a counsellor. It may involve confession of past sexual and other sins. Remember, the body of Christ is there to help you. In James 5:16 we are advised to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. Don’t be ashamed or guilty. And don’t put it off.

And one more piece of advice: talking about sex while not being sexually intimate is not easy. So, take it slow. Don’t ramp up the language or discuss specific practices in graphic detail. Leave this for the time after you are married. You are turned on by each other. Keep the fire sizzling but don’t fan the flame. Move slowly and learn to deal wisely with the hot, emotional magnetism between you both in this engagement period.

In my years as a sex educator, therapist and counsellor, I have taken a number of couples through marriage preparation. When it comes to preparing for a lifetime of the best sex, one of the most important areas a couple needs to explore is how to deal with romantic love and sexual desire in the engagement period.

We will discuss that in the next post…