Teen-Age Marriage—How Wise?
LOOKING back on her decision to marry, one woman explained: “I was eighteen and I thought he was the most eligible man I had ever met.” But was she herself truly prepared for marriage? Why did she want to marry? She later admitted: “I had just decided that getting married was a passport to the adult world.”
Few thoughtful people would fail to realize the immaturity reflected in this outlook. With matter as serious as marriage, what is the likely outcome when such thinking is the basis for one’s decision? Often it is unhappiness and divorce.
The nature of the demands, adjustments and responsibilities involved in marriage calls upon one to manifest maturity and balance, along with love. You can probably recall a number of acquaintances who married in their twenties or thirties yet who did not display these qualities—with divorce later resulting. What, then, might be expected when those marrying are still in their teen-age years?
In 1970 a professor of family sociology commented: “Research studies show that, in general, teen-age marriages are characterized by a high divorce or unhappiness rate compared with marriages at later age.” Another study indicated that women who marry between sixteen and eighteen years of age and men who marry under twenty-two “showed a high proportion of poor adjustment” to marriage.
Why might that be so? The book Marriage for Moderns observed: “In making marriage successful there is probably no single factor more important than maturity.” And it takes time to acquire mental, physical and emotional maturity.
But does not the law in many lands permit teen-agers to marry, such as when the girl is sixteen and the boy is eighteen? Yes, in many countries that is the case. But often the authorities permit marriage at the minimum ages only if the parents give written consent. Another age, such as twenty-one, may be set where the couple lacks parental consent. This emphasizes that the parents must bear responsibility for permitting their youngsters to marry when the likelihood of their having the maturity needed for marriage is much less. If the results are bad, the parents thus share the blame.
True, in certain areas young people are viewed as ready for marriage soon after they become physically capable of reproduction, and divorces may be quite rare. Yet, note the point that the book Growth makes: “In primitive societies, the years of childhood offer all the learning time an individual needs to fit into his culture. As a result, sexual maturity and social maturity are reached almost simultaneously.” Usually a teen-ager in these areas lives and works as part of an agricultural society, which in many ways helps him to mature. He observes the biological realities of life—reproduction, growth, sickness and death. He experiences the effects of drought, storm and wind. It has been said that such things “discipline him as man-made laws could never do.”
In this connection we may note that, though the Bible contains examples of relatively young persons marrying with success, they too were in an agricultural society. Also, they were under the patriarchal arrangement, wherein even a married man with children continued to live with and receive guidance from his aged father.
However, are things the same with many teen-agers today? The book Growth adds: “In modern industrialized societies, the situation is very different. These complex cultures demand complex skills and complex behavior . . . The time lapse between sexual and social maturity is therefore long.”
For example, a teen-age husband may well find that the problem of supporting a wife and children subjects the marriage to tremendous strains. As to employment, experience shows that teen-agers are usually the last ones hired and the first ones fired.
Also complicating the matter is the fact that, in societies where individuals choose their own mates, sexual attraction tends to be a determining factor in teen-age marriages. One book on youth said: “The ability of a member of the opposite sex to inspire romance seems now to be the primary criterion for mate selection. Yet this quality alone is a highly speculative element on which to found a permanent and satisfactory marriage.”
The Bible too bears out the inadvisability of a young person’s jumping into marriage as soon as he or she feels the first rush of sexual interest. The apostle Paul said that it is not wrong for a Christian to marry, if that one “thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth.” (1 Cor. 7:36) Here Paul uses the Greek word hyperakmos (from hyper, beyond, and akme, highest point, full bloom of a flower). If the period of that primary surge of desire is past, a person is in position to evaluate his or her feelings and situation more objectively.
‘But do not some teen-age marriages succeed?’ you may question. Definitely. For instance, a fifty-five-year-old man who married when he and his wife were teenagers said: “If I had it to do over again, I’d do it just the same.” Yet before you assume that this will be the result in your case, look into the background. This man was raised in the country, and by the time he reached his late teens he and his brother were responsible for running a farm. Others who successfully married while young had grown up with much responsibility in caring for many brothers and sisters. However, how many teen-agers have had comparable maturing experience?
Consequently, parents and young persons alike should not be impetuous when it comes to favoring a teen-age marriage. While some teen-age marriages have succeeded, in today’s complex society many more have been marked by unhappiness and divorce. Marriage is a divine institution—God originated it—but it is no panacea for human ills. It is only as good as the persons in it. If happiness and success are to be gained, the two involved should be mature persons, ones who have their feet firmly set on life’s pathway.