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Too Young To Marry?

At eighteen are you too young to marry?

Dear Duana,

Audrey and I share love, commitment, values, goals, interests, and ambitions.   We’re not religious, or pregnant, or marrying because of an abstinence-only mindset.  We just know This Is It.

Problem is, we also share youth.  I’m 18 and she’s 17.  I’m known as unusually responsible.  I’m planning for a doctorate in chemistry, I’ve saved from jobs I’ve held, and I pay cash for everything, including the engagement ring I bought Audrey after a year.

But still, we’re very young, and we realize we need our parents’ guidance.   We’re worried we can’t succeed at marriage without their blessing and help.  And we are willing to wait a couple years to get married.

What should we say to them?  They don’t know we’re engaged…

Grant

 

Dear Grant,

Experiments have shown that the best way to influence an unconvinced audience is to start by acknowledging the Other Side’s point of view.

So let’s begin by understanding what’s *against* your success. Among your parents’ possible objections, expect these:

 

“You’re Too Young To Marry.”

Imagine that you are you—but age 30.  And that Audrey is Audrey—but age 29.  Now imagine you’re delivering the engagement news.

See the difference?

The odds of eventual divorce are the greatest when folks marry before age 25 in the USA—and they drop significantly thereafter (data from the CDC and other sources are summarized here).  The worst risk?  Marrying a woman who is under age 20—but your age very much matters as well.  So, at 30, your hard-working, money-saving, commitment-desiring, ambitious, far-thinking, loving Self would be considered a fine catch in many a family.

At 18—not so much.

It’s related to the development of The Prefrontal Cortex—the brain area that lets you foresee long-term consequences of your actions.  And it usually isn’t finished ‘cooking’ until age…25.

Meaning?  Most people take bad risks and don’t do well at making long-term decisions pre-25.  Heck, Hertz won’t even let you rent a car before then!

So it’s hardly surprising that when one immature prefrontal cortex commits to another, it usually spells doom.

All that said, my well-done prefrontal cortex admires your medium-rare  one.  You’re highly practiced at delaying gratification; you have an ambitious and well-defined long-term direction; and you’re able to think through consequences your actions could have, not only for you and Audrey together, but in relation to your parents.  If Audrey is likewise self-disciplined, that’s positive.

And…you’re willing to Wait to actually marry.  Even a 20-year-old newlywed fares far better than an 18-year-old, and a long dating period is a good predictor of wedded success for the young.

 

“You’re Just Infatuated.”

For whatever reason, it’s typical for parent-aged people to forget a science-based truth:

Young People Can Really Fall In Love.   Yes, even without other dating experiences, and even younger than you and Audrey.  In what I call Right Person, Wrong Time Syndrome, many such people have re-united years and decades later to find bliss with one another (and/or to wreck the families they had created in the interim), regretful of the wasted years between their reconnection.

The #1 reason these folks give for their youthful break-up?  Parental disapproval.  Many of these former lovers have spent most of a lifetime wondering: What If?  And resenting the parents who parted them.

 

“It Takes A Lot More Than Love To Make A Good Marriage.”

Did you know nearly everyone in the Western world is in love when they marry?  Yet the divorce rate is almost 50% for first marriages in the USA—and even higher for subsequent unions.

Love is not enough.   Yes—it’s the supreme Motivator to get a relationship’s foundation down pat, and it solidifies emotional bonds.  And it feels fan-flippin’-tastic!

But love alone is not sufficient now, nor ever has been.  Add Similarity and Commitment to the mix, though, and you’ve got a potion with staying power.  And given that you and Audrey share all of this, it’s a good sign.

 

 “You Need A Community To Help You Finish Growing Up.” 

Actually, your parents may not bring up this potential roadblock.  But *you* did, and it shows uncanny wisdom.

Although the average age of first marriage is now at the all-time high of 29 for men, and has been about 22 (not teens!) for most of American history, it appears that youths who marry *and stay happily married* have something notable—besides age— in common:

They have a community that helps them grow up together. 

This often consists of parents and/or a religious group and/or small town that pulls together to help the young couple learn how to become married adults, and to see their vows as transcending daily toil.  Far from tearing young couples apart, these folks actively help the couple learn and do the right stuff to stay together—and discourage them from giving up in the inevitable tough times even the best marriages endure.

 

 

So, what do you say?

The conversation(s) can take many forms—or you may choose to put it in a letter and then await a response—, but I’d recommend touching on each of these possible concerns at the outset, and then politely addressing others as they arise:

“We have some news we think you might not like very much, but we’re hoping you’ll hear us out and then let us listen to you.  No, we’re not pregnant.  But we are engaged.

“We’re engaged not only because we’re in love, but also because we share values and interests and goals.  We haven’t dated many others, but sometimes, young people know they’ve found The One, and we know that’s true for us.  We’re committed to each other.

“We realize we’re very young.  Even though we’re working hard towards many goals, we’re too young to marry, so we’re willing to wait a couple years for the wedding.  And we don’t want to disappoint you or make you fear for our happiness or success in life.

“We know we need your help to learn to be good spouses to one another.  May we have your blessing?  Will you help us to become an adult couple?

“We value you and what you can teach us.  Please say you’ll show us the way.”

 

Grant, at bottom, what most parents really want for their children is their kids’ success and happiness.  If you and Audrey respectfully address your parents’ fears and show you want The Marriage Map and you know they’ve got it—if you show your maturity and willingness to Wait—if you let them form part of your Community—

then yes, even then, it’s still risky.

But this may just be the right thing for all of you.  I wish you every happiness.

Cheers,

Duana

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the following scientists and sources: 

For data from 2013 showing that men’s first marriage is occurring, on average, at 29, see Cohn, D. (2013, February 13). Love and Marriage. Article retrieved fromhttp://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/13/love-and-marriage/

W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, for research about Love versus Community as a basis for lasting marriage.

David G. Myers,  whose work in Social Psychology has, over many years, taught me much of the background for this article.

The Centers For Disease Control and DivorcePeers, for data regarding age and marital dissolution.

 

 

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!

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