Early Marriage

If you have a chance, take a look at the cover story in the August issue of Christianity Today, called “The Case for Early Marriage” in which the author Mark Regnerus urges Christians to consider marriage in their early twenties rather than their late twenties or early thirties. (He is careful to distinguish what he calls early marriage from teen marriage, which he does not recommend.)

He has good reasons. He considers it better to marry early than sign chastity vows that might (easily) be broken. He feels the church should spend less time teaching abstinence (though a good thing, as far as it goes), and spend more time preparing young people for marriage at a young age.

Young Christians are often urged to put off marriage for several reasons. One compelling reason is that their parents insist that they be financially independent when they marry, finished with college and employed. That can be a heavy burden, and a long-term engagement is like a sexual pressure cooker. He argues (and I agree) that parents should be willing to help out their married children as much as possible until they get established.

The second reason against marrying young is that though young couples may be in love,  they are immature and inexperienced. Regnerus says that even if that is true, it doesn’t mean they are “intrinsically incompetent at marriage.” Being young and inexperienced may actually be a pro and not a con, for they may be more teachable than the older unmarried folks who have become set in their ways.

The third reason some oppose early marriage is that young people need more time to make a good choice, to find the perfect match. But here he argues that “successful marriages are less about the right personalities than about the right practices.”

Fourth, some think that the young are marrying with a shallow view of marriage, thinking that it is only about “the promise of long-awaited, guilt-free sex.” If so, Regnerus says, “family and freinds ought to do their best to help young couples discern whether there is more to their love than sexual desire.”

The final objection, he says, is that young adults sometimes look to marriage with unrealistic expectations.  But this is why they have to “learn marriage” like they learn about about other things like child-rearing.

We sometimes joke in our congregation that announcing the new engagements is part of our liturgy. We have many young people, and we have many marriages. But that does not mean we don’t need to encourage better thinking about it all. Thus, the plug.

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49 thoughts on “Early Marriage

  1. This is so true! The only reason the rest of the world can condone waiting until you’re 35 to marry is because they also condone sleeping around.
    Even many Christians seem to treat fornication as a lesser evil to an early marriage. It is bewildering.
    For those who preach abstinence and late marriage, their children can crack under the pressure, ending up in a far worse situation than marriage in their early twenties.

  2. Amen to all the above. My husband and I married young and have never regretted it, even though many tried to discourage us. We’ve been married 18 years this year and have five children.

  3. My husband was 19 and I 20 when we got married in May of last year, and it was the best thing either of us have ever done. We’re about to embark on the entire new adventure of being young parents, and we couldn’t be more excited.

  4. My husband and I were 19 and 20 when we got married and I am so glad we did. We have grown up together!

    My husband addressed this topic recently and mentioned objection #1 (financial issues). He said that some parents would rather their child struggle with sexual temptation than have any financial struggles. While we both agree that there needs to be a plan financially, it is not the end of the world to have to work hard to make ends meet. I would rather be frugal together than struggle with sexual temptation while trying to wait for cushy finances.

  5. Brandy, your husband is right about the financial consideration. I believe even my parents fell prey to the lie that a good marriage requires complete financial security. Truly, there is no such thing outside of a Christ-centered marriage. I married at 20 and have been married for five years (my husband is somewhat older, but I am thankful for that because he has an extra measure of wisdom which has preserved us from harm – financial and otherwise – on more than one occasion). In those years we have had lean times (while I worked and he finished his M.S. and again last year when his company closed and it took a long time to find a new job) and times of plenty (now – we are truly awash in material blessings). The one constant was that in all things, we had to be faithful to trust God’s providence for our family. And He has always provided for us! Most abundantly in love – we have two precious children and an incredibly happy home.
    I am hopeful that more churches will see the virtues of young marriage. No matter the age of marriage, there will be trials and it is folly to believe that young Christians will just be impervious to sexual temptation, or to becoming jaded by the world.

  6. I would heartily agree with Regnerus (and Mrs Wilson). HOWEVER, I think it is critical that both prospective partners be READY to assume their mandated roles: the Husband to provide/protect and the wife to respect/support. This does not mean that there cannot be any flexibility in how they arrange this as they work it out in practice. The wife’s PHT degree (put him through) must be part of the support that enables him, ultimately, to bring home the bacon, protect the family, wear his spouse as a crown, etc. The fact that he might not immediately be able to do so following the vows is beside the point (an maybe an indication of the shortcomings of his own upbringing).

    I would agree that financial tension is “better” than sexual tension, though by the time the young folks are ready to marry, they should be ready to organize themselves sensibly. Otherwise, one would hardly consider them “ready” to marry. One would also wonder about parents who bring up kids so the kids are not read to marry until their 40’s. By then, it’s too late to reconsider one’s parenting style.

    Jon

  7. Amen! I think the key is the church preparing its young people for marriage and not simply urging them in that direction. Systematic preparation of young people for many other vocations is admired, but for some reason preparing them for marriage is ignored or even looked down upon by most of America, even evangelical America.
    It really is a well done article –
    And a grand synopsis, Nancy!

  8. I am going to share this. :)
    My husband and I were 23 and 24 when we married two years ago, after knowing each other for only 8 months (four months cross-country, four months closeby). What a blessing!! I think some people -even in the Church- were a little skeptical, not so much because of our age but because of our short engagement. Now, however, they see the wise work of the Lord and the fruit of His labor; our marriage is one that proclaims the Gospel, and I am so thankful for God’s grace.

    Psalm 40:3
    He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
    Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the LORD.

    Thanks for the tip on the article. Enjoyed the synopsis so much, I will have to make a run for the real thing. :) Thank you, Mrs. Wilson.

  9. The church’s preparation of the young is imperative. When I was young I lost a close friendship because I was an emotional leech. My pastor said, “If you were married right now, we would not be talking about you losing a friend, we would be talking about your divorce.” It wasn’t until I was 30 that I was mature enough to really think about it. I have no dount that the lack of church preparation is one of the key reasons for it. I’m over 40 now. I’ve never married. At this point, there isn’t any selection in my church. They are all kids or married.. BTW if you want to know who to reach out to for hospitality, invite the older single man over for Sunday dinner. It doesn’t happen for them very often.

  10. We definitely received flack from our parents and some friends when we got married (I was 21 and my husband was 22). Both of our parents wanted us to wait until we were older and more financially established. They obviously relented though after we budgeted and showed them we could make it. However, even though we weren’t done with school, had no money and just each other, we learned SO much. We both graduated, worked hard and don’t regret our experience one bit. We joke about the times when we used to save $25 a month because that was all we had. Now we have three children and have been married 7 years. We still have so many years ahead of us and God has been gracious to us on our journey teaching us many things about His love as we bumble along. I’m so thankful I got to marry my best friend when I did.

  11. We married at 30, and I’ve wondered many times if having small children would be as exhausting in one’s 20’s as in one’s 30’s. I’m 41 with 4 little ones, none old enough to be significantly helpful, and I’m tired!

    Also, in reading other discussion on this topic, I haven’t heard the issue of pornography addressed as a possible contributing factor to men waiting longer to marry.

  12. My husband and I just celebrated 13 years of marriage. We were young 21 year olds and embarking on our senior year of college when we were married.

    We struggled a little financially, but those too are wonderful memories for me. I looked at our early marriage as more time time spend together in life as man and wife rather than robbing my of my youth (what others told me).

    I think there is much to be said for learning to be a godly wife rather than solely finding the perfect, godly man.

  13. Mrs. Wilson,
    What a wonderful article. We were married when I was 21 and my honey was 24, after a strict courtship of less than a year. We are best friends, and we’ve had to figure out life together. It is 10 years and 4 kiddos later, and it has only gotten better.

    A note on the financial preparedness thing…if the kids getting married (and their parents!!) would not expect to be able to decorate and live at the standard their parents had achieved after a lifetime, the “financially unprepared” issue would not be such a big deal. We had hand-me-down couches, beds, and thrift store bookshelves for many years, and part of the fun of it all has been working our way around the house and fixing things up with new. Having to build that new home and decorate with Pottery Barn at the get-go is prohibiting and unique to our generation, I think. Cruises, eating out, new and expensive cars…all things that have sunk the financial boat of many of our friends, in the name of looking successful as newlyweds.

  14. I have been married for 10 years and I was 19 when I got married. We have missed out on the traveling and clubbing but are able to parent in our youth and we are loving exploring the world together on a smaller budget. I have absolutely NO regrets.

  15. A friend just sent that article to me. I couldn’t help wishing that it had been written some thirty years ago and widely read. The 3:1 ratio he gives for godly, mature young women to godly, mature young men today was… well, it couldn’t be depressing, if what you said some time ago about believing a lie is true. I’m hoping that young mothers are thinking about it now, and things won’t be as bad for my little sisters.

    A question: is there a way to meet Reformed people without traveling across the country, going away to New Saint Andrews or something? I know two married couples that met by the Reformed Marriage online service, which has since been discontinued, and I haven’t heard of anything else like it.

  16. Erin, my husband and I met online (under my father’s careful guidance) at a reformed singles site called “sovereign grace singles”. It’s been a couple of years since I have looked at the site, but it was a blessing for us! :) One of our close couple-friends met there too, and were married a week after us.
    God works in mysterious ways. My family is living proof.

  17. Sarah, me too! Married at 19 (in 2009 – my husband was 24) and now it’s been ten years! Way to go girl! I feel so pleased, don’t you!?! :) Several older ladies sat me down (at different times) and told me what a big mistake I was making, and it made me sad that they (both married themselves) must have been unhappy in their own marriages. But for me, like you, no regrets! God is SO good! :)

    Thanks for another encouraging article, Mrs. Nancy! It’s always a blessing to get to hear your perspective on anything. It feels like kindness to hear that instead of calling early marriage crazy or foolish, some saints say it’s A ok! :)

  18. I can testify that Sarah and her husband are a wonderful example of how well early marriage can work!

    I married young (22) but my husband wasn’t quite so young (he’s 9 years older than me). Our marriage has been the best 13 years of our lives so far. :)

    We both think that in general early marriage is the way to go, and we’re grateful for God’s loving providence!

  19. Regarding the age thing: My mother had me (oldest of five) at almost 31 and she had 4 more after me. My dad is 8.5 years younger than my mom. There are two advantages in marrying a much younger man, but you won’t see them until the end of your life. Your husband will probably be able to take care of you longer than you will take care of him. The other advantage is that if you live a normal lifespan, you won’t be alone as long as women who marry their age or older.

  20. I just wanted to share like many of you my husband and I were married young, I was 20, he was 21. I have no regrets at all! We’ve been married 11 years next month :) We have three children, one whom was a honeymoon baby. I feel blessed to have a wonderful husband and fun family. We have both commented many times that we wouldn’t change anything. We struggled financially in the early years, my husband was staring a business and we have little ones at home. Our next two came quickly, we had them all just after we celebrated out third anniversary. I stayed home with our children, a decision we made prior to even getting married, so my husband at one point worked three jobs to make ends meet, and when I say ends meet that means $20 a week for groceries. We look back at those times with fond memories and joy, not with any regret. That time together and our struggles in figuring things out help us to rely solely on God together, and we grew together. We’ve had a great 11 years and so look forward to many more. That said:

    Last Sunday night my husband and I hung out with some friends, three other couples all of whom were married young, all but one couple has been married 10 years. I think that says a lot for young marriages being successful.

    Thanks so much for the post, I’ve enjoyed the comments too.

  21. Great post, Mrs. Wilson! I’ll have to see if I can find that article, I’d love to read it. We married young but that wasn’t long ago (yet) so we’re still young marrieds. So encouraging to read all the comments on this post!

    Erin- I know a couple who were introduced after one pastor sent out an email saying, “I have this great single guy of this age/vocation/etc, looking for…” and then the receiving pastors could reply/pass on the info if they thought they might have someone in their congregation who matched.

  22. JRW- I had 6 kiddos in 8 years in my 20’s and was ALWAYS tired. It is a wearisome task but oh so worth it.=} So I think that wish to be raising kids at a younger age probably doesn’t apply. I could be mistaken though.

  23. I agree most heartily! Unlike most of the other posters, I didn’t marry young. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and I wasn’t ready to be a wife and mommy in my 20s. God didn’t bring me and mt sweetie together until we were 35. Now in our early 40s with 2 children. I wish we had met years earlier and could have more babies… But His timing is perfect and I am so thankful. We will definitely be raising our children with early marraige in mind and in our prayers for them.

  24. I think another of the pressures on young people to postpone marriage is The Wedding! They can cost a huge amount, especially to two young people struggling to make ends meet anyway. I was at a wedding recently and my brother was joking about how he wanted to marry an accountant so as never to have to do his own accounting again, and I told him that it’s all very well and good, but it’s going to cost him $10,000 for the wedding, at which point a newly-wed sitting on my right choked on her sparkling apple juice and informed me that $10,000 is pretty darn good for a wedding! On the way home, my brother and I decided that when the time came for us respectively, we’d elope.

    That was tongue-in-cheek of course, and I love the idea of getting married properly, with family, friends, church and state looking on and presiding. What do you think, are there ways to have all the feasting and fun without losing all your money on it? What’s better–to throw the party and struggle financially afterwards, or to have the meanest possible wedding so as to be well set-up after? Parents assisting newlyweds at first seems logical, but what about parents pitching in for a wedding that the couple can’t afford, especially when the parents can’t really afford it either?

  25. Melissa,

    A ‘forty-ish’ couple at my church met on Sovereign Grace Singles as well. In fact, the woman recommended the website to unmarried women at church when a few of us were near her at a brunch.

  26. @SLR It is not hard to have a wedding for considerably less than $10,000. All it takes is a willingness to give up any very specific wants and be creative. We’ve had two weddings in my family. Mine cost $1500 and my sisters cost about $1000. Both were for around 100 guests and included full meals. We made our dresses, made or had others make the food and the cakes. Bought a few flowers and arranged them ourselves. Borrowed decorations (when you’re young everyone around you is getting married a few vases and strings of twinkle lights can go a long way). We both had to let go of ideas or hopes. You can’t obsess over having the perfect photographer or most exquisite cake when people are volunteering to help you but we both paid cash out of our own pockets for our modest but happy celebrations. It’s really just a different mindset.

  27. But what about the notion that girls are supposed to mature faster than guys? And as aforementioned, that the girls out number the guys? I’ve seen very few guys my age that would past muster with Daddy or that I could envision living with and making decisions with. Even being at a Christian college doesn’t guarantee anything, especially when there are only a handful of young men at the end of four years and only a few of them are on track to graduate.

    And on top of that, I’ve seen a number of girls quit school once they get married. How many young men are there out there who value and encourage their wife’s education? (My father is one; education is very important to him and no guy is allowed close until I’m done with college.) A number of my male peers have married girls straight out of high school. There seems to be a large swathe of young women in their upper 20s who are being passed over. So it’s all well and good to encourage me to get married soon, but I have a lot of obligations yet to fill and the dice appears weighted against me.

    My father also regularly tells me “marriage is hard,” and that people can change a great deal while still young. Of course, he also acknowledges that it’s hard to wait as well. He was nearly 30 when he married Momma (who was 22), and he has noted how difficult it can be to adjust to living with a new person.

    I hope I don’t sound too negative. James Jordan once said that the Holy Spirit is a wooing Spirit and He brings people together. So perhaps I’m too young to say anything; there’s a quote somewhere “I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man and the only gift not given to youth.” But it’s kind of depressing to hear all the yay-rah early marriage.

  28. My husband and I have talked about this several times -him particularly wishing that more young men were enabled to support a wife at a younger age. Take programming for example. Some of the smartest programmers that my husband knows learned not in universities (which tend to be behind the times anyway) but from reading, practicing, and working with peers. There are plenty of other professions which could be treated the same way. Young men could become financially stable earlier, and if they wanted to attend college they would have a trade to help finance their way through.

  29. I’m in the married at 19 (hubby was newly 24) and no regrets eleven years later. Love it! Would love it for my daughters too.

  30. My husband and I married about a year and a half ago. I was 20 and he 23. We had our first baby before our first anniversary. We had known each other for less than 7 months when we were engaged. Our engagement was about 4 months. He is my best friend and I know God had chosen us for each other. I had some family that encouraged a long engagement, but we don’t believe that is wise (especially because of sexual temptation, but also because you shouldn’t be engaged unless you know God wants you to be married, and if you know God wants you to be married you should get married in good time! God desires marriage and children.) But I also had plenty of family who encouraged our marriage greatly, they gave us much wisdom. To sum it up: I like this post, Mrs. Wilson!

  31. Natalie, your husband should talk with some of the Christian businessmen about apprenticeship programs. I have a buddy who has a seventeen year old son who is working in the computer field. He learned by older men teaching how to do it. He’s making good money, too.

  32. SJR- My parents paid for our wedding, but it wasn’t impossibly expensive because we had a reception on our own property catered by friends who volunteered, using a cow that we had butchered for the occasion. I purchased my dress at a thrift store and had it altered to fit me (and my tastes), all my bridesmaids made their dresses, etc. We chose not to break the bank on a fancy reception site, and it was much more memorable to have it in a field anyway. I have a picture in my most recent blog post of us dancing our first married dance in the middle of the pasture. :)

  33. Good call on the part about late marriages promoting sleeping around. Paul said to marry to avoid doing just that. Why do other Christians keep promoting the false doctrine of being “content” (which pre-Fall Adam definitely wasn’t!) and denying natural urges for years? I think the biblical support, and empirical evidence, that that’s ideal is lacking.

  34. My husband and I just celebrated our 15th anniversary and one of the people we have to thank for this gift of marriage is Mr. Jim Wilson himself. He was the one that “let the cat out of the bag” and gave me a clue that a young man was interested in me. (A young man who’s parents also married young with a little help from Mr. Wilson.) We were married 8 months later and we’ve never ever regretted how quickly our courtship went. I was 19 years old at the time and my husband was 22. There were plenty that thought we were crazy or unprepared or immature. I’m sure we were a little of all of that but it didn’t change our desire to grow up and grow old with each other. Many young couples claim they grow apart as they get older and site this as a reason for waiting to get married. I have seen in our marriage plenty of change as we grew up but it was always for our good as one would expect any Christian growing in sanctification. The highs and lows we’ve faced together have caused us to draw closer to each other and the Lord. Our children didn’t arrive until our 30’s (by way of China). Instead of seeing our first years marked by infertility, we see it as an extended courtship/honeymoon provided by God to give us a solid foundation as a couple.

  35. Andrea, thank you so much for sharing that story. I wasn’t particularly young when I got married, but I am essentially domestic in my habits. (Many of them are bad domestic habits, but I’m working on that.) At any rate I’m really not career oriented. I’d love to be a homeschool mom (or at least a stay at home mom), but three years later with no kids in site I sometimes get a little down hearing all these beautiful stories. It’s good to hear from people with experiences like yours. If we go another year or two I think my husband and I will be looking at adopting.

  36. Jenny — I’d quibble with you just a bit: True contentment is not false doctrine. Calling complacency contentment is false. And dismissing the needs of single people with a casual “Just be content” is false and lazy and unkind.

    A more general response — I got into a discussion elsewhere about this article a couple weeks ago. Some commenters objected that a lot of folks just wouldn’t be ready for marriage in their early 20s. Unfortunately, that’s probably the case. But the solution isn’t just to modify the proposition (“OK, so early marriage just for young folks who aren’t incompetent idiots”). The solution is for the church to create a culture of expectation of early marriages: expectation that marriage is a norm instituted by God to be obediently pursued by nearly every Christian and there’s no sense delaying obedience; expectation that parents will raise their children to be prepared and eager to marry young; expectation that the community will help those who have trouble finding spouses just as they would help members with other needs. Pockets of this attitude have sprung up here and there (such as in Moscow), and it’s great to see an article like this, and books likeDebbie Maken’s reaching a broader audience.

  37. Just keep in mind, Valery that we are living in a culture in which 50% of American Christians are growing up in divorced homes. In any kind of church planning for encouragement of early marriage, that needs to be taken into account.

  38. Robert — Yes, there’s a lot of brokenness to overcome in the pursuit of the sort of culture I’m talking about. But that’s a reason for pressing on toward that goal, not a reason against it.

  39. I agree about the goal. I guess my point is that for the first couple of generations there will be a significant percentage of young people who will not have parental oversight.

  40. Ah, yes, I see where you’re coming from on that one. I’d add that to the list of what the church can supply to those who are lacking. I’m extremely grateful to have elders who are willing to pick up that slack.

  41. I have to sympathize with Heather D. I married right out of college, myself (with some discouragement from my mother, who was unhappily divorced). I’m very happily married and mothering. So I find my words to younger women to “wait for God’s timing for the right one,” falling on frustrated ears. I know a number of godly young women in their twenties, and thirties who are prepared to be godly wives and good mothers, who simply cannot find anyone mature and responsible enough to lead them well.
    This attitude of expectation of early marriage and preparation is very rare in families and churches and it’s showing–to the grief of many young women.

  42. I married at 21 to a 23 year old and it ended very sadly in violence. We had our families’ blessings… I think the problem, though, was not our youth but our immaturity and sin habits and his refusal to follow counsel, probably with a side of mental illness thrown in. And the church wouldn’t involve itself until very late in the process.

    I think character discernment and godliness are more important than age at the time of marriage.

    I work in an Emergency Department and we often joke that men should not be allowed to drive until 30… The serious auto accident culprits are usually males under 30. My experience is that men become more themselves the older they are– so it is easier to predict what marriage to a specific person would be like the older they are. Does that make sense?

  43. @Elizabeth–it does make sense, and I know where you’re coming from as I recently lost a friend to an idiot boy driving at ridiculous speed. On the other hand, there’s a man in his 30s who’s interested in me, and one of the reasons I’ve decided not to reciprocate is that by now, he’s eccentric and set in his ways. I’d rather marry someone younger, so that we can grow up together, than marry someone who’s already grown-up.

  44. Has anyone heard of Reformedsingles.com? I was curious to know whether anyone has tried it, or heard of pros or cons from someone who has.

  45. Great article and lots of good comments.

    I too would agree that age and financial capability aren’t necessarily the determining factors for marriage partners.
    Maturity, demeanor, character, teach-ability and the spiritual life of a person is who they(we!) are and what makes them a blessing to live with or difficult to live with. Good character qualities are also what can aid them to be financially successful.
    I think of marriage as similar to driving. Putting our 14 or 15 year olds behind the wheel of a car is a scary thought but they seem to grow into it. Slowly for some. Way too fast for others! They go through weeks of book training then hours of road time. They learn driving skills, the laws and the consequences of breaking them. Farm kids may have been driving from a much younger age in the fields and have had more responsibility which gives them a head start when driving. Kids from 2 parent, functioning homes have an easier time having seen their parents marriage “work”. The varied backgrounds may help or hinder guys and gals alike as they come into a marriage relationship. People from “intact” happy homes may be ready younger because they don’t have as much junk to deal with as dysfunctional unhappy homes. (Back to the driving analogy)We train our kids to drive more thoroughly than we train them to be married. Shame on us! Age doesn’t make us ready, neither does money or the ability to make it. Who wants to live with a rich but cranky,selfish, undisciplined etc… old or young person!

  46. Thanks for letting us know about this article Nancy! I got a copy to keep on hand over the years as we raise children and prepare them for marriage. Great article!

  47. Early Marriage is quite at odds with our ‘extended adolescence’ age. I’d say we need to address those issues before encouraging early marriage. We should help young people grow into mature, godly and responsible people who look out for each other and can take care of themselves.
    Though the age of marriage is much less important than the people involved and if they are looking to God for guidance.

  48. Hello Ma’am! :)
    I was just wonder if you had any advice for young couples who are planning on getting married? I will be 18 when we get married. Newly engaged, since May 30th. :)
    Thanks!
    Rebecca

  49. Hello Ma’am!
    I was wondering if you had any advice for young couples getting married. I will most likely be 18 at the time of my wedding (due to incredibly complicated circumstances that I cannot even begin to explain, it is nothing that is our fault, and I am not pregnant, just fyi), and I am ok with this. :) We got engaged on May 30th. Any advice and words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated

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