Should my girlfriend and I get married before I graduate from the university? We're both mature Christians and we've both made a commitment to sexual purity before marriage. We've been dating about five months, and after much prayer, we've decided to get married in two years. Our parents approve of our plans, but mine disagree about the timing. I'm a nineteen-year-old freshman, and they think we should wait until I finish my senior year. My parents have always been strict and controlling, and I feel that this is basically an issue of their personal preference. What do you think?
You're facing a decision that requires careful consideration and keen discernment. We're happy to have this opportunity to help you sort out the various pros and cons of the question.
Let's begin by looking at the positive aspects of your situation. You and your girlfriend appear to have a good foundation upon which to build a solid relationship. She sounds like a wonderful person, and there's every reason to suppose that she may be the one God wants you to marry. The two of you have made a commitment to pursue sexual purity, which is another strong point in your favor. You've also got your parents' support-at least in the general sense. They must agree that the two of you make a good match, and that's a hopeful sign.
On the other side of things, it may not be wise to make a decision about marriage at nineteen years of age , especially when you and your girlfriend have only dated for a short amount of time. This is where the need for discernment comes in. Psychological research demonstrates that in the first three to six months of a relationship, couples are in the "infatuation" stage. During this stage, the brain releases chemicals called endorphins which contribute to a heightened sense of happiness and well-being. Endorphins are the same chemicals responsible for the "high" that many runners feel during a run or immediately afterwards.
During the infatuation stage, a person is basically "in love with being in love." He is unlikely to view his dating partner or their relationship realistically. This is why we usually advise couples-especially younger ones-to date for at least a year before getting engaged.
Generally speaking, then, we'd counsel you to wait a bit. You've already told us that you're planning to hold off on marriage for a couple of years, and we want to affirm you in that decision. But we'd like to emphasize that it might be a good idea to approach the first half of that period as a "courtship" rather than an "engagement." In other words, we think it would be wise to take some time to get to know each other on a much deeper level before locking yourselves into a commitment. Although your marriage might work out fine if you marry during college, your chances for success will greatly increase if you give your relationship an extra year or two. But don't overdo it-if you postpone marriage too long, you may be setting yourselves up for a host of other complications and difficulties that are much better avoided. In particular, the pressure to engage in pre-marital sex will tend to increase with time.
Meanwhile, you can greatly increase your chances for marital success if you commit to a structured, reputable premarital counseling program that includes personality testing. One of the best programs available is called "Prepare and Enrich," which was developed by Dr. David Olsen and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota. The relationship test in Prepare and Enrich has an incredible success rate at predicting which couples will have a happy marriage and which couples will be divorced within a few years.
Given all these facts, here's what we'd suggest. First, date your girlfriend for at least a year before considering engagement. Second, make an appointment with a Christian counselor and commit to premarital counseling before you buy the ring and pop the question. Third, consider the wisdom of your parents' advice to wait until after you've graduated to get married. They know you better than you may think they do, and they probably have good reasons for recommending that you finish school before plunging into marriage.
Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with referrals to qualified therapists practicing in your area. Our staff counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. If you think this might be helpful, please give us a call for a free consultation.
Before You Get Engaged
Preparing for Marriage