Are Engagements Still Relevant In the 21st Century?

Engagement-RingYears ago, engagement was assumed to be the next level to friendship. Today, most couples move in together either before the thought of engagement or as they get engaged. So, do we still need to get engaged? Does changing the traditional purpose of an engagement period leave an impact on the number of marriages that don’t make the distance?

At this stage I should mention, when I refer to marriage I am referring to a committed relationship when two people live as one.  This may be with or without a formal marriage certificate granted by a state or country.

Has today’s world forgotten the original intent of engagements? Does today mark engagement as just a symbolic act of obtaining the diamonds? Do engagements primarily serve to provide timeframes to the groom and bride-to-be?

These questions led me to research more about the subject of engagement and the outcome of my newly acquired learning shed a whole new light on the purpose of engagements.

Apparently the intention of an engagement is to:

  • deepen relationships
  • explore similarities and differences
  • get used to each other and build a firm foundation on which years of life will stand
  • have a ‘preparation’ period before making the full commitment of marriage

Along the way, I also gleaned that the engagement period is intended to:

  • strengthen relationships
  • help us understand who we are individually as well as how we fit together as a couple
  • experience how intimacy and sexuality deepens as time progresses
  • appreciate the spiritual connection
  • develop a love that comprises integrity and honesty
  • understand the meaning and readiness for taking the marriage vows

I found these conclusions quite enlightening and thought provoking. Is there any correlation between the rise in divorces and the decline in non-cohabiting engagement periods? Many couples quickly move in together during the first flush of infatuation-style love before it has even developed into the deeper love that is required for a relationship to last a lifetime.

Do these couples go through the journey of creating a home together, combining financial commitments and even having a family before they realise that their compatibilities, goals and values may not be as aligned as they first thought they were.

In the ‘good ole days’ when couples waited to co-habit, many were expected to wait the mandatory six (6) months waiting period dictated by churches and had to attend the obligatory marriage preparation programs. I wonder how many relationships did not make it to the next level (marriage vows) and correctly were cut short.

Today, once combined assets, families and living arrangements are involved it is a lot harder to call it quits if realisation dawns, than when just wedding arrangements and a ring are involved.  I can think of many couples I know that never should have got married, or even moved in together. They would almost certainly have not taken the next step had they undergone a longer ‘incubation’ period for their relationship.

Is there really the ‘try before you buy’ benefits that most people focus on when moving in together?  By-passing the ‘courting’ steps and going straight for the full-on live-in relationship can have as many disadvantages as advantages.

The biggest disadvantage being insufficient time to really get to know each other before committing hook, line and sinker. Let’s not forget that from a legal perspective, defacto arrangements in many countries hold the same weight as marriage contracts after a very short time.

When the first flush of love and excitement wears off, is there a deep, quality, caring and committed partnership remaining?This is especially important when it is a second (or more) relationship and children, assets or fragile emotions are involved.  The rawness of previous break ups will likely be present for all involved, so jumping too soon could have a devastating effect, especially on the children if they have come to love the new partner.

There are some celebrity examples who would have benefited from the traditional engagement period, the most famous of which is the late Elizabeth Taylor – married 8 times.  Others include ZsaZsa Gabor (married 9x), Larry King (8x), Jerry Lee Lewis (7x), Demi Moore, Jennifer Lopez, William Shatner, Liza Minnelli, Barbara Walters, Martin Scorsese, and Billy Bob Thornton (at least three of them marrying again within a year of divorce). As Mickey Rooney (married 8 times) joked:“Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.”

Have you noticed songwriters compose a lot of great songs about love, but very few about marriage?  Love is considered romantic, exciting and lively.  Marriage is regarded as hard work, burdensome and sometimes even confining.

An engagement period allows couples to make the journey from the love songs to the reality of day-to-day living.  If this is the right transition then it can be every bit as romantic, exciting and even more fulfilling.  However, if it is not, the break-up will still be painful but not have the same long lasting impact as a full ‘live-in’ arrangement can have.

Stephen and I got engaged 18 months before we moved in together. I would like to say this because we were following the intent of engagement and the getting-to-know-each-other stage; however this was more by luck than design as we had to live in separate cities due to our children’s school commitments.

Eventually we moved in together and we probably would have stayed perpetually engaged had it not been for the children on both sides who were definitely more settled once we had tied the knot.  Had we not had these pressures I wonder what our relationship would have been like had we moved in together quickly, without taking the time to really get to know each other.

As I mentioned earlier, I was definitely in the category of thinking that engagements didn’t really serve much purpose (I was only engaged for 3 months before marrying my first husband). However, since my research, I definitely see a huge benefit for a period of commitment without co-habitation.

So, call me old fashioned or unrealistic, but for someone whose company is called A Love 2 Last, I am constantly looking at ways to encourage lasting love and identify why relationships fail. Now, I have added ‘engagements’ as another tool for couples to consider when they have found love again and want to give it their best possible shot.

Author and experienced relationship coach, Gillian Andale is the owner of Love2Last, a coaching and resource centre dedicated to couples who have found love again, want a new beginning and aim to strengthen and grow their relationship as well as need help in blended family situations.  Visit www.love2last.co to browse and see the wealth of information available.

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