Breaking it Off

Kyle Reed // @kylereed


I really do not know where this came from. Maybe it was because I was reading Proverbs 31 the other day and started thinking about girls (unlike any other time really). Here is what I started to think about….

If you are engaged and break it off,
is that the same as divorce?

What do you think. Give me an honest answer, and a well thought of answer.


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Kyle Reed

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I create websites, conversations, and ideas. Advocate for the 20 somethings. Looking to connect everyone to a mentor. Married to my best friend, Ginny. I like my coffee black and my dog Jack. I currently live in Nashville and work at Sony Music/Provident in Nashville
  • Brett Barner

    I really don't believe they are the same. It can be hard on both parties, but one of the aspects of engagement is seeing if you think you can make it as a married couple.

    It's like the beta testing of marriage. :)

    • @kylelreed

      I can see that…here is the push back.
      If it is like beta testing marriage then wouldn't you move in together, live together, and share all the benefits of marriage?
      If it is a test and you do not make it then how is that different then you being married and not making it?

      • Brett Barner

        Oh I knew it! I knew you'd go there…

        I'm going to try to answer this without digging myself too big a grave…

        Engagement is about getting to know the other person on a more official level than dating. It's a step up in the direction of marriage. The more you know about your partner, the better footing you get to step off of into marriage.

        Mostly though, it allows the couple to plan properly for the wedding. I totally believe that people can have a great marriage without ever being engaged (I wouldn't recommend it though). I also believe you can have a great engagement and a horrible marriage (and I wouldn't recommend doing that either).

        Technically it's just asking the person if they'd like to get married and working their way to that covenant.

        All that to say that I'm rethinking my “engagement is like the beta testing of marriage” statement to believe that engagement is like being in the development stage of marriage.

        The first year of marriage, you're in the alpha testing.

        And after that, you're like Google, forever in beta. Constantly looking for ways to improve and make something that's already great, better.

        • @kylelreed

          Okay your beta testing analogy is getting a little better.

  • kelly@Tabitha's Team

    Wow – never thought about that. I believe there was a time when this was true. For example, Joseph was only “engaged” to Mary, but when he learned of her pregnancy his plan was to quietly “divorce” her. I think in that culture engagement was just as binding of a promise.

    However, today, Pastors see their duty to engaged couples to be one of “trying to scare them out of it” through pre-marital counseling to make sure they are ready. It seems to be the time of making sure the couple has made the right decision and understands the commitment. I think that an engaged couple who realizes that they are not ready for marriage and decides to break it off are making a responsible decision (in most cases)

    I say this as someone who married her best friend from junior hight and is just a month away from my 18th annversary. I have one of the best circumstances, but my husband and I will easily share that marriage is not easy. If you already see trouble at engagement, it's definitely time to pray about the decision.

    • @kylelreed

      You are like an old pro at this (I am not saying you are old, just using the slogan old pro).
      But isn't engagement now a binding promise? When someone proposes, what are they asking? Will you marry me, will you commit with me forever? I think that is what a proposal is saying. At that moment you are committing to marriage, if that is broken off how is that different then a year into your marriage?

      I am just playing the other side.

    • adamrshields

      Betrothal and engagement are pretty different. For one, betrothal was usually set up by the parents and the couple didn't have any choice in the matter. Second, it was as binding as marriage, because it wasn't about what the couple wanted, but about what the parents wanted. In some cultures sex was appropriate in betrothal. Sex is not appropriate in engagement, because you are not married and the covenant between the two doesn't exist yet.

      I also disagree with the “scared straight” form of premarital counseling. I think that pre-marital counseling is good and important. But churches should start intentionally doing premarital education in elementary school. Once people have decided to get married they really won't learn a ton. Teaching people what marriage really is about should happen long before you start thinking about really getting married.

      • @kylelreed

        If we are going to bring sex into the mix, I will hit on that for a minute.
        Going to bible college taught me several things, but one thing that stood out to me was the alarming rate my friends were getting married. This is not true of my friends (so don't take offense friends) but the general understanding why most young christians get married is because they want to have sex, but they want to be okay with having sex.
        I talk to people who are not familiar with this idea of getting married young nor do they think pre-marital sex is wrong and they think it is crazy that almost all of my friends are married these days. Most of them will not get married until they are in their 30's.

        And I can see the difference between a Betrothal and engagement, but the word engagement is interesting and is in both betrothal and engagement of today. Engagement is defined as a promise to marriage.

        • adamrshields

          I don't think early marriage is wrong. I know it isn't the societal norm right now, but I don't think people should be ostracized for it either. I think that people delay marriage for a lot of reasons, and many of them are good (education is a prime one.)

          But I think people also delay marriage for bad reasons. Two prime ones are a false view of security and false view of independence. Many people today want to have financial and job security before they get married. That has never been the case in history. People get married and struggle through to a later point in time where they are more secure financially and in their job. But as my economics professor in college said, never wait on marriage because you can't afford it, two people can almost always live cheaper per person marriage than they can as two singles. The second part is that people are afraid of commitment, in part because they see so many bad marriages. I understand that, but fear of commitment rarely goes away as you age, it often gets worse.

          • @kylelreed

            Good points here.
            Commitment and selfishness really are the problems.

    • Lex

      I think in that culture, engagement was more binding than it is in ours. When a woman accepted a man's proposal, they were considered husband and wife immediately. There was an interim period of one year when the woman would stay with her family while the husband prepared a place for them to live, but they were considered husband and wife.

      • @kylelreed

        How has that changed today?
        Why do you think that has changed today?

        • Lex

          There are probably a thousand reasons.

          Parents aren't that involved in their childrens' decisions to marry.

          People don't get married as young anymore, which means women aren't living with their families and men already have their own place. In many cases they're already living together when they get engaged.

          Our culture is on a campaign to the destroy the sanctity of marriage, which will first destroy the commitment of engagement and cheapen pre-marriage relationships.

          There's so ceremonial ritual for getting engaged.

          People don't value their word anymore in most regards, so engagement isn't any different.

          Women's magazines and romantic comedies have hyped up the event of the wedding that it's all that really gets worked on during a modern engagement.

          It's easier to get cold feet and back out of a commitment if you're “only” engaged and not considered husband and wife until the ceremony.

          • @kylelreed

            wow, sounds like you have thought about this before…

  • adamrshields

    They are two different things. Unlike Brett, I don't think that engagement is a trial marriage. Trial marriages don't work. Marriage is about commitment, you can not have a trial commitment. Engagement is declaring exclusivity and intention to get married but you have not entered into the covenant of marriage. Engagement is when you start doing marriage counseling, start being even more serious in your conversations about life and future.

    I think there are many marriages that should not have happened, but people went through with it because they were already engaged.

    • @kylelreed

      But when does the commitment happen or start?
      I think you are right, you are saying I exclusively love this person, but isn't that a commitment that you are making to stay that way and love them until you die?

      • adamrshields

        Commitment happens when the community recognizes the relationship. In betrothal that happened when the agreement was made. Today that happens in the marriage ceremony. It is just a ceremony, but it is the point when it is officially recognized.

    • Brett Barner

      Yeah, I don't agree with myself either… (See above for clarification)

      • adamrshields

        :) I often don't agree with myself

  • renewaltalent

    I think if you look at it in light of sin vs. not sin then that is what makes marriage and engagement very different.

    Engagement is a promise to pursue until it is no longer God's will. Marriage is the promise to stay because that IS God's will.

    • @kylelreed

      Explain your last statement more if you would?

      • renewaltalent

        Well, the question here really is: Is it a sin to break off an engagement?

        Marriage is a serious covenant relationship between a man and a woman under God which is not mean to be broken. If it's not God's will for a marriage to be broken then divorce is a sin. Also, God doesn't permit premarital sex and for good reason. Sex is meant to symbolize the oneness and intimacy of the man and woman in the way The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. An engaged couple is not yet one in the eyes of God and is not permitted to sleep together.

        To end a relationship that has not yet entered marriage before God might be the best choice for a couple if they realize it is not in God's will for them to marry. If it is not God's will for you to marry someone and you know it and do it anyway, then that would be a sin!

        Now, there are differences on the views of divorce. But that is for another discussion.

        • @kylelreed

          I think you hit the nail on the head. But don't tell everyone else, I am enjoying playing the devils advocate.

          • renewaltalent


  • Lex

    Assuming the engaged couple has honored God and each other by abstaining from sex, then no. I don't think it's the same.

    I don't think engagement is “practice time,” but it's a promise to marry. It's a time for each person to put their lives in order and plan the big day. It's painful for those who break it off, and it probably would have been better to not get engaged.

    But it's not the same as divorce because there haven't been “I do”s. When you get married you stand before God, family and friends and promise to be together from that day forward. And that night the couple “consummates” the marriage. Breaking that off is much different than a “Yes” to each other and an emotional attachment.

    In Matthew 19 Jesus talks about divorce in the context of sexual relationships. Breaking off an engagement doesn't have that context.

  • Andy Unnerstall

    I think a great parallel to this discussion is college sports recruiting. Engagement is like a verbal commitment, and marriage is when you sign your enrollment papers. It's okay to back out of that verbal commitment if it isn't the right fit.

    But I think their are two key differences between engagement and marriage: vows and consummation. With the vows, you make a binding commitment before God (and the law) and with consummation, you make a binding commitment with the other person with your soul (the two become one). So I don't see ending an engagement as breaking anything except someone's heart. That could be hurtful, but not necessarily wrong.

    • @kylelreed

      Going to your engagement and college sports recruiting (which is a fantastic parallel btw) doesn't it show the selfishness of the person. You know, saying I think I want you, then a nicer liking more attractive offer comes your way and you split. What does that say for commitment?

      • Andy Unnerstall

        This is started to sound suspiciously like a legalism vs. love argument. Technically, it's okay to break an engagement, but if you are an honorable and loving person, you would never get into a commitment you didn't intend to honor.

        I think all to often, we take such commitments much too lightly in our culture. And that extends past engagement all the way to marriage. We do have commitment problems.

        • @kylelreed

          We definitely have commitment problems.
          I think that is what is at the core of all of this…we commit (myself included) to things that we have a hard time following through on.
          I think that is my issue. If you are saying you are wanting to marry this person and buy a expensive ring to show that then you are pretty committed, but the follow through is difficult indeed.

  • kelly@Tabitha's Team

    Kyle, I think you are absolutely right that engagement should be viewed as a commitment. In that light, a person should take the thought of proposal very seriously before doing it. You are making a promise to get marrried. Breaking it off would be breaking a promise, but not a marriage vow.

    When you stand face to face with the other person, look into their eyes and make a vow before God, then you are in a different kind of commitment. It is a sacred moment like few others, and a vow you will have to remember and draw on years later when you are having a day when your spouse doesn't seem so lovable.

    This why an engaged couple should seek wise counsel about what this decision is going to mean in their lives. Adam is right – trial marriages don't work. However, this a time to discuss your beliefs about your roles in the marriage and plans for having or not having children. It is a time for listening to the experiences of others who reached that 12-15 year point that most divorces happen and made it through the other side.

    I don't think breaking a promise to marry is really a good thing, but do think the marriage vow is much more than a promise, and it is better to realize a problem before entering into this covenant.

    • @kylelreed

      well said

  • brennan loveless

    interesting thought here Kyle.

    In my mind, when i proposed to my (now) wife, i was asking her if she would commit to spending the rest of our lives together and (one day, in the near future) vow before friends, family, and more importantly God, that we would be seen as one in God's eyes.

    I think one has to consider what others are commenting on here about the cultural and societal issues. America is in no way culturally the same as the Biblical middle east, or even close to how other cultures today see Betrothal and engagement and marriage.

    I personally think it boils down to whether or not people in our “first world” society really understand what they are vowing to one another on their wedding day.

    I think that Ephesians 5: 22-32 is a great scripture for this post.

    • @kylelreed

      So are you saying that women should be silent?
      Just kidding….

      So if that commitment was met with a yes and then six months later you decided that you didn't want to get married, aren't you breaking your marriage commitment?

      • brennan loveless

        i think someone is realizing that they aren't ready for the commitment of being married. i think you're breaking a commitment to that person of getting married, but it's really not the same thing. i really like andy's college sports analogy.

  • Zac Cross

    I think they are light years apart. Marriage is a covenant till death do us part. Engagement is like a commitment to be married, but a lot of things can happen between saying, “yes, I will marry you!” and saying “I do!”

    They probaby both hurt, but breaking off an engagement is without a ton of the consequences divorce brings to the table.

    • @kylelreed

      Fair enough…
      So then why do we need engagements? At least why do we need engagement time?

      • Zac Cross

        I think the reason varies from couple to couple. For some they need time to plan go through the counseling etc. Plus, most people don't have the money to throw a wedding on the spot. However, I think most importantly, you owe it to your fiance to find out as much about each other and develop an understanding of what your marriage will be like.

        • @kylelreed

          good point here

    • Zac Cross

      P.s. Just an fyi, I had to post this from my blackberry because your disqus comments weren't accessible from ie6 which I am forced to use at work :(

      • @kylelreed

        That is great dedication on your part.
        Man I will be in prayer for you about the IE6 problem, that is like torture…I would quit if I was you.

  • Tyler Braun

    I'm going to say that absolutely not are they the same. Engagement is stating the desire to marry and the prepare the relationship specifically for the long term commitment. Is it a positive thing to break it off during engagement? No I think it speaks to rushing into it all too fast…but it can't be the same as marriage, because it isn't marriage.

    • @kylelreed

      I can't really argue with you here, but I will try…
      I do agree that it cannot be the same as marriage, but it is saying something about marriage. The commitment is what I struggle with. If you are stating that you are committed and want to get married (and I know this is a stretch because there is not marriage ceremony, etc…) but doesn't it mean that the commitment you are making with you proposal of engaging in marriage is stating that you are entering into a covenant relationship? Breaking that seems the same.

      • Tyler Braun

        So is this a Biblical mandate or more your opinion? Clearly the Bible had marriage in mind when it spoke about the problems with divorce. And clearly in our culture there is a major difference between marriage and engagement. I'm not saying breaking it off during an engagement is a great thing, but better to do it before it gets even more messy.

        • @kylelreed

          No I agree, I am just saying it to be that guy that questions everything.
          Really I just wanted to see what others were thinking.

  • @kylelreed

    I am looking for someone to take the opposite stance and say they are the same…so far no one. I will continue to play the devils advocate.

    • David

      I'd love to say they are the same just because holy arguing can be fun, but I think culture (like so many have mentioned) really does come into play here. We have this interim stage where two people determine to make a life long commitment, but if they realise that isn't really what should happen, then they have at least hopefully kept themselves pure (ish) for marriage later on.

      I will say that I treated engagement as having the same weight as marriage…and flew to the other side of the world to ask Diane's father for her hand in marriage (that was a crazy week if ever there was one). It was making a commitment not just to Diane but to her family as well.

      I can't imagine having asked her, and then her father, to marry and then deciding that was a mistake. Surely, that's what the time before engagement is for :)

      • @kylelreed

        See, now there is a point there.
        You went specifically out of your way to ask both father and future bride and then like you said, to break it off would be very tough.
        There is something there inside of that.

  • Rachel Held Evans

    Like I said on my blog, a commitment made to one another before God (vows) is a heck of a lot more serious than a commitment you make to one another before a jeweler or a caterer or family and friends (we're getting married!)

  • JenniClayville

    nope. engaged is NOT married. marriage is a vow and promise. engaged is headed TOWARDS marriage… but NOT married.

    you can break off your engagement to the point of RIGHT before you say “i do”.

    • @kylelreed

      That is a great definite answer.
      Love it.

      What about the couples that act like they are married when they get engaged? Is that okay to do, what is the difference?

  • Adam Smith

    nope not the same at all. no vow in front of God. the end.

    • @kylelreed

      I love the absolute of this. But I am with you…vow before God, not a vow on your knees is what counts.

  • bondChristian

    First off, Kyle, I love the discussion here.

    For the sake of argument (sorry, somehow I missed this in real time), I'll say they're the same. Or let me go slightly softer: they're not the same, but the commitment should be the same.

    Is Jesus married to the Church right now, or engaged? If He's married, why are we separate? I know His Spirit is with us, but I think it's fair to say we're still separate in a way. (See the beginning of John 14.) I think it's more realistic to say we're engaged.

    Assuming we're engaged, does that mean Jesus still has an option out of marrying us?

    My point is simply that engagement is more than promising to pursue marriage. Engagement is promising marriage.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

    • bondChristian

      I should have read original post again (after reading all the comments) before I posted. In the beginning of my comment when I'm saying “they” are the same, I mean engagement and marriage – the commitment to both is the same.

      -Marshall Jones Jr.

      • GForce Swan

        I was engaged to this woman for a few years then she left due to irreconcilable differences. 1 year later she went ahead and married another man. Does that mean she committed adultery? And that her Marraige is Null & Void? I did read online that in the Biblical days engagement was like Marraige. Would appreciate your insight on this. Thanks. Ricky

    • @kylelreed

      The commitment is what I think is the important thing. Not the same in and of that it is marriage, but the commitment is there.

  • David MacMillan III

    This is clearly an old discussion, but….

    I think people should go and get legally married once they’re engaged. That will just generally help.