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Young couple dating and wondering how long should you date before marriage

How Long Should You Date Before Marriage?

June 26, 2023
Foundation Building

How Do You Know You’re Ready for Marriage?

How long should you date before marriage? You’ll love this answer—it depends! Research indicates the average couple dates for two or more years before getting engaged. This article shows the U.S. national average is 30.3 months based on 3,100 survey responses. But if these are averages, then there are people who have dated for much shorter and much longer periods of time before pledging their lives to one another before God and their families. So rather than aiming for a specific timeline, perhaps a better question is, “How do you know you’re ready for marriage?” Let’s look at both questions.

Dating is much more than experiencing attraction, flirting, and feeling butterflies in your stomach. Dating provides time and situations for you and your significant other to really get to know one another—not just the cleaned up, best-foot-forward versions. Dr. John Van Epp, author of “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk,” suggests you start with a 90 day probation period before moving into a new stage of your relationship. “It takes around 90 days for a person’s patterns to emerge. Whether it’s in the workplace, in battling their addictions, or in a romantic relationship, the first 90 days is a critical time of assessment.” The beginning of a relationship is generally easier for both of you because there are fewer conflicts when the goal is to build interest and connection. Deciding in advance to create at minimum a 90 day boundary before making any concrete decisions about the next stage of your relationship gives you space.

Harry Benson, Research Director for the Marriage Foundation in the U.K., builds on the “go slow” mantra by suggesting that dating for a year (or longer) gives you time to get a clearer picture of the whole person. A calendar year provides opportunities for family events, birthdays, and major holidays. As you approach a second year, people “begin to show their more vulnerable sides.” You will move beyond surface level interactions and see in greater detail how they respond in different social settings and how they treat others—displaying their strengths and weaknesses in problem solving and communication.

Another timeline clue can be found in Scott M. Stanley and Galena K. Rhoades 2023 Cohabitation Research for the Institute for Family Studies. They suggest couples avoid rushing into important relationship transitions so they can “decide rather than slide.” For example, moving too quickly into physical intimacy can create the illusion of spiritual or emotional intimacy. Physical intimacy makes it easier for one person to assume both parties are on the same page when that might not be true. Couples may not only “slide into circumstances that can lock you in,” the accelerated pace may make it harder to leave—even if red flags are present. “Timing and sequence can help you land on the right relationship path,” and “clarity matters a lot in getting the timing right.”

So there are obvious benefits in taking time to build a relationship, but do you have to date for the average two years to have the best chance of marital success? Not necessarily. Coming from the same faith background, having friends in common or long-standing family relationships are indicators you may have spiritual and cultural attributes that will align. Being a little older and having experienced previous relationships may also provide a better understanding of commitment and why you would like to be married. Additionally, there’s research that indicates couples who have a college education or those who are actively involved in their faith have a greater chance of success in marriage. Even with these advantages, clear communication is key. Exploration of common core values, your own spiritual and mental maturity, and your self-awareness and confidence all have great bearing on the success of a relationship.

Young couple dating and wondering how long should you date before marriage

In the RAM (Relationship Attachment Model) concept, Dr. John Van Epp outlines five stages of attachment that lead to a strong relationship. Each phase builds upon the other in sequence. While elements of each stage may be evident in the beginning butterfly moments of dating, it takes confident, loving communication to reach the place where they can work together to provide a foundation for a lifelong commitment. The five stages are:

Knowledge: Spending time examining and sharing your values, likes and dislikes, family relationships, and past relationships is the key first step. Knowing these attributes and their history can help you recognize patterns and the origins of conflicts as they arise. There is no way to fast forward getting to know someone.

Trust: This attribute develops over time as you share trials and difficulties. You build trust through having honest communication, following through on promises, and displaying behavior that isn’t confusing and is as expected by your partner.

Reliance: An outcome of trust and knowledge, reliance is the feeling of support and protection that comes from having a partner who can meet your needs and provide care, concern, and healthy problem-solving. Everyone will endure difficulties and struggle, but reliance, trust, and knowledge of one another create an infrastructure for working through difficult times as a team.

Commitment: “Choosing to stay in a relationship for a lifetime requires a commitment to the relationship and your partner. In other words, each person must be dedicated to maintaining and regularly improving the quality of that relationship.” Van Epp states that this assurance paired with the sense of duty provides the confidence and security that will create the foundation of a long-term relationship.

Touch: Just as in the Stanley/Rhoades research, Van Epp cautions about moving to the physical part of a relationship until the other factors are defined and in place. “Physical sharing between a couple can increase their feelings of attachment. In fact, when the physical sharing between the couple matches their level of trust, knowledge, reliance and commitment, the intimacy shared can be more fulfilling to them.”

The trick is—none of these timeline or attachment conversations are first or second date topics. So while your heart may be beating faster after just a few weeks, make sure that you can confidently and openly share your feelings and values before transitioning your relationship to a new level. No matter where you are on the dating timeline, remember your relationship with God will provide the strongest foundation for you to be a healthy individual, so you can then grow and change with your significant other. In addition to the “research,” seek out Biblical wisdom and guidance from your support system, and lean on those who are wiser. Working to build a strong foundation in your dating relationship will only help you as you move towards an engagement and eventually marriage relationship.

In a Serious Dating Relationship? Attend Marriage Prep!

If you’re in a serious dating relationship where you’re considering engagement and marriage, check out Marriage Prep, a weekend where you’ll learn more about your relationship, strengths and growth areas.

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