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 Marrying Young and the Surprising Changes in the Beliefs and Boundaries of Marriage Today

In my many years of studying, researching, writing, interviewing and counseling in the pre- and postmarital realm, I had little hope I would see secular research come to agree with so many of my findings and beliefs. But the proof just keeps showing up in article after article.

My belief, without waver, is that premarital experiences directly relate to our marriages and that pre-marriage sexual experiences harm the marital experiences of life as a married couple. In the recent past the typical sequence to marriage went something like this: dating, sex, cohabitation, maybe children and then marriage.

Sex and cohabitation before marriage

Psychologist Galena Rhoades PhD and Scott Stanley in an online article titled Before “I Do,” What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults, now questions this contemporary view of how family life begins in our society. She believes that every serious relationship has certain milestones, like the first kiss to actually coming to a definition of where the relationship is going. She unequivocally states that about 90% of couples are sexual before marriage according to one study (Diner, 2007). She also states that most couples live together before marriage (Copen, Daniels, and Mosher, 2013).

But then she writes this, “Many of them have sex with multiple partners before finding the person they will eventually marry. Do premarital sexual relationships relate to later marital quality? Yes and no. It depends on who you are having sex with. Men and women who only slept with their (future) spouse prior to marriage reported higher marital quality than those who had other sexual partners as well. This doesn’t mean that sex before marriage will doom a marriage, but sex with many different partners may be risky if you’re looking for a high-quality marriage.” 

Dr. Rhoades makes this eye-opening conclusion, “We generally think that having more experience is better [in life] but what we find for relationships is just the opposite.”

Multiple experiences with multiple partners sexually is now actually linked to marriages that are worse off and that having a long history with cohabitating may actually cause you to devalue your spouse. 

Marrying young

Brad Wilcox, a director of the National Marriage Project and Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia wrote an article on how marrying young (by young I mean early 20’s) and without cohabitating “seems merited.” He wrote, “Our analyses indicate that religious men and women who married in their twenties without cohabitating first–have the lowest odds of divorce in America today.” Read that last sentence again, please.

What is it that the author of this study suspected as to why the success rate? “We suspect one advantage the religious singles in their twenties have over the secular peers is that they are more likely to have access to a pool of men and women who are ready to tie the knot and share their vision of a family-focused life.”

It has been believed and practiced for decades that a college education with a lot of dating, partying, fun, one-night stands and living together and then finally career all came first before settling down with a commitment to marriage. The statistic of living together (70%) before marriage is scary high. But Professor Wilcox wrote this, “But the conventional wisdom here is wrong: Americans who cohabit before marriage are less likely to be happily married and more likely to break up.” In fact, he says that couples who do cohabitate have a 15% more likely chance of divorce than those who do not.

Milestones in dating and pre-marriage days in a couple’s life means something because decisions mean something. We can remember when our spouse first spoke the words, “I love you.” We can recall where we were when we became engaged. We either loved or endured premarital counseling, but it was another milestone, a decision we made for us and our success in marriage. 

Forty-Seven years of marriage 

Over 47 years ago my wife and I abstained sexually out of total love, commitment and respect for one another–keeping for marriage what belongs only to marriage. We did not cohabitate because we knew this one act reduces the chances of a healthy lifelong marriage. We had a large wedding because we wanted others to celebrate with us, hold us accountable and enter into our joy of oneness. We went on a two-week honeymoon dropping out of life as we knew it to simply work on becoming one. We did not know one another intimately (sexually) prior to marriage, but we discovered the joy of purity meeting purity night after night.

It was not a college education, financial security, sexual experiences or age that helped to create these milestones, it was love for God and a desire to obey His truth. We were married in our early twenties and we continue to celebrate milestones in our marriage. We look forward to celebrating the milestone of half a century of marriage in the not-too-distant future.

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