In a previous post, I had challenged the notion of a standardized dating and engagement timeline and reiterated the importance for each couple to properly discern what timeline God is calling them to.
Through further research, I discovered why people might jump to conclusions about imposing a standardized dating timeline. According to Thomas Lee, PhD, from the department of Human and Family Development at Utah State University, one of the predictors for divorce includes your length of acquaintance.
Remember just because you fall under the definition of a short or long courtship, doesn’t mean an ensuing marriage is doomed. I present these findings as additional information to help Catholics be better equipped for dating and marriage discernment.
Ted Huston, PhD, professor of Ecology and Psychology at the University of Texas, studied 168 couples over the course of 13 years. Huston believes the habits formed in courtship plant the seeds for success or failure in marriage. The couples who were studied were divided into three groups: those who courted for less than one year before marriage, one to three years before marriage, and three or more years before marriage. While these findings were characteristic of certain timelines, take note of the particular warning signs of divorce each group presents.
The couples, who married in less than one year from the start of their courtship, were categorized as either passionate and impulsive or pragmatic and on-schedule. (For my discussion on the differences between pragmatic and on-schedule couples check out my previous post).
In the passionate and impulsive group, women tended to idealize their partner, which means they were less likely to voice concerns so as not to jeopardize the possibility of a wedding. The intimacy of marriage, however, replaced those idealized images with realistic ones. Impulsive couples also tended to be event-driven in their courtship, which resulted in little intimacy and true knowledge about one another. These couples only ever put their best foot forward and were usually attracted to external attributes such as looks, earning potential, and material things. Couples from the TV reality series The Bachelor and The Bachelorette fit this category.
Perpetuating disillusionment in these passionate relationships leads to their downfall since they never address any areas of conflict. However, because of the high level of romanticism and affection, these couples often made it past their seventh wedding anniversary before calling it quits. This group also included a high percentage of premarital pregnancies, which is another predictor of divorce.
Those couples in the study who divorced within two to seven years usually waited to get married until after three years or more of dating. They tended to take a more leisurely attitude towards dating and courtship, focusing more on travel, partying, and other events. Perhaps they had been hurt in the past, and wanted to take things slow because of their fear of commitment. This low-maintenance approach often meant that a marriage was the last attempt at showing romance. These relationships tended to be filled with drama, which escalated after marriage. Because of the lack of passion, usually one or both felt ambivalent towards each other at some point. However, because of the longer courtship, these couples were usually aware of problems in their relationship, but they hoped marriage alone would resolve them.
Those couples who married after dating for at least one year or up to three years before marriage succeeded the most with long-term happiness. They tended to approach the relationship with level-headedness. While their passion wasn’t as strong as those in the shorter relationships, it remained sweet and steady with little drama. These couples weren’t disillusioned, rather they had a realistic approach towards the daily expectations of marriage. After two years of marriage, they reported being just as happy as those who claimed to fall in love at first sight, experiencing very little change in their feelings and expressions of love towards each other. They remained just as responsive to each other’s needs after marriage as they did in their courtship.
Regardless of their courtship length, all couples who had divorced in the study had shown ambivalence towards commitment and their relationship while dating. These couples also didn’t address the problems they had in courtship until they were married.
Remember that the length of acquaintance is only ONE predictor of divorce, but further examination proves that the time-line can be just a symptom of other premarital problems, not a cause by itself.
If you have doubts that your relationship is moving too fast or too slow, address those concerns as soon as possible. Remember that marriage is personal, and that God will call couples to their own unique timelines according to His divine plan.