Young People Ask . . .
How Wise Is a Teenage Marriage?
MARRIAGE is not a game. “A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh,” according to the Bible. A husband and wife are to forge a permanent bond, closer than with any other human.—Genesis 2:24.
Is that how you view marriage? If so, then you can see the wisdom of ‘looking before you leap,’ for your marriage mate could be someone you will stick to—or be stuck with—for the rest of your life! Is teenage marriage for you? As we have learned, many such marriages brought pain rather than pleasure. What makes the difference?
What Do You Expect?
“We had a very poor idea of what marriage was,” explained one teenage girl in the Midwestern United States. “We thought we could come and go, do as we pleased, do or not do the dishes, but it isn’t that way.” There are not only dirty dishes to wash but also clothes and a house to keep clean. Sickness, with accompanying doctor bills, can be devastating. “Many teenagers get married to play house. Oh, it looks like such fun! You think of a child as a little doll, something that is so cute and that you can just play with, but that’s not the way it is,” confessed Vicky, who married as a teenager and gave birth to her first child at 20. A 16-year-old mother described the agony of being “stuck in the house” with a child that “cried for five months straight.” She said: “I thought I’d lose my mind.”
Even more difficult is trying to become “one flesh” with a different personality (which may even change from day to day) and trying to provide for the needs of that one’s heart. At times this seems impossible! “Those who [marry] will have tribulation in their flesh,” stated the apostle Paul. How true! Yes, “tribulation,” or “pain and grief.”—1 Corinthians 7:28; The New English Bible.
Though “tribulation in the flesh” puts a strain on every marriage, the inexperience of most teenagers and often their unrealistic expectations make their marriages especially vulnerable. While not all youthful marriages crumble under such pressures, those that succeed must hurdle the greatest obstacle to successful teenage marriage—immaturity.
“We Grew Up”—And Apart
Nine-year-old Raymond knows the qualities of a good wife. “First she has to like pizza. Then she has to like cheese cake. After that she has to like fudge candy,” he said. “Then I know our marriage will last forever.” Obviously, his concepts are subject to change! “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe,” wrote the apostle Paul. “But now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.”—1 Corinthians 13:11.
But have all teens put away “the traits of a babe” when it comes to choosing a mate? Maureen, mentioned in the previous article, recalls: “I was in love with Don. He was so handsome, so strong, such a good athlete and very popular. I thought, ‘Boy, if I get him I’m really going to have a catch.’ His looks and his status as a football star were what were important to me then. Our marriage had to work.” But it collapsed within two years.
It was after her marriage that Maureen grew up emotionally. She developed totally different needs and values. “Suddenly, we realized that our life goals were miles apart,” explained Maureen. “We grew up. I now realized that I needed someone I could relate to intellectually. But Don’s whole life was sports. The things that I thought were so important at 18 suddenly meant nothing to me.” With time and patience persons can grow and yet still learn to love and care for their marriage mate. Yet how much anguish could be avoided by postponing marriage and working first to put away fully “the traits of a babe,” becoming “full-grown in powers of understanding.” This will also help you to overcome a major complaint of youthful couples.—1 Corinthians 14:20.
The most intense problem of 48 teenage couples who were interviewed after three months of marriage was “spending family income”—more difficult even than child training and in-law problems. After nearly three years, 37 of these couples were asked the same question. Money problems again—and their anguish was even worse!
“What fun can you get out of life,” asked Bill, “when you never have enough money to buy the things you need to make you content? Sure, money isn’t everything, but when you don’t have enough to last from one payday to another, it can start lots of fights and unhappiness.” Teenagers often have the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest wages. “Because I couldn’t provide for my family, we had to live with my parents,” admitted Roy, who married at 18. “This created real tension, especially since we had a child as well.”
“Prepare your work out of doors, and make it ready for yourself in the field,” recommends the Bible. “Afterward you must also build up your household.” (Proverbs 24:27) In Bible times men worked the fields to provide for the needs of their family. They were to prepare the ground with crops and raise livestock so as to support themselves and a family, and then, after such preparations, ‘build up a household,’ or marry and have children. Would not such similar preparation today eliminate much heartache after marriage?
However, whether a couple has enough money is often not so much a matter of paycheck size as it is of their values, ideals and expectations. One study revealed that “teenagers expected to be able to purchase immediately for their projected family units many of the items that probably had taken their parents years to acquire.” To get these, many plunged into debt after marriage. In 1977, 65 percent of family heads under 25 years of age in the United States were saddled with installment debts. These payments consumed over 20 percent of the annual income of one out of six of these—a greater proportion than any other age group and over twice the national average. Many teenage newlyweds still struggle with heavy financial debts.
“Buying everything new and paying off installment bills would have wrecked us,” stated James. As mentioned in the previous article, he and Ann have had a successful marriage though they married as teenagers. “But we didn’t buy anything new. Much of our furniture was hand-me-downs from some of our friends and our parents. Though nothing we had was really, really nice, it was adequate. In time we bought some new items by saving for them.” Ann, reared by moderately wealthy parents, found that “always scrimping and saving” was a real adjustment.
“But I determined,” confessed Ann, “that I was not going to force my husband into debt or cause him to work more to have new things as I had seen some of my girl friends do to their husbands. I had been taught by my mom to sew and she gave us a sewing machine. I made most of James’ clothing. We found that we could concentrate on the important things, especially our worship, which drew us close together.” Yes, this young couple had the maturity to be content with “sustenance and covering” and had put away “the traits of a babe,” not thinking that happiness comes from material things.—1 Timothy 6:8-10.
‘I Have Tribulation Now!’
“I knew that having sex before marriage was wrong, so my primary reason for getting married was for sex, though I would never have admitted this to anyone,” confessed Roy, who married at 18. Some teenagers seeking marriage may even point to 1 Corinthians 7:9, which reads: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.” But in 1Co 7 verse 36 the apostle Paul recommends marriage when one has passed “the bloom of youth.”
During the teenage years the sexual desires bloom and become very strong. However, after this initial surge the sexual desires subside, just as a flower that reaches full bloom will begin to wilt. If you marry during “the bloom of youth,” it can distort your reasons for marriage and blind you to certain negative qualities in a prospective mate. For instance, Roy, whose marriage ended in divorce in three years, added: “After I got married I found out that the great thrill of sex wears off very soon and then we started having some real problems.”
The previously mentioned study of 48 teenage couples found that, after financial problems, most arguments were over sex relations. Marriage certainly did not solve all problems. Satisfying sexual relations within marriage are the result of unselfish consideration by persons who have developed self-control. Therefore, by learning to control your desires and showing unselfishness in your life as a single person, you will be preparing for a happy marriage.—1 Corinthians 7:3, 4.
So, is a teenage marriage a wise decision? If you are considering it, look at the charts on pages 14, 15. Based on numerous case histories, it shows what your chances could be for marital satisfaction.
Marriage is a decision you may have to live with the rest of your life. Certainly a teenage marriage is no crime. But how much wiser to test the strength of your love by waiting and being sure that you have developed the inner resources needed to cope with marriage.
[Chart on page 19]
Forecast of Marital Satisfaction
Characteristic Poorest Intermediate Best
1. Pregnancy Premarital No premarital Pregnancy
pregnancy pregnancy, delayed until
pregnancy at least one
immediately year following
2. Acquaintance Less than One year, at Several years,
before six months, least, with with at least
marriage no engagement at least six six months of
period months of engagement or
engagement or understanding
understanding to marry
3. Personality Generally poor Mixed Generally
dynamics interpersonal competent in
poor personal healthy and
and social pleasurable
adjustment relations with
4. Parental Strongly Mildly opposed Supportive
attitudes opposed or resigned once the
before acceptance decision
marriage was clear
5. Wedding Elopement and Conventional,
civil hometown, and
6. Economic Virtually Low dependence At least
basis completely upon relatives, assured income
dependent mostly above
upon relatives independent self-perceived
income, even hardship level
7. Residence Always lived Doubled up with Always
with in-laws relatives some maintained
or other of the time, own independent
relatives independent place of
other periods residence
Based partially on Trends and Prospects for Young Marriages in the United States, by Lee G. Burchinal.