In his response to my post about control and abuse, James mentioned noticing abusive patterns during courtship, and I decided to share my thoughts and experience on the subject.
I strongly agree that every effort should be made during the courtship to get to know the potential spouse; and I think a crucial part is how much attention we pay to the character traits that will be important in marriage. I think that when we talk about getting to know each other, focusing on the important issues matters even more than how long the courtship actually lasts before the decision is made.
Now, I'm not saying everyone should get engaged after three dates (though I know some people who did and have wonderful marriages). But I'm convinced that abusive behavior can often be recognized early during the courtship.
In the past, I used to date an unworthy man for a long time. In the later stages of this relationship, he became verbally and physically abusive, but now that I look back, I think I could have seen it coming much earlier than he actually crossed the border between plain rudeness and abuse.
I should have noticed that:
* On our first date, he insisted on the time and place that were right for him and absolutely inconvenient for me. He didn't care about all the trouble I had to go through to get there and back.
* He always criticized me and tried to change me, and wasn't ready to accept me as I am.
* He behaved in a rude, selfish way to other people long before he lost his good behavior with me.
* He was impatient and every small thing would make him lose his temper.
Did I see that eventually? Yes. Would he have made an abusive husband? I'm convinced that he would. Could I have seen it coming? Probably.
I agree it's harder for an abuser to keep his good behavior for a longer time, and that sometimes you don't see a person's true colors very soon. However, no matter how long the courtship lasts, there's no guarantee, and sometimes we just have to trust and have faith in God. I also think that the modern type of dating, as opposed to courtship, doesn't really help us get to know the other person better. Young people go to movies, bars and clubs; they spend hours and hours together just 'having fun', without even thinking about what really matters and what they are looking for in their future spouse. No wonder it takes years to 'get to know each other'.
Again, I have no answer really about what I think is the optimal duration of courtship. People are different and situations are different, and I can't say, well, 3 months is alright and 3 weeks is too short. But I believe every woman should, of course, not be too suspicious – but not miss the alarming patterns I described earlier, either.
James also asked me about how in my opinion a man should behave when courting a woman who has been through domestic abuse. Well, James, as someone who has been there, I can tell you it's not easy. Yes, God in His grace and kindness healed my heart and allowed me to start over (He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds), but it doesn't mean the old scars are gone. I'm very careful and still have trust issues. A man who is dating a woman with a difficult past, especially someone who had suffered from abuse, needs all the patience in the world to earn her trust; he needs to show her every bit of the protective, kind gentleman he is. And then I believe everything is possible, and even those who suffered and had their heart in a million broken pieces can be healed and have a blessed marriage.