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Young Marriage = Divorce (a Lie)
With the prevalence of divorce in the world today, many young people ask themselves: ‘Why should I get married young?’ Their concern often hinges on the assumption that the younger you get married, the greater the chance your marriage flops. But where is the logic in that?
Divorces do not happen because of the age at which people get married. The real reasons people choose civil divorce include peoples’ unwillingness to grow with their spouse, not knowing their spouse well before marriage, or their spouses lied to them before they were married (like carrying on an affair or never really intending to have children; often grounds for annulment).
This post explores the decision to marry young and answers questions like:
- How young is too young to get married?
- Should I get married in college? (Should I even be in college?)
- How long should somebody date before getting married?
If you are discerning marriage with your significant other or looking for a Catholic argument for marrying young, you’ve come to the right place!
How Young is Too Young to Get Married?
The Catholic Church declares that a “man before he has completed his sixteenth year of age and a woman before she has completed her fourteenth year of age cannot enter into a valid marriage.”  The average age of (first) marriage in the US in 2019 was 28 for women and 30 for men. 
So what’s with the huge gap?
I’d argue that it’s all a matter of priorities. If a woman wants a high-profile career and to avoid having children, what is her incentive to get married? In our society in which sleeping around and cohabitation before marriage are widely normalized, marriage is put on the backburner—even for Catholics who deny the hook-up culture. (The “average age of first marriage for Catholics is 24.” )
(Though 14-year-old girls and 16-year-old boys are still in high school in westernized culture, in other cultures (and historically in the west), by this age men had begun to learn a trade. I’m not saying that people who are genuinely too immature to marry should do so. I am saying that there’s a possibility that two individuals could be ready to marry that young.)
And that’s the key to knowing whether or not to marry:
Are both parties ready and able to get married?
The Church and American law have clear rules for issues pertaining to:
- Blood-relations (no-go in either case)
- Homosexual unions (the Catholic Church declares rightly that this is disordered)
- Marrying after civil divorce (a marriage must receive an official annulment before somebody can marry another person validly [which means marriage for the first time, since annulment means the ‘first marriage’ was never valid in the first place]).
The law is simple, the tricky part is discerning whether or not you want to spend the rest of your life with another person.
After the age set by the Catholic Church for moral and physical reasons, age does not really matter in the decision to marry.
The timeline set by our present secular society—college, then career, then marriage after 27 years old (possibly having children)—has been too easily bought by Christians. The university system has convinced the country that the only way to earn a livable income is through earning a college degree (something that has not been and will never be true).
One of the first lies society flaunts is that marrying while in college is too young and a terrible idea . . . but I say go for it! (I did!)
Get Married Young & In College!
In the often-toxic college culture filled with drunkenness, hook-ups, and sexual assault, dating can feel like a dangerous game. Obviously, it’s a really bad idea to get married to somebody immediately after a one-night stand (also a tremendously bad idea). Most of the time, shotgun marriages do not end up happy and they are invalid according to the Church’s standards.
But you’re smarter than that. That’s obviously a bad idea. So, on to a more realistic scenario . . . if you’ve found a virtuous guy or gal, way to go! It is still tempting (and often encouraged) to only consider marriage once both parties have graduated from college.
Whether it’s a matter of paying for the wedding, parents not trusting that their son or daughter will finish school, or a sense of ‘what people are supposed to do,’ many young adults are pushed to obtain their (often worthless) degree before entering a marital union.
This is an absurd perversion of priorities! Consider how many young people are presently feeling a sense of dread and discouragement about what they are meant to do with their life. Even people who know what they want to do—graduate from college, and get that big engineering job— start to wonder what their piles of money mean without a companion share it with!
Why did our grandparents and great-grandparents marry young and not always go to college? They had their priorities straight!
In 1960, about 8% of men and women 25 or older had completed a Bachelor’s degree or higher . “In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are” —that is a substantial decline.
The majority of adults as recent as the 1960s didn’t go to college and they were married. The idea that one needs a college degree in order to financially provide for a family or even to pay for a wedding is ridiculous and should be heavily questioned.
For one thing, weddings are way too expensive nowadays.
According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in the US is $22,000!  That amount of money is a sizable chunk of change that would be better utilized on a new car, house down-payment, or starting an investment account (basically, anything else).
Don’t use the cost of the wedding as an excuse not to vow your commitment to the love of your life. Find discounts, ask family for help, or get free/used things! (My AMAZING mother-in-law and aunt put these lovely bouquets together the night before my wedding. I got the exact look I wanted for a super low price.)
My husband and I splurged on multiple nice things for our wedding because of the type of party we wanted to throw. BUT, the total cost of our wedding was not even close to a third of the American average! Weddings are about the Sacrament of Matrimony, not the after-party. Young couples need to focus more on their call to marriage as a vocation and less about their schooling and the cost of wedding planning.
Secondly, our culture pushes off marriage to prioritize a career. First comes love? Not anymore!
First comes college, then comes marriage, then comes setting up a 401(k) and financial security before I can even ethically think about having one child.
Long story short: if you are going to college and absolutely need a degree to be hired in the field you feel called to, go for it. In that case, if you are in a relationship with somebody you would like very much to marry (and are compatible—spiritually, mentally, and have physical chemistry), don’t just push it off!
There is grace in the Sacrament of Marriage. A good spouse will not hamper your ability to ‘be yourself’ or get straight As, they will encourage you and help you de-stress! Bonus: the cost of college is cut tremendously when your spouse makes little to no money.
Marrying during college helps you succeed and saves you from taking out thousands of dollars in loans based on your parent’s income.
If you are getting a pointless degree (you know who you are), stop going to college. In the 60s, they didn’t have information readily accessible at their fingertips to teach themselves (like we do now!) and they chose to pursue their vocation before their career.
As an English major from Texas A&M University, I can honestly say that earning my degree was the most expensive dating service out there. I met and married my husband, read some publicly accessible books, research studies, and essays, and spent thousands and thousands of dollars.
Want to be more educated without wasting so much time on essays and studying for tests? Lookup class syllabi and read the materials yourself! Nobody is stopping you. You could probably even contact field professionals if you wanted to learn more about a topic and they would be glad to guide you to more resources.
Heck, you could contact that same professor and ask them to send you their lecture notes for $450. That would still be cheaper than paying the university middle-man. (I don’t like modern universities. They’re money pits.)
How Long Should I Date Somebody Before Marrying Them?
If you are not in a position to get married within about 2 years of beginning to date someone, don’t start dating. When you become emotionally and spiritually interdependent with another person, it is incredibly difficult to break off that bond.
When dating somebody, you must take the time to get to know them and learn if you enjoy spending time with them (stressful times and happy times). This should not take 15 years to do. Here’s a secret: let God into your relationship, and He will help you decide if it is going somewhere or not.
After a couple of years, there is a good chance that romantic partners will be more and more willing and nonchalant about fooling around (‘well at least we are dedicated?’ No. 👎). You will also begin to rely on that person (and even their family) emotionally.
Once bonded for so many years, you might get to the point where you think ‘I need to break up with this person.’ And then you realize ‘It will break me to break up with this person!’
Humans are designed to bond with others. The longer your lives are entwined, the more devoted you are to that person. Without the surety of marriage vows, however, a breakup is still a phone call away.
Don’t waste your precious (and more marketable!) time on somebody with a bunch (or a couple) of red flags. Don’t wait for years and years for somebody with bad qualities to change for you. You’ll only end up getting hurt! If somebody is not on track to be a better person (they don’t have any inkling that what they are doing is bad, for example), they’re not worth your time.
Instead of wasting time on a toxic relationship, you could be single and spending time with your family and friends, or finding and dating the person you are meant to spend the rest of your life with!
We know God’s will by what is in front of us. There is not just one ‘soul mate’ dedicated to you by God. You must prayerfully consider with God if a person is the right man or woman for you. For most people, there is no set amount of dating time (1 year or 12 years) where the idea of being dedicated to that person for 60 years feels 100% secure and comfortable.
Mixed with your own conversation with God, find a spiritual director who can help you hash out this potential spouse’s good things and bad things and let you know of any red flags they perceive.
Remember that it is not about the people you are at this moment. The person you marry will change for the better or the worse over your marriage.
Discerning marriage is simply a matter of making sure that person is somebody you can make a vow to be faithful to and sacrifice for, that they will do the same, and that you are compatible.
Expectations to Remember When Marrying Young
‘Until death do you part’ is a big commitment. The younger you are, the higher the chances that you have not figured out what career you wish to have, where you want to live, or established your living habits/preferences.
This is actually a great benefit to marrying young! The less ingrained your partner is in their habits, the easier it will be to meld your ways of life to one another when you are wed.
For example, imagine a Catholic woman who is 32 and has always (in her adult life) watched TV while going to sleep. This is perhaps something that did not come up during marriage prep and they did not cohabitate before marriage (👍), so she did not know that her new husband must not hear any sound while he is sleeping.
This could be a difficult situation to compromise and would be made much less difficult had she not been in the habit of falling asleep with the TV on all those years. Imagine all of the other little rituals that people establish and there’s a whole lot for a married couple to argue about for the rest of their life.
The flip side of this is that the younger somebody is, the less experience and maturity they have. You will not be the same person when you are 20 as when you are 35. Just because you are not wizened and war-hardened at 18 does not mean you should not get married at that age!
One of the greatest gifts of marrying young is dedicating yourself to another person with whom you will grow in holiness.
There are qualities that matter more than current habits. Just because a man you meet is not attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every day, it does not mean that he is not able to be disciplined in his faith.
Look to the current actions and words of a potential partner to gauge whether they are somebody who could (in maturing in the faith, by God’s help) become a more holy individual.
Ask yourself, is that potential partner on track to be faithful, or more humble, or to work hard, etc?
It is crucial that you think about whether that person is willing to grow in his/her faith because there is no such thing as a Catholic divorce. There are annulments which means that the marriage never occurred due to invalid circumstances, but there is no separation outside of death.  The rest of your life is a really long time.
Make sure that the person you want to commit yourself to for the rest of your life does not have any expectation that there is an ‘out’ for the marriage. It is incredibly important not to assume that they agree with you on this—always ask!
A final expectation to consider:
Be on the same page about your roles as a husband and wife.
Ladies, find a man who understands that his dedication is first and foremost to God, then to his family. Careers are fleeting, but faith transcends time. Part of the formula for a strong Catholic marriage is a man who pursues God and encourages his family to delve into their faith.
Men, find a woman who you feel called to care for. Somebody who is a good companion and encourages you in your good deeds.
In both cases, a potential partner will not be perfect! 🎶Nobody’s Perfect 🎶(including Miley Cyrus). People make mistakes and have sins that they struggle with. Just make sure that they are fighting to choose good and have a discerning enough conscience to tell the difference.
Life is filled with fixing issues and repenting of sins.
A spouse will be there for the rest of your life to assist you in doing so.
More on the roles of husbands and wives coming soon!
Parents and Young Marriage
Parents are a good resource in gauging who you should marry, but their advice should always be taken in context. Some questions to consider:
- Are my parents pointing out red flags? What are these flags and are they actually a problem?
- Are my parents reliable and trustworthy people? Do they understand the Catholic teaching of marriage and the family?
- Are my parents just worried about superficial things (i.e. finishing college before marriage, starting a career, ‘you’re too young’, how somebody dresses, getting pregnant in your 20s)?
Many parents push their children to achieve greater things than them. Some parents even try to live vicariously through their kids. It is very important to listen to your parents’ advice about a potential spouse (in most cases, they know you very well), but theirs should not be the only counsel you seek! As stated previously, find a trusted spiritual director to bring up all your parents’ questions and concerns about marriage and marrying young.
In the end, however, it is not any of these other people who will be marrying your potential spouse! You must trust yourself and God in making this decision, and then do it!
It is a yes or no situation. Do I want to marry this person? Can we marry (legally)? Should we marry (morally)? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with him/her?
- [ ] If yes, propose! Plan a wedding!
- [ ] If no, seriously consider breaking off the relationship entirely.
Note: If you don’t make Christ the center of your relationship, none of this will work!
Action Items on Marrying Young!
Break up with your significant other if you would never want to marry them. Get back on the market or enjoy a little bit of moral single livin’.
Or . . . Propose to the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life with!
Not sure what to do? Check out Father Mike Schmitz’s video on Ascension Presents called: 4 Helpful Rules for Discernment. Make a decision based on God’s will:
- Is this a lawful decision? (God has not already spoken out against it—sorry, no marrying your sister.)
- Is this an open decision? (The “door” has not already been denied and you could actually walk through it.)
- Is this a wise decision? (Think about the present. Will this marriage help me live the life and be the person God wants me to be?)
- Is this a decision that I want? (Free will! Do I want to be with this person for the rest of my life?)
Love and Responsibility —Karol Wojtyła (more commonly known as Saint Pope John Paul II)
Walking With the Hansons Blog Marriage Series: How Young is Too Young?
: The Code of Canon Law; MARRIAGE (Cann. 1055 – 1165)
: Census.gov; Median age at first marriage: 1890 to present
 USCCB.org; Catholic Marriage and Family in the United States
 Census.gov (link broken but here is it in case you want to go searching for it: https://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/censusatlas/pdf/10_Education.pdf)
 Pew Research Center; Barely Half of U.S. Adults Are Married – A Record Low
 The Knot; This Was the Average Cost of a Wedding in 2020
 USCCB.org; Annulment