This will be a three-part series for young twenty-something couples pondering marriage – and those who love them. Please pass this Part 1 along to someone who needs it and encourage them to sign up for this blog so they see the very practical elements of Part 2 and Part 3.
Speaking at a women’s event recently, I talked with a young woman who married at age 20, in part because her husband was joining the military. They walked through a difficult first five years, and while she was thankful they were finally doing better, she wondered aloud, “Should we have gotten married so young?” She said, “All my friends are afraid to get married, and they are waiting so long. But maybe we did it wrong?”
“Should we get married young? Or should we wait?
Maybe you’ve wondered the same things. As I told this young wife, I’m not sure there’s a “right” or a “wrong” here. But there is a need for any couple, especially those who are less experienced, to make decisions about their relationships based on good information, wisdom, and prayer – and never based on fear.
If you are a twenty-something couple who might be a bit fearful about marriage (or if you love someone who is) you need to know: Being young doesn’t mean that “to have and to hold” has to remain on hold. If you’re stepping into God’s best for you, and you know that means marriage, then everything else – including age – becomes secondary. Millions of “young” marriages are wonderful and last a lifetime.
At the same time, it is crucial to confront some common roadblocks and ideas about marriage that can cause problems for the marriage or unnecessarily prevent you from taking that step.
Based on our research and other research done over the years, Part 1 of this series will share some bigger picture truths, while Parts 2 and 3 will dive into the actual roadblocks and the practical solutions. (As noted above, if you are not already a subscriber to this blog, please sign up in order to automatically receive Parts 2 and 3.)
Truth #1: People are indeed waiting longer to get married.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1947 the estimated median age to get married for the first time was 23.7 for men and 20.5 for women. Seventy-five years later, the picture is radically different. In 2022 the median age of marriage was 30.1 for men and 28.2 for women.
Why are people waiting longer? Are young adults maturing more slowly? Seeking adventure and independence before committing to marriage? Skeptical about marriage as in institution? Making a choice to cohabit before (and perhaps instead of) getting married?
According to various studies, the reason likely includes all of the above factors (and others) to varying degrees. And certain reasons for waiting are not all bad.
Truth #2: Waiting can provide some benefits.
I unpacked this in an earlier blog, but briefly: the trend of “adulting” and maturing for a few more years before marriage provides some benefits. There is something protective about having enough experience to see the pitfalls ahead with clear eyes. Some younger couples face intense challenges simply because they went into marriage expecting everything to be puppies and rose petals, and hadn’t thought through how to handle challenges.
The young woman I met at that event, and her husband, fell into that category. After the wedding they realized they had drastically different expectations for big issues like the frequency of sex, how to handle money, and how to handle communication while he was deployed. And at age 20 and 22, they simply weren’t sure how to handle the disconnects. There were lots of fights while they figured it out. She realized they could have prevented much of that hardship if they had purposefully talked through certain things in advance.
Because of that dynamic, it is sobering but important to know that getting married at younger ages is associated with higher divorce rates. This doesn’t mean your marriage has a higher risk of divorce – especially if you think through some of the roadblocks and key factors ahead of time! But overall divorce rates rise for people who marry early, and fall for those who marry a bit later. In fact, according to one landmark study, at least 60% of the ongoing decline in the U.S. divorce rate is due to the fact that people are, on average, getting married at older ages.
So yes, there are some benefits to waiting. But that’s not the end of the story.
Truth #3: Some aspects of waiting can cause problems, too.
In some cases, waiting can actually introduce issues that didn’t need to be there.
For instance, many couples describe a spiral of doubt that creeps in when they have been dating for years and are still saying things like, “We should wait until we’re ready” or “until we’re financially stable” or “until we’re sure.” While it is indeed vital to be sure you’re “ready” to make a lifelong commitment (more on that in Parts 2 and 3), young couples need to know: There is no one magic “readiness for marriage” line that you cross simply because you have a certain bank balance or have reached a certain threshold of “closeness.” Many people wait and wait for that magic, sparkling feeling … rather than recognizing that at some point many of us just have to make a wise decision.
For all couples (not just young ones), the key is more about being ready to make that decision – even if you end up continuing to wait on the actual engagement for logistical reasons (e.g. because one of you is working on a degree or has a year on a job contract in a different state). If you feel unable to make a decision after a number of years of purposeful dating, don’t see clear signs that you’ll ever feel comfortable doing so, and/or perhaps see certain red flags that are causing you to hesitate, that should be a signal to look closer at the relationship and seek wise counsel about whether to move forward or step away.
Another issue that can arise during a long period of waiting is the temptation to just move in together. Cohabiting may seem on the surface to be a reasonable way to determine if this could indeed be a lifetime relationship. Yet it’s not just the Bible that cautions against that temptation. Studies find that couples who cohabit first are more likely, not less, to get divorced later. Last year I wrote about study demonstrating that you will likely have a much better and happier relationship if you get married than if you cohabit. (I’ll be sharing an updated blog on this topic at some point.)
Here’s the bottom line: A young couple should never marry simply for the sake of getting married. But if a young couple is moving toward a lifetime commitment with maturity and wisdom, they should not necessarily hold themselves back either. Rather, what they should do – I would argue, must do – is consider the roadblocks that might be getting in their way, the issues that might lie ahead, and address them one by one. That is what we will cover in Part 2 and 3.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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More from Shaunti’s Blog:
- 8 Relationship Roadblocks that Sabotage Young Couples – Part 1
- How Kind Are You?
- Should Men Hold the Door? (Or Lift the Suitcase?)
- More Money Won’t Help Your Marriage – But These Habits Will
- Turn up the Heat this Valentine’s Day (and Every Day) with Better…Conversation?
- What Hollywood Gets Wrong about Sex– and What Couples Can Do Right
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