Can you marry too young?

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Can you marry too young?

Jun 08, 2009 |Candice Watters
Question

I have read many of your articles encouraging young men and women not to delay marriage, and I agree with them. I bemoan how Christians are standing selfishly with the world, devaluing marriage and families when the Bible makes it clear how much God values both; in Ephesians 5, marriage is compared to the relationship between Christ and the Church, and children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127).

A couple of months ago, I ended a relationship with a very godly young man from my church back home. We had been friends before I moved away, and shortly before I moved he told me that he had been observing my character and was interested in starting a courtship with me to explore the possibility of marriage.

Fast forward a few months. We talked on the phone for a few hours every night, and he wanted me to move back to my hometown to start marriage counseling. I really felt like he was rushing things, and that I am not ready to get married. I am 19. But because he was not willing to be patient, I concluded that it was best to end the relationship.

I agree that we should not delay marriage. But I also think it is unhealthy to get married too young. Given the structure of our society, how young is too young? How soon can one be practically expected to get married?

Answer

This is a good and insightful question. And given how much time we spend on Boundless emphasizing the importance of not delaying marriage, it's good to revisit the flip side of rushing it. So thanks for providing that opportunity.

In your case, I think you were right to delay marriage to this man. It sounds like his impatience, especially given your young age, was a noteworthy red flag. I'm glad you didn't ignore that. I do wonder, though, if maybe he thought you were more ready to move toward marriage than you did because you were spending so much time talking with him on the phone. Maybe next time around you should keep the phone calls short and write more letters.

That's not to say nothing will ever come of your relationship. Maybe it will. Or maybe not. It depends on why you moved away (for school?), the difference in age between you (is he 19, too?), what your parents and mentors say about the two of you together (are they supportive?), and how he responded to your desire to break things off. If he is godly man, a mature believer, then it's quite possible that he will be willing to wait for you to finish school (if that's why you left home), or even move to where you are so you can marry while you're working on your degree. Maybe you can give it another go when you're 20.

I say that because statistically, marriages entered into by teenagers are more prone to end in divorce. It's not inevitable, but more likely. And anything you can do to make your marriage more divorce-proof is a good thing (especially in our divorce crazy culture). However, while research has demonstrated value in waiting until after the teen years to get married, that same research hasn't shown that the likelihood of marrying well will continue to improve with every year you wait. In fact the opposite is true. Dr. Norval Glenn from the University of Texas found that couples who marry after 28 report a lower level of marital satisfaction than those who marry younger. He speculated that this may be the result of couples dealing with the adjustment from living independently for a longer period of time.

(Note to those of you reading who are still waiting and hoping to marry in your 30s and beyond: this is not to say you can't marry well and be satisfied in your marriage. Just that researchers are beginning to notice tradeoffs that may have been previously overlooked when people remain independent longer.)

In the end, delay — even by 19-year-olds — can put wear and tear on your heart the same way it can when you're much older. And young marriage isn't the bane so many try to make it out to be.

Is there a magic age to marry? That's the question Steve (Watters) asked in the Boundless Line blog a few years back. "Often the best answer to the question, 'When should I get married?'" he wrote, "is 'as soon as you are prepared to accept the responsibility of a lifelong commitment to someone you love.'"

In the Touchstone article, "Unmarried, Still Children," Joan Frawley Desmond talks about the downside of "children who've been raised for everything but marriage."

She explains that the covenantal vows are what cement husband and wife together, guiding them into deeper maturity. She writes,

In marriage, particularly a sacramental union, the husband and wife publicly anchor their relationship in three vows: of permanence, of faithfulness, and of fruitfulness. Though most young people enter marriage without fully understanding what is ahead, the vows guide them in developing necessary virtues: perseverance, temperance, courage, justice, and humility. The challenges keep coming—sickness, financial difficulties, family crises—and the vows help to lift the spouses over each hurdle....
Marital vows guide human desire toward "loving" instead of "using," as Pope John Paul II has noted. Without the vows, couples are under no compulsion to back up their feelings with actions. They can invent their own set of expectations in which selfishness is normalized and tests of character are repelled with few consequences.

It's ultimately that selfishness — not the youth or advanced age of the two when they wed — that drives a couple to divorce.

The best approach to getting married, whatever your age, is to be intentional in how you conduct your relationship, including avoiding the temptation to languish, pursuing the support of a Christian community, keeping a commitment to purity and seeking the best interest of the other. In the end, what matters most is not age, but the faith of bride and groom and their commitment to the selfless sacrifice set forth in Ephesians 5.

May God guide you in all truth.

Sincerely
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

If you have a question you'd like us to consider for this column, please send it to editor@boundless.org. Please note that all questions we select for this column may be edited for clarity and privacy and become the property of Focus on the Family.

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