Should we wait to get married until we're more established?

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Should we wait to get married until we're more established?

Mar 07, 2011 |Candice Watters
Question

My boyfriend and I have been dating for 10 months, and things are going quite well. Although we did not set out at the beginning of our relationship with marriage specifically in mind, we are now on the path toward marriage, of which we and both our families approve. A few months ago I came upon your website and started reading as much as I could, especially about relationships. Something particularly striking to me was an author's belief that if you can't see yourself married in a year, you should not enter into a relationship.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to agree, but I became worried since I was already three-fourths of the way into a year with my boyfriend and not sure if I was that much closer to marriage than when we first started the relationship. So now I'm at the point where I'm wondering, Should we pursue an ASAP marriage since we're already so close to a year or wait it out as best we can until we're in a better position?

Before it is said that one can never have a "perfect" position in which to get married, let me tell you about our current positions: 1) He's still a senior in high school. 2) He doesn't have a car (and neither do I) or job. 3) Neither of us have a great deal of money saved up. From all this, it seems pretty apparent to me that marriage is not in our near future, but I'm wondering, how soon should it be?

If we were just now starting our relationship I can imagine it would be much easier to wait a year, but as of now, I'm dying to be married to him. Although I know we still need some work, I feel very ready to be married. I would love to get married a few months after he graduates from high school; although, I know that may not be the wisest choice.

Should we sacrifice having more money and better jobs going into marriage, making it easier on us emotionally and sexually, or do we tough it out longer than we'd like, build up our resources and focus on developing ourselves individually?

Answer

The one-year timeline is a guideline, and a useful one at that, but it's not an absolute standard. As a guideline, it's helpful in two ways. Before you start dating, it's a hurdle to clear. We've said before on Boundless that if you don't see yourself being able to marry in a year (whether for reasons of age, health, finances, education, etc.) then you shouldn't be dating. Why a year? Because one year provides enough time to get to know if someone is a good choice for marriage, but not too much time that the relationship drifts into defrauding (1 Thessalonians 4:3) or sin. A timeline provides the momentum to keep moving forward toward the goal of a God-honoring marriage.

If, like you, a couple discovered the one-year guideline after the dating relationship was already underway, the first use of the timeline would be moot. In your case, if you'd read that article before you and your boyfriend started dating, you would have been able to consider waiting to start dating until he had graduated high school, found a job and purchased a car. All three of those things are necessary for a husband to be able to provide for a wife and family, so it makes sense that a man not pursue a woman until he's in a place to provide for her.

For the couple that is already dating, the one-year guideline is intended to motivate intentionality. You can date for recreation and fun, keeping everything open-ended and spontaneous, or you can date for the purpose of discerning if the one you're dating would make a good husband. Knowing the timeline for that inquiry can go a long way to keeping the process on track.

You must ask yourselves, "How far off the biblical standard have we been in our dating?" And, "Are there still changes we need to make to align with it?" Scott Croft outlines in helpful detail what that intentional path looks like in the Biblical Dating series. If the couple has been dating biblically, they may already be where they need to be to get married within a year of starting. But if they haven't, then the process should begin now. There is much ground to cover before you know if he will make a godly husband and if together you can make a godly, fruitful marriage. It's essential that you do the work of answering those questions and assessing your potential for marriage, his character, spiritual compatibility, etc. If that means your wedding will be a year and a half, or even two years after your first date, better to delay than make a hasty decision.

It's possible that someone with the means and maturity to be married in a year could misuse the one-year guideline to delay marriage for selfish or sinful reasons. But in your case, I think the opposite might be true if you're wanting to turn the guideline into a deadline. It would be a misuse of this guideline to rush into marriage just to be able to say you married within a year.

If you're dating the way so many in our culture do (though I hope you're not) then I suspect you're eager for one of two reasons: you've gone too far sexually and are eager to consummate your relationship (and are worried you won't make it much longer) or you're so tired of waiting to be sexually expressive that you're willing to get married for this one reason alone, even though it's clear marriage at this time would be premature.

Where does this leave you? If you'd come to me before you'd started dating, I would have suggested you wait, simply because at present, your boyfriend is still in high school. As it is, you've asked, "Should we sacrifice having more money and better jobs going into marriage, making it easier on us emotionally and sexually, or do we tough it out longer than we'd like and build up our resources, and focus on developing ourselves individually?"

You can't sacrifice what you don't have. Marriage isn’t an option until you're in a position where he is earning a living (and that requires graduating from high school, and may also require a college degree or technical training or an apprenticeship). In the meantime, I think it would be wise to turn down the heat on your relationship. (For more on that, see Scott Stanley's Boiling Pot metaphor.) I know it's not ideal, but it's wise. And you're both still very young. It's no secret we're for early marriage on Boundless, but marriages between teenagers still have a much higher risk of divorce; a risk that will abate if you simply wait a bit longer. (According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, it's those who are very young when they marry – under 18 – who are at a significantly higher risk for divorce.)

Now some equal time for early marriage, something I've talked about before. In "Should my daughter complete college before marrying?," I wrote,

Another study led by Norval Glenn at the University of Texas found that when bride and groom are between 22 and 25, and they stay married to each other, they have the happiest marriages. The point of the study was not to identify the "it" age for getting married, as much as to show that intentionally delaying marriage beyond the mid-20s does nothing for improving a couple's shot at marital satisfaction.In "Did I Get Married Too Young?" columnist David Lapp writes about all this and more, explaining why he and his young bride, 22 and 21 respectively, did the right thing getting married when they did. A couple weeks back, Steve and I went to the Focus on Marriage simulcast where more than one speaker mentioned the likelihood that some of the couples in the audience got married because they wanted to have sex. As long as you're no longer a teenager, the desire to remain sexually pure is a great reason to get married. Marriage is God's design, not least as an aid to holiness.

Having to wait isn't bad news. It won't be easy to date that long, but if you date biblically, it's possible. And if you submit your relationship to Christ's lordship, and obey His commands about relational, emotional and sexual purity, He will be able to use the time of waiting to refine you both. And that refinement will be a gift in marriage.

I pray you'll have the courage and wisdom, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do what's right and to conduct yourselves in ways that are pleasing to the Lord. I pray your parents will all rally to support you in your efforts, providing the needed guidance and protection from temptation. And I pray that through it all, God will be glorified.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2011 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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