I met this great girl and she’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for. I really want to marry her some day. How do I keep from messing this up?
Entrust this relationship to God. He is the Master Builder, not you. David wrote, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:1–2). Also, let the peace of Christ reign in your heart. Your task is to take this to prayer so that you can determine the will of God and follow it.
Where do you start? Build the foundation of a graced friendship before jumping into romance. If and when a relationship starts, you will want to have a clear sense of direction in it, looking toward marriage. After all, this is the reason to date. As for now, there is a lot of wisdom in taking it easy. If it is love, then this time of anticipation will not hurt.
In a relationship that is new and exciting, people often stay up to the wee hours of the morning pouring out their life history and emotional secrets. They feel incredibly close because they know so much about each other’s past. Other couples dive headlong into a deep spiritual relationship as well. People in both situations, if they value chastity, also will be working to hold back on the physical side of things. But the intimacy of hearts has moved so fast that the physical side yearns to catch up. Picture a slingshot primed to launch. A similar tension results when you move too fast on emotional matters and then cannot, morally, match that emotional depth with a corresponding physical intimacy. So take it easy. I do not intend to put a damper on love but to help you pace yourself so that love reaches its fullest potential. Take your time and allow trust to develop and strengthen.
Also, take the initiative to make the relationship godly. At the same time do not attempt to be her spiritual guru or father in the faith. She is not to be under your tutelage as if she is your student, disciple, or child. It is easy for a good-hearted young man to want to assume these roles for a young woman, especially if she has not been involved in her faith for long. Progress toward God side by side.
Involve your families, and tap into their years of wisdom. One man with a great deal of insight on the topic of relationships is Dr. James Dobson, who offers this advice in his book Love Must Be Tough:
Don’t let the relationship move too fast in its intimacy. The phrase “too hot not to cool down” has validity. Take it one step at a time. . . . Don’t call too often on the phone or give the other person an opportunity to get tired of you. . . . Don’t be too quick to reveal your desire to get married—or that you think you have found Mr. Wonderful or Miss Marvelous. If your partner has not arrived at the same conclusion, you will throw him or her into panic. . . . Do not expect anyone to meet all of your emotional needs. Maintain interests and activities outside that romantic relationship, even after marriage. . . . In addition to the many moral, spiritual, and physical reasons for remaining virgins until marriage, there are numerous psychological and interpersonal advantages to the exercise of self-control and discipline. Though it’s an old-fashioned notion, perhaps, it is still true that men do not respect “easy” women and often become bored with those who have held nothing in reserve. Likewise, women often disrespect men who have only one thing on their minds. Both sexes need to remember how to use a very ancient word. It’s pronounced “NO!”
Dobson also notes that the relationship must be able to breathe. Do not be afraid to give each other some space, because relationships thrive best when there is freedom, respect, and confidence. The less one exhibits these characteristics, the more likely he is to have difficulty in romantic endeavors.
Lastly, realize that too many people see marriage as a finish line. They often arrive there exhausted, only to discover that the real work has only begun. Making a lifelong love is a demanding task that yields its priceless fruits only to those who love with patience and fortitude.
In the meantime work to better yourself. Becoming a saint is the best gift you could ever give to your wife and children. Work vigorously against your defects, and do your best to improve as a man of God each day.
. James Dobson, Love Must Be Tough (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 209–213.