Some couples take the plunge after a few months, while others wait for several years.
This is a conundrum of our times. It used to be that the passage from childhood to adulthood was quick. Today, it’s much longer. The length of studies, job insecurity in one’s career, attaining more material security — all of it means that many young adults take longer to gain independence and this makes it more difficult for them reach maturity. This plays a big part in the frequency of cohabitation, and delays marriage.
The engagement period is not just a waiting game
How long should an engagement be? The prudent and rather unspectacular answer would be: not too short and not too long. If daunting delays are foreseeable, it’s better to extend the period of friendship rather than commit oneself too soon. But there are many cases when couples would do well to set up a home before achieving their desired goals of financial and professional autonomy, as long as they have support and approach their lives and decisions with maturity.
An engagement is a time to be fully lived. It’s a necessary time of deepening the relationship and preparing for a committed life together. The engaged couple allows themselves time to begin to share all aspects of their lives: friendships, family, culture, faith, hobbies, and church life. They won’t be marrying a “stranger.”
An engagement is a time for talking
Engagement is an important time for dialogue. Developing good communication skills in imperative for a happy and fulfilling marriage. Marriage preparation is an opportunity for the couple to systematically discuss various aspects of their lives — family backgrounds, finances, hopes and dreams, career plans, values, beliefs, etc. Their status as “fiances” obliges them to talk about the future, whereas if they are already living together, concerns about the present moment and its immediate needs take precedence.
A time to learn to pray together
It’s always surprising to note how many Christian couples find it hard to pray together (they’re more at ease praying with their children). But, there’s no communion without communal prayer, prayer “of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). An engagement is a time of grace to be together before the Lord, in private, in the liturgy, and on a retreat. It’s also a time share the Word of God and the movements of the Spirit with one another.
Last, but not least, engagement is the time to learn to love. Some may be surprised by that. Fiances are supposed to abstain from love, right? No. The contemporary view of love so often unfortunately lumps everything together: friendship, affection, sexuality. Engagement, on the contrary, restores and respects the whole panoply of the language of love. Between friendship and marriage comes that period of tenderness that is unique to fiances. It’s important for them, for the moment, to have a chaste (non-consummated) closeness. But it’s also important, for the future, for a couple to learn many languages of love for each other, and be able to grow, steadily, in deep and abiding love for one another for years to come.
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