I have friends who've gotten engaged two months after their first date
and married less than six months later. I know other couples who've
dated for three, four, even five or more years before walking down the
It's a perennial question for romantics and rationals alike: what is
a reasonable time frame to get to know a person well enough to make
them your spouse for life…and at the same time not uselessly or
dangerously drag out a dating or engagement period?
As I continue to investigate what relationship experts have to say
on the subject, it becomes more and more clear that just about everyone
has a different answer to this question – and they all think they have
the right answer.
Probably the best answer I've heard to the "what's the best time frame" question is "it depends – it's different for every couple because of the unique situation and circumstances of every relationship."
This answer seems to makes a lot of sense. Couples in long distance
relationships, for instance, have the difficulty of getting to know
each other well enough to make a marriage commitment across miles of
separation. For them, a courtship period might necessarily be longer.
On the other hand, couples in LDRs also carry additional time, travel
and financial stresses to make the relationship work…and for many
couples, that is not a manageable situation for an indefinitely long
period of time.
The age of the couple may also be a major factor in determining the
ideal length of a courtship. Couples who were high school sweethearts,
met early in their college career, or even early twenties, might need
considerably more time discerning their relationship since they may be
simultaneously discerning their career, life goals, and doing quite a
bit of self-discovery while they are dating. Couples who begin dating a
little older will have had more opportunity to get to know themselves,
their life goals, what they are looking for in a spouse, etc., and thus
may find their relationship naturally somewhat accelerated.
For many couples, other factors outside the couple's control play
a huge role in determining the length of a dating relationship. Those
in military service, for example, cannot always be 100% picky and
choosy as to their perfect timeframe for getting hitched. Financial,
educational, or career concerns can also deeply impact timing in a
Even though various circumstances and situations can significantly
impact a couple's "time frame," the question still persists for most
couples in relationships: what exactly is the ideal time frame to discern a relationship?
I don't pretend to have the perfect answer, or even a nearly perfect
answer, to this question. However, in the past year I've been given
some excellent advice about dating time periods that I believe we can
all benefit from implementing in our dating relationships – regardless
of age, career, and situation in life.
How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk
At the beginning of this year I read a fantastic book by relationships expert Dr. John Van Epps called How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk: The Foolproof Way to Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind.
The book was excellent – I highly recommend it to all of you. One of
the most helpful pieces of advice I gleaned from Dr. Van Epp's work was
his advice about giving yourself adequate time to really get to know
the person you are dating before escalating your commitment level in
Van Epps recommends that at the beginning of a relationship a couple give themselves a period of at least three months
to really get to know each other before escalating their commitment
(such as talking about marriage or getting engaged). He calls this his
"Three Month Rule." Van Epps reminds his readers that during the
initial dating period, there are many walls existing between the
couple: you are dressed your best for dinner out on a Friday night. You
have your best face, best attitude, best version of your personality,
etc. etc. etc., all in place. The author claims that it takes about
three months for those natural barriers to come down so that you can
really and truly get to know the person you are dating, inside and
outside. Van Epps also says it takes about three months for the soaring
emotions of a new attraction to die down enough to think and analyze
clearly. He writes:
The newness of a relationship is a natural
inebriating effect accompanying attraction that typically begins to
wear off around the third month. We put our best foot forward until we
feel a bit more secure in a new relationship. Then we slack off a bit
and let our imperfections surface. That is why it is so difficult to be
sure what someone is really like in the first three months (Jerk, p. 71).
Furthermore, and most importantly, it takes at least three months to be able to recognize patterns,
both in the relationship and in the personality of the other person.
Dr. Van Epps says the following about why giving ourselves enough time
to recognize "patterns" is so important:
Three months is the "magic number." Not until around
three months into a relationship do deep-seated patterns start to
become evident. By definition, a pattern is a behavior that repeats in
a sequence over time. Without time, there is no such thing as a
pattern. Therefore, if you are always living in the moment, you are
seriously disadvantaged when it comes to understanding a prospective
partner. The three month rule states that "it takes three months for
many subtle but serious patterns to begin to surface" (Jerk, p. 70).
Three months will give you time to develop your friendship with the
other person. It will give you the opportunity to learn what he or she
thinks about important issues such as faith, finances, sex, children,
parenting concerns, and the like. You will also learn important
information about your boyfriend or girlfriend that could deeply affect
your relationship with each other, such as family background and
The Proverbial Question Still Stands
I'm fairly convinced that the "ideal length" question truly does
require an individualized answer for each couple. However, if you and
your partner give yourselves a minimum of three months to get to know
each other before escalating the relationship, you will be making
significant deposits in your relationship bank. You'll learn the good,
the bad, the ugly, and the beyond great – the whole enchilada. These
months of learning and growing in friendship and knowledge with each
other will reap immense benefits in your courtship. It will give you a
strong foundation to stand on as you discern God's will for the next
step in your relationship.
Book: How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk, by Dr. John Van Epps
Courtship, Engagement, & Marriage Resources: http://www.familylifecenter.net/