My parents are encouraging me to wait to marry. Do I have to obey them?

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My parents are encouraging me to wait to marry. Do I have to obey them?

Aug 31, 2009 |Candice Watters
Question

I'm a 20-year-old girl, living with my fiancé, who I've been dating for the past three years and living with for the past two years. We plan to be married in two years once I've finished my university degree.

My parents aren't Christians, and they aren't happy about me wanting to get married at such a young age. They love my fiancé, they'd just rather I put off marriage and childbearing till my 30s, but at the very least, they want us to wait until after I've finished my university degree to get married. They also are adamant that we live together so we can see if we're compatible before marriage. You can probably see where this is going. We've fallen into sexual sin several times.

Basically, my question has to do with how we can convince my parents that it is a good idea for us to marry now. I can't think of any reasons they'd agree with, as they don't see any problems with premarital sex. It's really important to us that my parents are happy, and I don't want to dishonor them by going against their wishes. We really want to honor God, and honor my parents, but I just think two years is too long, and I'm worried we may sin again. Any ideas?

Answer

It sounds like your parents want you to have a meaningful relationship. And they're encouraging you to do what the conventional wisdom says is a wise path to marriage: test the relationship by living together. They're also against early marriage, again going with the current trend to delay marriage because it seems that later marriages are more likely to be satisfying and less likely to end in divorce.

But their good intentions aren't enough. Their worldly wisdom is clashing with your conscience. Because you know Jesus, and presumably are studying Scripture — His revealed will for our lives — you know your highest authority isn't them, but God, and God has revealed a plan for relationships, sex and marriage that's opposite of what they're asking you to do. This makes for a lot of gut-wrenching angst.

So what should you do?

The first thing is to resolve to do what's right. Not right in the world's, or even your parent's, eyes. But what's right by God. I know you want to honor your parents and that's praiseworthy. Scripture is clear that we're to do no less. But doing what they're asking you to do, when what they're asking you to do is sin, is not honor. It's idolatry. You're putting your parents' desires — in your words, their happiness — above God. You're doing what they want even though it goes against what God wants.

The good news is that you can obey God and honor your parents by respectfully explaining why you're making plans for marriage (sooner rather than later). How you tell them of your new plans has everything to do with honoring them as your parents. Be firm, but respectful — and remember, you're no longer a child (I wrote at length about this in my column "Am I dishonoring my parents by desiring marriage?"). Let them know you appreciate their concern for your well-being and future. Then help them see that what they think is a path to a good relationship may well end in heartache. Here's help for that:

There is much evidence that changing your circumstances — moving out for starters — will be best for your soul and your future marriage (whether to this man or another). Since your parents aren't believers, I'll start with sociology. If they're going to be persuaded, it's likely research, and not the Scriptures, that will convince them.

The evidence says that what you're doing — living together while unmarried — may have harmful effects on you once you do marry. Noted marriage researcher Scott Stanley is the foremost expert on the consequences of cohabiting. His research is conclusive: Living together and acting like you're married before you really are is a set up for future troubles, including:

  1. People who lived together before marriage have a higher rate of divorce than those who did not live together.
  2. People who lived together before marriage have more negative communication in their marriages than those who did not live together.
  3. People who lived together before marriage have lower levels of marital satisfaction than those who did not live together.
  4. Infidelity during marriage is more common among people who lived together prior to marriage than those who did not.
  5. Physical aggression is more common among married individuals who lived together before marriage than those who did not

You can read his article "Myths of Living Together," as well as our interview with him for more details.

There's some new research out that shows that delaying marriage past 25 — simply because 30 is a better/more appropriate/more mature age — is a myth. Turns out that after the mid-20s, there's no benefit to waiting. Still, more and more people are waiting. But to what end?

In a report called "With This Ring ..." researcher and professor Dr. Norval Glenn (University of Texas, Austin) noted some downsides to later marriage that, he said, would be worth looking at further. Thankfully, he did. And he's just released a paper that includes his findings. In "Later First Marriage and Marital Success" he reports,

The findings of this study do indicate that for most persons, little or nothing in the way of marital success is likely to be gained by deliberately delaying marriage beyond the mid twenties. For instance, a 25 year old person who meets an excellent marriage prospect would be ill-advised to pass up that opportunity only because he/she feels not yet at the ideal age for marriage. Furthermore, delaying marriage beyond the mid twenties will lead to the loss during a portion of young adulthood of any emotional and health benefits that a good marriage would bring (Waite and Gallagher, 2000). On the other hand, it is extremely important to stress that the findings of this study should not lead anyone of any age to panic and thus make a bad choice of a spouse.

I doubt your parents want to increase the possibility that you'll disagree, be unsatisfied, have affairs and divorce. More likely, they just don't know how destabilizing living together can be. Most people today don't.

Though couples think they're keeping their options open by not getting married, they're really limiting their options and, as Scott Stanley says, "sliding" into marriage, rather than "deciding" to make the commitment. Your parents see this is a test of your compatibility, but what it really is, is practice for divorce. They say "live together and if it proves you're not a good fit, you can move out." They want you to have a back door mentality — there's always a way out. After four years of this, you will have gotten really good at this sort of thinking.

It will be really hard at that point to make a covenant with the same man you've been "trying out." How can you go from, "I'll leave if it gets hard/bad/not fun," to "no matter what happens, this is forever, no way out." They're asking you to do the impossible. It's contradictory.

But even if the research doesn't convince them, you, as a Christ follower, have reasons beyond research to stop living with your fiancé and make plans to marry. God has revealed His design for us in His Word. And His design requires that we get married before we have sex. It's a protection He put in place as our loving Father. He loves us perfectly. Our earthly parents are only a dim reflection of Him (as your own situation so aptly illustrates).

We're not just supposed to obey our parents, but also God (Deuteronomy 32:45-47). And it's your obedience to Him that is most important. If you love Jesus, you will want to obey Him (John 14:15). Because Jesus came as a man, He understands how tempting it can be to disobey (Hebrews 4:15) and He's promised He will pray for you (Romans 8:34) and provide a way to escape the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Not only does He do all this, but He also promises that the reward for your obedience will be great, saying, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).

I pray for you the courage to follow Him, peace that passes understanding, and wisdom. May God use you — and your journey to marriage — to guard your future family and point your parents to Him!

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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