This is Part 2 of a three-part series for young twenty-something couples pondering marriage – and those who love them. Please pass Part 1 and this Part 2 along to someone who needs it and encourage them to sign up for this blog to see Part 3 as well.
I want to tell you about two young couples.
Couple A: One of my team members can’t stop talking about the wedding she attended recently in Texas. Her 24-year-old niece tied the knot – cheered on by dozens of other twentysomethings who raved about the couple’s example of devotion to God and each other. To use her words: “You might question whether they ‘should’ get married young … but every person in their inner circle – parents, pastors, siblings, and friends – said this couple was ready to step forward with faith and confidence to the altar.”
Couple B: I know a thirtysomething couple who have been dating since they were in their mid-twenties. They have a child together, are living together, and thus have more reason than most to consider marriage. But they are hesitating. “I’m not sure we’re ready for something that big” she explained to me. “How can we know this will last a lifetime? Better to wait.”
“Should we get married young – or wait until we are older?” As I shared in the previous blog, there’s probably no “right” or “wrong” answer to that specific question. Both marrying young or marrying later can be right and good, and both come with challenges. God has to lead each of us in the unique calling he has for us.
One of the ways young couples can sense His leading is to consider hidden relationship roadblocks – sneaky assumptions that can get in the way – and think, pray about, and talk through them through in advance. Based on our research over the years, here are eight that are very common. Can you make the shift from the “roadblock” assumption to the healthier action? If so, you’re well on your way to the mature outlook that makes a lifelong, happy marriage possible.
Roadblock #1: “Romance has to look like a rom-com”
Action: Check your expectations
Every one of us has seen (and probably enjoyed!) those romantic comedy tropes. You know what I mean, right? A couple’s obvious attraction unfolds, and the comic-relief bestie sidekick brings the humor while madcap misadventures, the jealous ex, or concerned parent threatens to get in the way of their “true love.” Finally (right about the 100-minute mark) plot tension resolves with “the kiss,” which, of course, leads to a happily-ever-after ending.
Many of us love those cotton-candy romcoms, yet we don’t realize they are subconsciously skewing our ideas of what relationships really looks like. By rom-com rules, “true love” hurtles toward the perfect person and perfect moment – all set, of course, in a perfect Tuscan vineyard.
We have to check our expectations – including our checklists. Is he tall and handsome? Godly and a great dancer? An animal lover and a witty intellectual? A great listener and a fitness buff? Subconsciously seeking perfection in your significant other (or your actual spouse) is setting yourself up for failure!
Married couples have many opportunities to decide to love their imperfect partner (just as their partner will get to decide to love them in their imperfections, too). You don’t see that in the movies, but it is a huge part of marriage. No one is perfect, no matter what age or stage of life they are in. Financial stresses, insensitive comments, hurt feelings, and mood swings may not make the highlight reel – but these are things that help couples understand how to rely on God, trust one another’s intentions, build their character, and grow stronger together.
For example, I think about “Couple B” I mentioned earlier. I’ve watched them learn to fight well, parent together well, and grow their patience and kindness with each other. They are far more “ready” for marriage than many others, and yet I think something in them holds back from the great and the good out of a concern that they don’t see the perfect.
Roadblock #2: “We’re not ready for the challenges of marriage”
Action: Don’t make marriage harder than it is
Some couples are indeed not ready for the challenges of marriage. If that’s true, please know it’s a good thing to wait. Give yourself that space.
But if the special person you’re dating might be the one, remember that marriage can be challenging no matter who and when we marry. Instead of using this roadblock as an excuse not to marry, young couples can and should plan for the challenges they’ll face.
One of the most vital tools is purposeful pre-marital counseling. Working through your church’s pre-marital program can help identify what you care about, and how you’ll handle crucial factors like conflict, in-laws, finances, and parenting. It can help you talk through how each of you think and feel in all sorts of ways, so you know each other better. (That’s why some counselors recommend my books For Women Only and For Men Only as roadmaps for helping couples understand each other.)
A young couple may have a few more challenges because they’re marrying young – but challenges can be worked through! We never want challenges, of course, but that is something else romantic comedies miss: There is something beautiful about a marriage that has gone through the fire and come out strong on the other side.
Roadblock #3: “We haven’t been dating long enough”
Action: Realize that a few months probably is not long enough to make a decision – but a few years probably is
Being “ready” is actually more about readiness for a decision about marriage than a magic feeling of being 100% ready for marriage itself. It turns out that how long you date before marrying may be just as important for marital stability as whether you get married old or young. An Emory University study of 3,000 people examined all sorts of wedding and marriage-related issues. But one crucial finding is essential for young couples to know. As a Business Insider article summarized it:
“When compared against couples who’d dated for one year, couples who dated one to two years had about a 20% lower chance of divorcing. When those couples were compared to those who dated for three or more years, the likelihood of divorce decreased by about 50%.”
So: have you been dating two or three years? Long enough to get to know one another and discuss all those “issues?” If so, don’t be afraid of the “age” number. The “years of dating” number may be just as important – or more.
Roadblock #4: “We’re not financially stable”
Action: Make a plan – but don’t let finances stop you
As mentioned in last week’s Part 1 on the big-picture truths about getting married young, this is one roadblock I hear constantly from young unmarried couples – and even older ones. I tend to do lots of random interviews with people, and a 26-year-old man next to me in the long airport security line mentioned that he’d been with his girlfriend for about five years. Curious, I asked if they were headed toward marriage. He said, “I’d like to be, but there’s no way I can propose yet. We have too much student debt.” He said his girlfriend hinted toward marriage, but he felt there was no way he could legitimately ask her when “I’m still in my first job and I can’t provide enough finances for her. We’d barely be able to afford a wedding.”
Being aware of finances and having a good plan is obviously important. But for thousands of years, young couples have stepped into great marriages with only the barest of financials. If this truly is the person you feel God has for you, consider whether you should be waiting on what is most important (beginning your marriage together) simply because of something less important (your finances) that the two of you will be figuring out together as you go anyway.
So. Take a look at these first four roadblock assumptions, and the actions. Talk about them. And then come back next week for the final four roadblocks in this series in Part 3.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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