Marriage: How soon is too soon?

Dennis and Flavia met at a house party. The two instantly fell in love and within days they were inseparable. They had a lot in common and held each other in high regard.
Singer Knowless and Clement Ishimwe on their wedding day in 2016. Net
Singer Knowless and Clement Ishimwe on their wedding day in 2016. Net

Dennis and Flavia met at a house party. The two instantly fell in love and within days they were inseparable. They had a lot in common and held each other in high regard.

Muhumuza says that four months down the road, he was sure Flavia was the woman he was going to marry. He proposed, she said yes, and in December last year, they walked down the aisle.

For some people, getting married to someone they’ve known for a short period of time is a big no while for others, the time spent in courtship doesn’t really guarantee marital bliss.

But should the duration of courtship matter?

Methode Kamanzi, a marriage counsellor, says people need to spend a good amount of time dating before they walk down the aisle because this way, they get to know each other well enough.There is so much to know about, including a person’s background and family.

“Courtship matters a great deal, but how long it should go on depends on the couple because our backgrounds differ. At times, young people rush into decisions because of emotions or expectations, but this can only lead to worries in the marriage,” he says.

Kamanzi points out that even though the courtship period doesn’t necessarily guarantee the success of a marriage, this doesn’t undermine the fact that couples need to take time to get to know each other.

Pastor Hassan Kibirango of Christian Life Assembly explains that though the time of courtship is not a definite basis, it plays a big role in ensuring the success of a marriage.

“It’s been proven that people who spend a longer time courting develop invaluable appreciations for one another and, it reduces surprises later on in the marriage, leading to longer and happier marriages,” he says.

Kibirango says it’s hard to specify a time but it should be enough for both parties to discover one another and build an authentic friendship to ensure a solid relationship before committing to the covenant of marriage.

For Monica Kayesu, a project assistant, two to three years is the reasonable amount of time for a couple to date before they walk down the aisle.

She believes that this time would be good for the couple to understand their differences and behaviours.

It is also important to understand each other’s families since it is meant to be a ‘forever’ journey they plan to embark on.

“I think there is no need to rush, instead, couples should focus on building memories and a firm foundation for their ‘tomorrow’ together,” Kayesu suggests.

“Personally, I would prefer dating longer before officially getting married, because the more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know and deeply understand them,” says Julius Mugisha.

Mugisha says that sometimes people are in a rush to get married; and tie the knot with someone they barely know. However, there are drifts that indicate that people who do not spend enough time ‘learning’ their partners end up struggling in marriage.

“I think this is why divorce is unfortunately on the rise. It doesn’t make sense to meet someone and a month later, you are planning a wedding,” he adds.

However, proponents of the long dating period like Karen Barasa say that the idea of dating for a long period of time used to work back in the day.

“Personally, I don’t recommend dating for a long period of time because in some cases, while people are getting to know each other, they tend to get bored with one another. At least six to seven months is okay for a couple to start planning for marriage,” she says.

Barasa believes that it’s better to continue learning about your spouse’s behaviour even through marriage as adjusting will be easier than when merely dating.

She notes that reasons such as financial uncertainty could be a reason to prolong courtship, rather than doing it to ‘know each other well’.

“The stretch of the courtship doesn’t determine the success of the marriage. In fact, a couple might end up not getting married because they learnt something they think they won’t tolerate in another person yet we all have weaknesses,” Barasa says.

Barbara Burabyo says that a couple should take as much time as they think they need. As long as they believe the information they have about each other is enough for them to understand their differences, then it’s all good.

“It’s not all about the time spent in courtship, it’s more about the time you get to know and understand someone. You can spend five years in courtship but still fail to master your spouse’s character. What matters is commitment to loving your partner and appreciating them for who they really are,” she adds.

Paul Rwakahungu, a risk compliance officer, also believes that the time spent in courtship doesn’t really matter.

“Remember, the only common element we share as human beings is pretence, as long as someone can paint a different picture from his inner person, it is hard to fully get to know them. Time doesn’t matter but love does, if someone is in love, even a one night stand can result into a long lasting marriage,” he says.

The ‘Kigali Proposal’

In Rwanda, it is not rare to attend a wedding, and about three months later, a post on Facebook says that the couple welcomed a bouncing baby. The math doesn’t add up, obviously, and it doesn’t help that you didn’t notice the bride’s bump.

The mere idea of having a baby out of wedlock in Rwanda attracts scorn from society that can only be rivalled by a paedophile’s confession.

Pastor Kibirango says that pregnancy before marriage, especially in our culture, can put undue pressure on a couple to get married before the right time and that that can be an unfortunate scenario.

“However, I don’t think that it’s necessarily the cause of failed marriages. It is deeper than that, it is one where both the man and the lady have rushed into a union without giving it enough time to get to know each other well enough to commit to a future together,” he says.

“I have witnessed people getting married after getting pregnant and they are happily married. And there are others whose marriage didn’t last due to more fundamental reasons rather than whether they got a child before or after wedlock,” the pastor says.

Aidah Kayitesi says people should not get married because the woman is pregnant, but because they want to, and feel like it’s the right time to actually tie the knot.

“I think a couple should know each other for at least one year because they have to first understand each other’s background. This is someone you plan to spend the rest of your life with, you should get married out of love and not because of pregnancy,” she says.

Kayesu believes that the ‘Kigali Proposal’ is one of the factors that lead to failed marriages today, not neglecting other factors though.

She believes that couples should get married for the right reasons and not out of fear of having a child out of wedlock.

In her article, Do People Still Get Married Because of Pregnancy? Léa Rose Emery referred to this as ‘The Modern Shotgun Wedding.’

She says that although it would be nice to think that being pregnant and unmarried would no longer have a stigma in the 21st century, some social prejudices die hard.

“Now, unmarried couples are far more likely to move in together due to pregnancy than to walk down the aisle. But it still happens and, perhaps more importantly than that, there’s still a lot of pressure for it to happen. Is it the right choice?” she writes.

“It’s not unusual to feel emotional and romantic when you realise you’re pregnant. You know that the pregnancy basically bonds you to the other person for life anyway, and some people even take it as a sign that they should get married. But while there are many personal reasons people choose marriage when they’re pregnant, it’s important to remember how much societal pressure feeds into this,’ she notes.