What to Do When Courtships Fail

There is one affiliate link in this post.

After last week's episode with author Thomas Umstattd, Jr. - Courtship in Crisis - a listener wrote to tell us about her son's heart-wrenching 3-year courtship that ended in sorrow. For every courtship pitfall Thomas mentioned on our podcast episode and in his book of the same name, our listener confirmed that her son had the exact same experience: a controlling father, jumping through numerous hoops, distrust, accusations, and ultimately, a phone call from the father to "break up" with his daughter's suitor - her son. 

We're protecting our listener's identity, but wanted to share this quote from her email:

"Our observation was that the father really liked being in CONTROL. They couch it in a lot of “biblical” language, so it’s almost like if our son questioned anything, he would be seen as rebellious to his authority, etc. and he would be “out”. He was compelled to to do whatever they said out of the fear of losing someone precious to him.  

There is so much more I could say about the dangers of this system. . ."

She then went on to ask us,

". . . how can we help him through this?  He said to me a few days ago, 'Mom, I don’t know how to get through this.'  He said he thought the whole point of doing things this way (i.e. the “right” way) was to protect you from this kind of hurt.  He just doesn’t understand. He poured so much of himself into this . . . 

I’m so frustrated with it all! He’s such a godly young man. He tried so hard to do things the right way. It is crushing me to watch him hurting so much. I thought maybe if he could talk to some other people, or read some stories of others who have gone through the same thing, it might help him? Would you or your guest be able to point me in some direction?"

It always amazes me how a listener will contact us when I think we have no impact.

First, I am so sorry to hear this story and no matter what I write, I want you to know how truly disappointed I am for your son, and by extension for you as you help him navigate the next step. We are walking a very similar path with a son who had a failed engagement five days before the wedding (and full of sinful behavior). Our son is still rebounding and it has been two years. I remain very critical of this model, so know that my criticism is pointed toward the system and not you or your son.

Yes, this is what the courtship “model” is supposed to avoid, but your son’s story is exactly what we see as the problem. These capable young men (who fail just like all of us) are forced to “engage” the father. When these young men are seen for who they are (real) and they don’t meet the father’s unreasonable expectations, they are shown everything that is wrong with them and then discarded. This is a pile of hooey!

Understand that as a dad with three beautiful daughters in the pipeline (16, 14, 12), I am very concerned about who will come knocking on our door. But we look at any potential relationships in the next few years as opportunities to continue to build relationships with our daughters. These are further chances to disciple our daughters in choices and help them to see the gospel. Obviously, we will share any red flags we see, but inevitably we will be pushing our kids back to Christ and guiding them into gospel-centered choices and helping them make decisions.

What do you do now? I can only share what we have been doing:

First, we are loving our son through this tough time. We want him to know that we love him. We say it. We show it. We display it. We want him to know how much we love him in an earthly way. After the failed wedding, he stiff-armed us. There are times that it has been hard to love him and the choices we’ve seen him make. Perseverance has paid off; he now knows that we love him.

Second, we continue to point our son back to Christ. We remind him nearly every time we are with him that his hope, his security, his acceptance, his value, his worth, and his identity are in Jesus. Here’s the kicker: our son is also stiff-arming his faith. He tells us often that he is not in a place to hear about God’s love. He is a skeptic and very discouraged in the “system” which includes God’s role in his well-being. That has been very hard to see, but God continues to provide opportunities for these conversations to bear fruit. We have faith in his return to trusting God. Again, we love unconditionally through these hard times and bad choices.

Third, we have found that being transparent with one another and with our listeners has helped us to realize that this is not an isolated incident. You and your son are not alone. It’s all over the place. In our circle of friends we have found sin and deception over and over. Even in the “courtship crowd,” we see marriages on the rocks, addiction to porn, and sin abounding. There is no perfect system when we deal with sinners.

Lastly, as we’ve watched this take place, we’ve had to remind each other about the gospel. It’s so hard to watch a smart strong faithful son crash. Again, in our case, we are watching him struggle not only with earthly relationships, but with his faith. My only advice is to remind yourself where your hope and security is founded. Fixate yourself daily on Christ and remind one another of the hope you have in Christ alone!


More on Christian courtship in the homeschooling movement: