What's your opinion on promise rings versus engagement rings?

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Candice Watters

What's your opinion on promise rings versus engagement rings?

May 05, 2015 |Candice Watters
Question

My boyfriend and I have been dating for seven months. We love each other, and I think we match up well. For example, I tend to focus too much and never relax, and he reminds me to take a night off from homework. And my work ethic encourages him to stay ahead of his homework, too. I love to cook, and he likes to do the dishes.

We've talked about getting married, but we're only sophomores in college, so right now it's not really feasible. I'll be in another state next semester for an internship, and we might be graduating different semesters (meaning he would be working full time three hours away from where I'd be finishing college).

What is your opinion on promise rings versus engagement rings? It seems a little silly to me to get engaged now if we can't get married for another two or three years. Are there other steps we could take to prepare for marriage together, besides premarital counseling with our pastor?

Answer

Thank you for writing to ask about rings and timelines and ways to prepare for marriage. It sounds like you're in a good place to be thinking through these things given the upcoming change in your location and all the changes that will follow on the heels of your internship.

It's helpful to consider why couples give promise rings and what it would mean if you were to exchange one. According to Promise-Rings.info, "The most important rule in giving a promise ring is to be up-front about the terms of the promise, especially if the ring contains a diamond."

What would your promise ring mean? Would your boyfriend be saying to other potential suitors, "She's taken"? Would he wear one, too? Would it be a tangible reminder of your promise to stay true as you pass the time till you can get engaged? An engagement ring means something objective. Not so with a promise ring. This ambiguity should make you leery of it.

If you're not ready for engagement, that means either you're not yet ready to decide if you should get married, or having decided you are a good fit for marriage, your circumstances aren't yet what they need to be for you to get married. If your circumstances are all that's standing between the two of you and the altar, what's needed isn't a promise ring, but a re-assessment of your circumstances. If, however, it's the first scenario — you haven't decided yet — then a promise ring is a bad idea. It will make it harder for you to honestly assess the other and may mute or dampen any concerns you have.

One other potential danger I see with a promise ring is that it will trick you into acting like you're engaged. This occurred to me while reading a helpful article by Tim Challies called "What Is Engagement?" In it he talks about what engagement is:

… a relationship where a couple deliberately increases the intimacy of their relationship as a prelude to marriage. The primary business of engagement is increasing relational intimacy to ensure compatibility. The couple makes their agreement (or engagement) with one another before their friends, family, and church, making it not only a personal agreement, but a community one. Engagement is a formal agreement that these two people are serious about pursuing the lifelong commitment of marriage and that, though they are not yet fully committed to marrying one another, they are escalating their intimacy to ensure that they can be suitable for one another.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about sexual intimacy. I am not even necessarily talking about physical intimacy. I am talking primarily about relational intimacy. While a man and woman are dating they may discuss previous relationships or past traumas, but when they are engaged they must begin to discuss these things—at least they must if they are wise. Their engagement gives them the structure, the urgency, and the end-goal that allows them to pursue topics that are too intimate for those who are dating, but too serious to leave until after wedding rings have been exchanged.

Notice he says engagement is a community, not personal, commitment. There is public accountability that comes with engagement that a private commitment via promise ring wouldn't guarantee. A promise ring would tempt you to act engaged without the benefits of accountability, the momentum of an end date, or the hope of a wedding.

For two believers committed to dating toward marriage, it should be sufficient to give your word that you will date exclusively. In Matthew 5:37 Jesus said, "Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil." He was telling the disciples that "their character should be of such integrity that their words can be believed without an oath." So, too, your word to each other should be trustworthy.

A tangible object like a promise ring would add nothing substantive to your commitment, but it might take away the freedom you need during the dating phase to assess if you're ready to get engaged. And it might diminish your freedom to break up if you decide you're not.

I agree that a two- to three-year engagement is unwieldy, but also that a promise ring will do little to bind you over that time. Far better to slow your relationship down or figure out a way to marry before graduation.

If you're not ready to get engaged, it's premature to promise to get engaged with a promise ring. Better to keep dating according to biblical guidelines until you're ready to decide if you will get married, and then, get engaged.

If, however, you are ready to get engaged but work commitments and timing of graduation are all that are holding you back, I believe the wisest course would be to work harder to make marriage happen sooner. Reconsider your internship and decision to live apart.

If you must live apart, decide if you will continue to date exclusively and abide by your decision. If circumstances pull you apart and you decide to date others because it turns out you're not a good fit after all, renegotiate your commitment. If your relationship is biblically solid, if it's God's will for you to marry, you don't need a promise ring to seal the deal. In fact, the distance may provide a good test of the strength of your relationship.

You've given examples of what you believe qualify you as a good match. There are many more weighty matters to consider than your study habits and kitchen patterns. I suspect you know this, but would encourage you to work through a resource like John Piper's Questions to Ask When Preparing for Marriage.

Rather than seek premarital counseling, spend your time together with other mature believers who can speak into your lives and your relationship. Pray for wisdom and ask married couples you trust to walk with you in this journey. As Proverbs 15:22 says, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed."

May the Lord direct your decisions.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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