1. Only consider courtship at a time in your life when you are ready to consider marriage. Until that time-foster the virtue of friendship and hold off the romance until you are really ready for it.
2. Only enter into a courtship with a man whom you would consider marrying. A woman might consider "just" dating any guy that she's attracted to as long as she has no sense of long-term commitment. The problem arises when she's grown attached to him after a period of time and can't bring herself to breaking off the relationship, even when it's not good. She may end up marrying a man that she otherwise would not have. Set the stakes higher-only court with a man you'd consider marrying.
3. Enter a courtship to discern whether or not you are called to marriage with a certain man. Courtship is dating with a purpose. If you know that you would not consider marriage with this man, or you are not ready to consider marriage yet, then don't enter into a courtship. Stay friends or acquaintances for the time being. Courtship is about prayerful discernment, which means you will decide either that God is not calling you to marriage with this man or that He is not. Both outcomes are valid in a courtship!
4. Take time through prayer to discern God's will. You need to foster prayer in your lives individually and as a couple. You can not know God's will without prayer.
5. Base your courtship in the family: As much as possible, spend time with each other's families. This is so important-for if you do end up married, you'll want to get along. Family is an invaluable resource and such an integral part of who we are. You will learn much about each other by seeing how each other relates to family members. And your family, in turn, can give you much insight about the man with whom you are courting (and his family, about you!) Family sees things we don't always see. Love can be blind at times-family (and friends) can really help to correct our vision. If you are far from family, make every effort to get home and spend time with them. And in the meantime, adopt a family (friends from Church, for example) to provide for you all the benefits of a family-based courtship. (If you do not live near your family refer to the article "What If My Family Lives Far Away?".)
Items 6 - 15 deal with setting guidelines for yourselves from the very beginning of your courtship. (If you're starting over-changing from a dating relationship to a courtship model-then begin now with guidelines.) The following points will cover areas you should consider in those guidelines.
6. Emotional Intimacy: Guard your hearts and do not dive emotionally into a courtship relationship head first. Give yourselves time to learn about each other. Do not open up all your intimate secrets, desires and longings to each other immediately-just because you are courting. Allow your relationship to grow naturally. Keep the mystery alive by not revealing everything all at once. The problem with "dumping" on each other emotionally early on in a relationship is that if you later discern that you are not called to marriage you could have many regrets over having shared those intimate thoughts and secrets with someone who will not be your husband. You need to be honest with each other, but that does not mean you have to reveal everything right away. As the relationship grows, you will discover a natural pace for sharing those emotional intimacies.
7. Physical Intimacy: Decide what your limits will be and write them down. Remember that as you store up your treasures of physical intimacy before marriage-every sacrifice that you make to stay pure becomes a jewel for you to share with each other in marriage. At that time-you will be able to delight in the beauty of giving yourselves to each other completely and totally. And your pleasure in marriage will be magnified by your time of waiting.
8. To kiss or not to kiss: Are you going to allow for kissing or not? Kissing is NOT a sin. It is not bad. It does not mean that a couple is less virtuous in courting if they allow for kissing. It is a decision you make as you set your guidelines. So think through the reasons why you would choose to allow for it or not!
9. Saving that first kiss: Many couples decide to leave kissing out of their relationship-as kissing has the power to ignite their passions. They choose to wait until the altar for their first kiss. They also might be coming out of past relationships-where they are struggling to keep control over their passions. They might be coming from a position of never having been kissed before, and now that they've waited this long-they want to go all the way with it! There are a variety of reasons why some couples choose this path.
10. Saving that "next" kiss: Other couples, who have allowed for kissing in their relationship, sometimes decide to cut it out and wait to have their "next" kiss at the altar-which could be quite a wait! But they've seen how kissing is stirring passions that are making it harder for them to stick to their goal of staying pure in their relationship.
11. Kissing with limitations: Some couples allow for kissing-but they limit how and when and where-which is wise if they want to keep it from stirring those passions that can be so easily ignited.
12. Hugging: Are you allowing for hugging-and in what context? Hugging is a completely acceptable and beautiful expression of affection, support and love. However, prolonged hugging-while all alone and at times when you might be feeling weak (like late at night)-can stir passions. Just be careful that you are guarding the context well so that it doesn't begin to undermine your good intentions.
13. How, where and when you spend time alone: During courtship you obviously will want and need to spend time alone together. But how and where are important questions. If you are spending time alone late at night or in complete isolation, you may just find that your resistance to temptation is weakened. It's best to find time alone together while doing something-going for a walk, cycling, canoeing, playing sports, taking in a show or going out to a restaurant, etc.
14. Avoid the near occasion of sin. This is not to say that a couple who is courting will only stick to their goal of purity if they are NEVER alone together . . . as if to say the only reason they resisted temptation is because they never went near temptation. But there is a teaching that exhorts us to "avoid the near occasion of sin". We should not deliberately put ourselves in temptation's way. Hopefully, any couple who makes these resolutions-even if they were given the opportunity to break them-wouldn't break them, because they are persons of integrity! But we are all weak at times. All it takes is one moment of weakness (and be sure Satan will be watching for it) for you to make a mistake that you could regret for a lifetime.
15. Don't give rise to scandal. But what if we're not being tempted? Why wouldn't it be alright to be off, alone, in isolation together-for example staying late over at one or the other's apartment alone? This is where we get into the whole issue of giving rise to scandal. The problem a couple faces here-even if they are strong enough to resist all temptation-is the impression they are giving to others. "So what?" You may ask. "Let them gossip-what do we care? We know we're not doing anything wrong!" When others perceive you to be leading an impure life, it gives others a sense of it being okay to not embrace purity in their own relationships. They'll be thinking, "After all, they're doing it and they're a nice Christian couple. Obviously it doesn't make any difference if we do or don't." Even though you had been embracing purity, you still misled others to believe you weren't. In this way you would not be helping to build the body of Christ by your good example. Rather, through the scandal you would have given rise to, you would have inadvertently led others to sin. It is our sense of responsibility in the body of Christ that leads us to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of others when we decide not to give rise to scandal.
16. Accountability: We all are more responsible when we are held accountable for our actions. Make a list together of your resolutions and guidelines for your courtship and give that list to some mentoring couples and accountability partners. These could be your parents, other married couples from Church, friends, roommates, family members. Basically you are looking for people you trust and respect to be able to talk with openly about your relationship. They should be able to ask you at any time how your are doing-if you are keeping your resolutions-and you need to be able to answer them honestly.
17. Mentoring: Along with this idea is the need for mentoring couples-ideally that would be your parents, but it is not limited to parents. These couples should be well-versed in the Church's teachings on marriage and the sacraments. They should be couples who can advise you on all kinds of issues related to marriage: finances (especially tithing), family networking, Natural Family Planning and the gift of human sexuality, balancing work and family life and so on.
18. Time to pray and time to play: Obviously prayer time is important for a couple who is courting-as they are trying to discern God's will for their relationship. But a couple should never neglect to be sure to allow for play time! Have fun. This season of life should be fun and filled with excitement and adventure. Don't forget to make time to play.
19. Keep the romance alive: Remember that courtship is a time of romance. Don't cheat yourselves out of that. Enjoy dynamic, exciting, God-glorifying romance by seeking ways to give of yourselves to each other, to serve each other and to show your love for each other in simple ways. Romance-true romance-is about blessing the other by giving of self . . . and that's what true love is about, too. So you see, the two go hand in hand. Couples who engage in an intensely physical relationship often lose out on this very point-because physical pleasure has become the focus of their relationship. By converse, couples who do not distract themselves with physical intimacy have more time on their hands to spend creatively doing romantic things for each other and together-blessing each other with their loving deeds and gestures as often as they can.
20. Be active in your faith community: Courtship is a great time to grow in faith together-and to spend time together in your faith community. In this way your relationship is supported by like-minded people who will become for you that community that celebrates with you in times of joy, consoles you in times of grieving, and that lifts you up you in times of hardship. We cannot live in isolation-we need that community to be there for us, which means, we need to be there for them as well. Be involved, have fun taking in events and activities together, volunteer service time together, and join in prayer groups and Bible studies together. These opportunities to spend time together, in a larger group setting, help you to learn much about each other by seeing how each other deals with a variety of situations and other persons . . . and are great opportunities to dedicate your time and talents to the Lord.