Over the years as I have helped coach couples who are dating, I have noticed there are three general stages of covenant that people encounter as they move towards marriage. I wrote this blog to give you some guidelines as to how to maneuver through these stages in the most responsible, loving way.
The first stage is the “Get-To-Know-You” stage. This is the lowest level of covenant. People feel vulnerable in this stage of dating because they aren’t sure where the relationship is going long-term. It just takes time to get to know someone. This stage is risky because you know at any point the other person (or you for that matter), could just change your mind and walk away. Because the risk is so high, your level of intimacy should match your level of covenant. You should only go as deep with someone emotionally and physically as your level of covenant will cover. Try not to over-share in this stage. Let the other person learn about who you are, (like what your hopes and dreams for the future are), but don’t share things that are too intimate. A good question to ask yourself in this stage of covenant is: “If we broke up in six months, would I be okay with what I shared with you, what we did together, and with how much of my heart I gave away to you?” For example, I recently had a couple in this first stage of covenant ask me if it was a good idea for them to introduce each other to their parents. So I asked them “the question.” If in six months this relationship were over, would you feel okay with the fact that you brought that person to your parent’s home to get to know your family? That process helped them decide what things they felt comfortable with in this first stage of dating.
The second stage of dating I’ll call the “We’re-Two-Feet-In” stage. This stage feels much more solid than the first. You have both declared your love for each other; you have both decided that you are committed to each other. And most likely, you have decided this relationship is moving towards marriage, unless some unforeseen reason to not marry presents itself. You are definitely exclusive by now, and this is typically the stage of relationship where the man is deciding how and when he will propose. This is a tricky stage, as your head-over-heels in love feeling will cause you to want to go deeper in intimacy than your covenant actually covers. It feels natural and safe to want to go develop more intimacy. You can’t imagine having any regrets and you open your heart fully. But, there is no ring yet. There is still a chance this relationship is not permanent. At this point it doesn’t help much to ask “Would I be okay with what I’ve shared if we broke up in six months?” – because you wouldn’t be. You would probably be devastated. But a good question to ask in this stage is: “What are the things I would only want my spouse to know about me or experience with me?” – (emotionally and physically). Those things would be the things you would refrain from engaging in with your significant other in stage two. Even though you are in love and everything feels great, it’s still not the time to go into those very deep levels of intimacy.
The third stage is the deepest level of covenant. This stage is called “Together-For-Life.” It begins with the engagement process and moves on into marriage and throughout life. During the engagement process you are still reserving things such as sexual intimacy until after marriage. But emotionally you have probably gone as deep as you can outside of living with each other every day. You know everything about your significant other, and they know everything about you. The process of marriage and sexual intimacy and living with each other will in themselves bring about deeper levels of intimacy that were before unattainable. You are both completely invested in the other person. You are exploring the deepest levels of intimacy, and you are not holding back at all anymore. There is no turning back, there is only moving forward. This is the process of two people becoming one flesh. I believe that the process of becoming “one flesh” is not about losing yourself; rather, it’s about fully accepting another into your heart.
I hope these general guidelines and questions will help you as you pursue finding the love of your life!