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Thursday, 14 September 2000

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Tie The Knot

Written by  Erin Donovan

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I've gotten lots of letters concerning teen marriages.

Am I too young?

What's the success rate?

What are the issues we need to look at and discuss?

It's my hope that in reading this, some of your questions will be answered. It's also my hope that you'll be left with even more to think about, perhaps aspects you hadn't thought of before.

You and your partner are the only ones who can answer these questions, and know when you are ready for marriage, and it's wise to look at all of the issues and problems that can, and usually do, arise in a marriage.

Why Do You Want to Get Married Now?

There are many reasons that could be pushing a teen couple towards wanting to get married. It varies from couple to couple. Maybe the girl is pregnant and the boy feels it's the only "proper" thing to do.

Maybe you want to get out of your parents' house, and feel that marriage is that opportunity.

Maybe you want to live together and your parents feel it's inappropriate to live together before marriage.

Maybe you are afraid of losing each other and think that marriage will save your relationship.

Or, maybe you just feel that your love is so strong you are ready to take "the big step".

She's Pregnant...

If you are thinking about getting married, one of the most basic components in your decision is that it should be because you want to, not because you feel you have to.

If the girl is pregnant and your parents are insisting that marriage now is the only right thing to do, and you are thinking "ehh, maybe not so soon", or even "No way!", you will have to tell them. Let them know that just because you entered one adult role too early (parenting), doesn't mean that you have to enter into another adult role you are not ready for.

You want to take one thing at a time, and not rush into everything at once.

You shouldn't be getting married to please others or because others think you "should". That's starting out a marriage with reluctance and regrets, and that's not the best way to go.

I Want to Move Away From My Damn Parents ...

Are you thinking about getting married because you are having trouble with your parents and want to move out? Realize that being married is definitely not about freedom. You have a lot of responsibility (housework, money, jobs, bills, etc...) and a major commitment and obligation to another person.

If you argue, you can't just stomp off to your room and close the door. You can't just walk away and go home, because you are home. You won't be free to just come and go as you please or do whatever you want, because you'll have another person and involve him or her in all your decisions.

Instead of just talking about how much fun it will be to live together, talk about the aspects of your daily life that won't be so much fun, and how you will deal with that.

Money and Responsibility

How will you budget your money for bills? How will you spend that left over, free-time money? Do you agree on how this will be spent? How much will you put into savings, and for unexpected emergencies? What if there is no left over money? How will you relax and spend your free time then?

Do you agree on all of these issues? Money is a huge issue with couples, whether married or living together, and one of the chief reasons given in marriage surveys for marital problems. It may seem unimportant now, or like a minor detail, but these are major things that need to be worked out.

What if there's a special treat that you give yourself every week or month, such as dinner out, a new c.d. or video game, whatever? Will you be willing to sacrifice this without grudges when money is short? What about the stuff that your parents buy you that you take for granted: Soda in the fridge, school supplies when you run out, doctor's bills, new clothes? Transportation money?

And what about the extra responsibilities: Grocery shopping? House work? Meal fixing?

How will you divide up the chores?

What About Your Education?

Do you both have the same values on education? Many young people drop out of school once they become married or pregnant. Attendance rates and performance at school tend to drop as well. Finishing high school, continuing education after high school graduation, and getting job training are very important factors in breaking out of the poverty role that many young couples face.

Are you willing to sacrifice the time and make the effort of getting an education now to live comfortably in the future? Is your partner willing to help you and sacrifice by doing more around the house, working more/longer/later at his or her job, or switching jobs for better pay or hours? Is your partner going to help make sure you get to school on time, and attend every day? Is your partner going to give you time and quiet to study? Support and encouragement even when he or she has to take on a lot of extra workload?

What if you both are still in school? Dropping out of school to get married and work may seem like the easy solution now, but higher education equals higher paying jobs. And it's important to remember that good paying jobs are harder to come by for teens who generally have less experience and education.

Where Will You Go?

Where will the two of you live? If it's with one of your parents, are both of you prepared for the stresses this may cause? (Still being treated like a child, having to live by their rules.) Will the other person feel comfortable with and get along well with your parents, brothers, and sisters?

If you plan on getting an apartment or house together, have you worked out a budget for how you will afford rent and the accompanying bills? Furniture? Will you feel comfortable and safe in the area you'll be living in?

Family Matters

Do you get along with your partner's family, and vice versa? Family is an important part of your life, and if you hate each other it can make life hell and cause major added stress and tension to your relationship with your partner.

In an ideal world, your parents and your partner's parents would be supportive of your relationship. Realistically, this is not always the case, for what could be a number of reasons, including biases against religion, race, age, or personality, and value conflicts. Situations between families can be especially intense when early pregnancy or young marriage comes into play. You can not just easily write your family or your partner's family off. Things can get difficult and you can forget that they are probably only trying to look out for your best interests, but don't give up on finding at least a middle ground, and working things out eventually.

...And Kids...

Do your views on children coincide? How many and when to have them? How to discipline? Does one of you view spanking as wrong and the other see it as the only way to make children understand right from wrong? What about time spent with the family? Does one of you value career success over time spent with family and one of you value family time over all else?

How will you divide up the child-raising responsibilities? Will one of you do the majority of the child caring and disciplining? Do you agree on who this will be, or will it be 50/50? Does one of you have 'gender role' issues? Does one of you expect the man to work and the woman to stay at home doing all the housework, while the other expects both to work and share household chores?

You Don't Own Me

Some teens want to get married because they feel that it will give them more control over their partner, or squash a lot of jealousy issues. Marriage is a partnership, it's not about control. Marriage doesn't usually change a person's actions or make them "shape-up". If your partner is a flirt or a partier now, they will most likely still be a flirt or a partier after marriage. You should work on lifestyle and behavior differences before entering into a marriage.

Know what the boundaries are and what your partner expects. Can your partner deal with you going out with members of the same sex without him or her? Can you deal with that when the situations are reversed? Watch out for double standards and work them out.

Teens with higher self-esteem, and relationships with strong trust, will have less jealousy to deal with and may be better equipped to handle jealousy when it arises.

Try not to be too dependent on your partner; for happiness, money, your own esteem, etc... Both of you should still be an independent person with a little bit of a life outside of each other. It can give you needed time apart and more to talk about when you are together. You should be able to depend upon your partner, but you should still depend on yourself first and foremost. Both people in a relationship can quickly get sick of being in roles such as "helpless one" and "one who has to do everything".


Make sure that your values coincide. While you certainly do not have to agree on everything to have a successful relationship, disagreements on certain core issues can mean major trouble.

Do you have a strong faith in one religion, and believe it is the "only" religion, while your partner is of a different religion, or has no belief in a religion at all? In which religion will you raise your children?

Some Tough Issues

Some people's views can change on issues, but don't count on it! You don't have to agree with your partner, but you do have to accept.

Can you accept your partner exactly as they are if they never change any of their "bad" habits or views?Do you feel that your partner has a problem with drugs or alcohol?

Has your partner ever been abusive to you, or have you seen violent tendencies in him or her?

These are huge issues that need to be resolved before marriage is considered.


According to "Teenage Couples: Caring, Change, and Commitment", by Jeanne Warren Lindsay:

More than 60% of teenage marriages fail within 5 years.

Eleanor H. Ayer's writes in her book, Teen Marriage, that:

"A girl married at 17 is twice as likely to be divorced as a girl 18 or 19. If a girl waits until she is 25 the chances that her marriage will last are 4 times better. Saying No to your partner as a teenager does not mean saying No forever. Why start out with the odds against you?"

If you are truly in love, that love will still be there waiting when you are ready and mature enough to deal with the problems and issues of marriage.

Some Final Advice

1) Get pre-marital counseling. According to Karen Cokely, M.S.W., a Family Therapist, more than half of all couples that come in for pre-marital counseling decide to wait. That's a surprising figure! Love and excitement can sometimes blind us to all the details marriage takes.

You can call a Family Services Center - look in the yellow pages of your phone book (under counseling, marriage counseling, psychology, social work, etc.), or speak with the clergy of a church or temple about receiving pre-marital counseling.

2) Ask people who were married as teenagers for advice and insight into troubles they faced. Many of your grandparents probably got married as teenagers, but think how different the world was then. Women were usually not expected to work or get continuing education, and it didn't take as much education or training for men to receive good paying jobs.

3) Read Dr. Tobin's marital advice on this site for insight into common problems faced in marriages.

Discuss with your partner how you would handle these situations should they arise.

4) Read the "Teenage Couples" series by Jeanne Warren Lindsay. These are excellent books, and I especially recommend Caring, Commitment and Change and Coping With Reality as must reads for anyone considering teenage marriage or just looking to improve their relationships in general.

5) Teenagers are changing so much in these last years before adulthood. Take this time to enjoy learning about yourself, and growing into an independent person. Take a few years so that later you won't regret rushing from your parent's home into a marriage, and never getting the chance to know what its like to live on your own, to experience all the things you can do as a person, not just as a couple. Be a whole person, not just a part of a couple.

I'm not saying that marriage is not an enjoyable thing, because it can be a really beautiful thing when both people are ready to handle it and everything that comes with it, and to fully commit themselves.

It takes work, though. No one ever says it's an easy thing to have a wonderful, lasting marriage.

It is my hope that you make a wise, well informed decision, and I wish you much luck in whatever that may be!

Appendix A:

Some quotes from people in the know:

Kelly Bell, a marriage and family therapist in Santa Monica, California: "I think anytime we get married we should think about a lot of things in advance. The biggest difference between teen and adults...is that teens haven't fully found out who they are...and so will go through more changes than adults."

Elizabeth, from Tennessee, age 18, married as a teen: "Young females need to believe that they are wanted and needed. Starting in grade school some girls feel lost and out of touch.

I feel that if we could get a course started to let young females know here are more things out there than kids and a family and actually give examples, these youths would realize that they really could have a future, and if they need to love something they can go and volunteer to help children that are ailing and poverty stricken."

Michael Halpern, a Certified Social Worker in New York State: "As to my opinion on teen marriages, I think it's sad and much more likely to end in divorce. If I were to get the opportunity to advise teens before they tied the knot, I would try to help them understand their motivations for marriage at that time in their lives, and the potential consequences."

Jason, Married as a teen: "As someone from a failed teen marriage, I personally would not support a teen marriage. I have had too many of friends who have also had their teen marriages fail. One of the biggest reasons given for the splits is money. Money as it relates to expenses and bills, as well as the money that one partner does or does not earn. Another reason given is lack of communication. It seems that in today's society, we too often keep our emotions and feelings bottled up, until we release them in such a way that it causes irreparable damage to the relationship. People do not realize that if they do not express their opinions, their partner is not made aware of anything he or she is doing wrong."

Appendix B:

For a look at marriage laws and legal ages in the United States, visit: Weddingdetails.com and
or call your local county clerks office.

Last modified on Sunday, 10 April 2011 16:04
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Erin Donovan

Erin Donovan

Erin Donovan's contributions were written in the year before she began college, at which time she was WholeFamily's Senior Teen Advisor.

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