Preparation for Marriage III
Immediate Preparation Part 1: Considerations Prior to Becoming Engaged

William E. May
© 2010 Culture of Life Foundation
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation


Pope John Paul II believes that the immediate preparation for marriage should take place gin the months and weeks immediately preceding the weddingh (Familiaris Consortio 78).[1] It is a period during which an engaged couple should, with the help of others and in particular their own religious communities, deepen their understanding of and commitment to marriage as a reality whose author is God, between one man and one woman, whose one-flesh union in the conjugal act ought to be open to the goods of exclusive conjugal love and children.

Coterminous with the immediate preparation for marriage is the period of courtship. This can be described as a period of close friendship during which the engaged couple seriously ponders whether marriage to one another is truly desirable; if one or the other or both determine that it is not they ought to end their period of close, intimate friendship and remain simply as friends with no desire to marry one another.

If the marriage for which engaged couples are preparing is to be happy and lasting, their courtship must be a chaste one. Abundant evidence shows that living together and having sex prior to marriage is not advisable if one wants a happy, lasting marriage because pre-marital sex often results in later divorce, infidelity, and unhappiness. Thus this article focuses on conditions necessary or of great practical help in making courtship a chaste courtship.[2] In a subsequent article I will consider other important matters to be taken up during this period of immediate preparation for marriage.

To make courtship chaste, one needs first of all to become engaged to a person who would make a good husband or wife. It is therefore important, prior to engagement, to find a person like this. This article will thus first consider the moral character of such a person; it will, secondly, offer advice about where one might meet this person; third, it will list some warning signs.

Moral character desired of future spouse

What kind of man would make a good husband and what kind of woman would make a good wife? This is a most important question; it focuses primarily on that person's moral character. His or her beauty, strength, athletic ability etc. - all excellent and attractive personal qualities - may and probably will to some extent disappear or lessen in the years ahead or may even be lost because of accidents or illness. But his or her moral character, which I think we can describe as his or her integral existential identity as shaped by the choices, good and bad, that he or she has made, is much more stable.

Now what kind of moral character ought a spouse, a husband or wife, have? None of us are saints, although God calls us to sanctity and our Lord tells us that we are to be as holy as our heavenly Father is holy (Matt 5:48). But we ought to be striving, to the best of our ability, and with the help of God's grace, to grow in holiness every day our lives. We need to commit ourselves to this goal and avoid serious, grave sins like fornication, calumny, etc. and, should we do them, repent and make reparation as far as possible. We ought to strive to acquire the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

If the man or woman to whom one wishes to become engaged and later to marry is a person with this kind of character, then one can confidently become engaged to him or her. In the pre-engagement period of friendship one should be frank and let the other person know whether one has in the past had sex or in other ways behaved irresponsibly, and that one now repents of this past behavior and is firmly resolved not to engage in it in the future.

Where and Where Not to Find a Suitable Marriage Partner

I do not think that singles' bars and clubs are good places to meet the kind of person whose moral character makes him or her suitable for marriage because these places are too frequently places where people are looking for one night stands or for someone to live with temporarily.. Nor are most on-line dating services good places to look for a spouse, because many who use them falsify their backgrounds, and are looking for someone to satisfy their desires and not their genuine needs. Some religious groups now provide on-line dating services that are intended to help only men and women who are seriously searching for a suitable person to marry; these can be trusted.

Among the places where it is reasonable to think that men and women who would be good husbands and wives might be present are educational talks, pro-life conferences or talks, weddings and wedding receptions of good friends (friends who, one knows, will be faithful in marriage), dances sponsored by their churches, prayer groups, Bible study groups, dinners hosted by married friends for their single friends, etc. It is advisable that one go alone to functions of this kind and not be with a date.

Warning signs

If a man or woman one is considering for engagement to marry shows signs that are like red flags, one ought to drop the relationship immediately and, if the couple is already engaged, break off the engagement at once.

These signs include: 1. Excessive drinking; 2. Heavy gambling; 3. Not a good listener (one should listen not only with one's ears but with one's eyes, because husbands and wives spend a lot of time communicating with one another and they need to listen to one another); 4. Inability to express emotions properly; 5. Inability to hold a job; 6. Eyes that wander too easily convening the idea that one is on the look-out. If the person has been divorced, this could be a warning sign. In this situation, if one of the couple is a Catholic, the Catholic ought to break off the relationship at once if the marriage has not been annulled or if the person is not willing to let competent church authorities determine whether the prior marriage was in reality only an apparent marriage and was hence the kind that can be annulled.


This essay has considered important considerations that ought to be taken into account before becoming engaged to be married. The next will reflect in depth on the meaning of a chaste courtship.