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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a number of papers. Here's this week's, on the latest marriage research:

I find it hilarious when magazines feature Julia Roberts on “What I’ve Learned About Love”, or Angelina Jolie with her tips on making love last. Stars who have been married multiple times and cheated on their spouses, or stole other people’s spouses, hardly seem like experts on how to experience a lifetime of love.

Instead of relying on them for marriage advice, then, I thought I’d take a look at some recent studies that put much of what we think we know about marriage on its head.

For instance, we all know it’s important to marry one’s equal, right? Turns out it depends how you define the word “equal”. A Europoean study called “Optimising the Marriage Market” followed 1500 couples for five years. They found that women who marry men at least five years older than they are experience divorce about six times less frequently. And here’s a weird fact: couples are more secure if the woman is more educated than the husband. Maybe educated women know what they want, and work harder to get it! Finally, a woman should choose a man who has never been divorced before. Previous relationships can endanger present ones.

What to make of all this? Women, I think, tend to be more mature than men, if one can judge by the appreciation, or lack thereof, of fart jokes. Marrying an older man, then, can be a wise choice.

Here’s another one: you definitely shouldn’t get married unless you’ve “tried each
other out first”, right? Most couples believe this one, since up to 70% of couples cohabit before they marry. Yet these couples may actually be endangering their future security. According to a study published in the February edition of the Journal of Family Psychology, testing the relationship first tends to lead to negative communication patterns, more fighting, and more breakups. When you begin a relationship always testing the person—does he make me happy? Does she fulfill my needs?—then the partner is always under scrutiny. You’re judging them, rather than asking, “Am I fulfilling his/her needs?”

Besides, once you’re living together, it’s easy to slip into marriage because it’s the next logical step. You’ve already developed this sense of intimacy, but it doesn’t necessarily last. A better idea, then, might be to figure out if the one you love is marriage material before you rent that U-Haul.

Finally, you should definitely wait until you’re established and you’ve played the field, right? Well, yes. And no. Getting married as a teenager is not a good idea, according to most statisticians. But getting married in your early twenties, according to Norval Glenn at the University of Texas, tends to be better than marrying in your late twenties or early thirties. You can have children when you’re younger and more energetic. You can establish yourselves together, rather than trying to blend two very separate households. And you tend to stick together. Speaking as one who tied the knot at 21, and never regretted it, I think early marriages can be wonderful—as long as both parties are mature. Now that I have teens, it’s fun being the “young mom”. And it’s so rewarding having such a rich history with my husband. Nevertheless, you still need to find someone who's compatible. Don't just marry young for the sake of marrying young. But if you have found that person, perhaps we shouldn't hesitate so much.

Of course, if you violate any of these rules, it doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. These are generalizations, not specifics, and any one couple can beat the odds. But perhaps it’s time to face up to what actually works, and encourage our kids in the right direction.

Marry younger, marry men who are slightly older, and don’t live together first. It goes against common wisdom. But perhaps what we commonly believe isn’t actually so wise after all.

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At 9:36 AM , Blogger LauraLee Shaw said…

Woo hoo, I passed the test! ALMOST with flying colors. I married a man who was 4 years older, We DID NOT live together b4 we were married, and we were both Christians. BUT I was nineteen, a month before I turned 20. (Although I seemed older than that, does that count?)

It's 20 years in March, and truly I love him more deeply than I ever did before.

Awesome article, Sheila!


At 1:24 PM , Blogger Kimberly said…

I don't think I pass the test. I met my husband in high-school. I was a Sophomore, he was a Senior. We married 4 years later. ..We didn't live together before marriage, and we both had christian beliefs although different...We have been married for 25 years...we have 9 children, and i guess starting out without anything for us, was fine...we work hard, save what we can, and live a pretty simple life.

I know things don't make you happy, having the newest or latest thing, is only an illusion, because tomorrow it is not the newest or latest...Our children range in age from 21-23 months, this life has been quite an adventure. I have enjoyed the ride. I had completed 3 years of college when baby #1 was born, and i thought i would finish my degree in a year or two, but things have not slowed down long enough in my life, and frankly i have learned more at home,than i ever did in college.


At 2:05 PM , Blogger L Harris said…

I wasn't really young when we got married (I was 21), but we did not live together and he's a bit older than I.


At 3:51 PM , Anonymous Tessa said…

I was 3 months shy of 20 and he was 1 month shy of 20. So he's a bit older :) I'm glad that we both moved out of our parents' houses together. Best thing that we could have done! And I'm not a super-young mom but I had my first when I was 23. I'm looking forward to having them grow up and me still having the energy to keep up to them. So I guess that I pass too lol


At 10:24 PM , Blogger Jules said…

I was married exactly 3 weeks before my 19th birthday to a man 6-1/2 years older. We've now been married almost 26 years. Our eldest son was married at 21 and his wife was 19. Early next year our second son will be married. He will be 23 and his wife will be one year and one day younger!

I think as Christians and wanting to reserve sex for marriage, when we meet someone we want to spend the rest of our life with, it tends to speed up the path to the altar. That's been my observation anyway.

Blesssings, Jules


At 2:26 AM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Lots of wisdom there!

I married "late", at 27, and had my first baby at 30. I've often wished I'd had my kids 10 years earlier... (well, DUH, and married earlier!!!) I would've been a more "fun" mom :0) Well, more energetic, anyway!

There's a lot to be said for establishing yourselves together, as a couple, rather than as individuals. I think I did one thing right, sort of by default - I never lived alone. I look at my sister, who is not married, and has lived on her own for more than 15 years, and I realize how difficult it would be for her to marry, at this point. Without a spouse, or a room-mate, your "give and take" skills get rusty, and it's easy to get set in your ways.


At 8:09 PM , Blogger Cheri said…

I didn't do most of those - I married in late 30s to an older man (7 years) and we lived together for 4 years before we got married - his idea to get married not mine! We have been together 21 years total and are doing fine. Our secret is that we are best friends and share our feelings with each other.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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