Q&A from “Young Love—Young Marriage?”  

Wise Readers,  

Some young lovers can marry and thrive—and others, not so much.  What’s the difference?  What’s our broader culture got to do with that?  Who makes it—who doesn’t—and why?  And should Grant and Audrey—the couple from the original article—tell their parents of their plans at all?

Read on! 

Cheers, Duana


—Which Young Lovers Have The Best Odds?—

Rob Says: 

You know this is a very interesting topic of discussion.. People are always saying that young love never truly happens. I think that it does. Just because you are 17 or 18 yrs old and are madly in love doesn’t mean that it won’t last. Yes you have to tell the parents what is going on and they are going to say the normal things like what is mentioned above but if you show them that you are responsible enough, willing to work for what you want and are willing to gain the experience of what the parents have to offer then I feel things will work out for the best. You will always have the naysayers, and the watch what happens when people. I think there are young couples out there that can make this happen. Just my opinion…. Thanks

Duana’s Response:

Hi, Rob,

You’re right on all counts. Young love *does* occur, it *can* be real, and it *can* last. Unless certain basic supports are there, though, it tends to crash and burn.

These basic supports include the following risk factors.

Research shows that young couples are more likely to stay married—and happily so—if they:
—Wait until *after age 20* to actually get married;
—Both have parents still married to one another;
—Date longer than a year;
—Get a good and similar level of education;
—Find and keep jobs they like, where the income is reliable (even if the income isn’t high)
—Live in a small community where others will be invested in the couple’s well-being
—Aren’t living together or pregnant when they get engaged or married
—Are both committed to a religion, and even better, to the same religion
—Are no more than 9 years apart in age

As you see, if we were to summarize the data, we could say that being similar to one another, being out of one’s teens (at a minimum!), and being Supported By Others in your relationship when you get married all help *hugely* in having couples stay together.

Grant and Audrey have most of this list in their favor—which is why, instead of saying “What, Are You Crazy?!!!”, I encouraged them to go forward with the help of their families.

Thanks again for your observations and comments!


—What About The Exceptions To The Rule?  (And…what’s Culture got to do with it?)—

Laura Says:

As always, Duana, I enjoyed reading & learning from this article.
My parents got married, in 1956, at the age of 19. They are literally the exact same age…except my Dad is 4 HOURS older than my Mom!! :D
54 years later they are still happily wed, & are still each other’s best friends. In addition, they continue to be wise & loving parents to each of their 4 remaining children (my youngest brother died of testicular cancer 5 years ago). Their wisdom & life experiences are vast, & their lasting love for one another, provides an example of marital success. Because of the longevity of their marriage, my siblings & I often ask their advice on marital problems that have arisen in each of our marriages, & their take on raising our own children.

What makes my parents’ 54 successful, marital years together so unique, is they did NOT have any of the family support & blessings that your article discussed. Both my mom & dad came from abusive homes. My mom’s father died at age 40, & her mother quickly married a man 25 years younger. Because her new husband was only a little more then decade older than my mom, this man quickly decided that he did not want a stepdaughter around, so he & my mom’s mom shipped her off to a girl’s home from the age of 11-18. My dad’s dad was physically abusive to my dad, so my dad joined the navy as soon as he graduated from high school. When my parenta decided to get married, they did not have either of their parents’ blessing bc they were thought to be too young. They married anyway (at age 19), & were each other’s support. My wonderful parents beat all the odds. How they were able to do this, amazes me & my siblings.

So, young love & marriage can turn out successfully. On the other hand, I do hope that Grant & Audrey do wait for a few years…to allow their prefrontal cortex “cook” a little more, emotionally mature from being teenagers to secure adults… have a solid, an independent financial status.

I wish both Grant & Audrey all the best. Their marriage plans seem sound!


Duana’s Response:

Hi, Laura,

Your parents’ example is heartening—most people yearn for such a beautiful marriage.

But your parents’ union is not an example that today’s young adults should use to tell themselves their own marriages will pan out. I agree with you that, in Grant and Audrey’s case, they probably have a pretty good shot at this. They have most of the “risk factors” I listed above on their side.

Contrast that with a letter received from another 18-year-old man—one who also wants to marry his girlfriend, but with *not one* of the factors in their favor. For instance, he’s not religious and in fact disrespects religion—and she faces Mecca five times a day! His parents are divorced—and hers are adamantly opposed to the marriage! And…he sees no reason to wait at all to marry!

In circumstances like those, young love may be love…but marriage would be utterly foolish.


Back to your parents. Although they had little community in the form of family, they did share religion, similarity in age and goals and attitudes…and a *broader culture* that tried to keep newlyweds married at that time.

Contrast that with today’s broader culture of no-fault divorce and scientifically measured attitudes showing that When The Going Gets Tough, our over-all American society now thinks that divorce is The Solution. The well-researched message that Everyone Has Problems, And If You Change Partners, You Will Just Get A Different Set Of Problems —combined with its twin message that You Can Have Problems & Be Happy Anyway—has not trickled into mainstream consciousness.  

So, often, today’s young people are truly alone in their quest for a good marriage. When they have no religious community, no parental support (or, worse, parents who actively try to undermine the match), and a society that views marriage as easy come, easy go—no wonder young marriage is such an uphill struggle.

Finally, there are some communities that have always done fairly well at young marriage, such as the Hutterites…but even they usually wait until after 20 to wed. And, working in their favor but not in that of our mainstrream society, their gender roles of What Men Do and What Women Do are so entrenched, there’s not much fighting about how life will be lived. Nobody runs off to a different college, or decides to stop raising babies and start pursuing a new business, etc.

As a modern woman who isn’t from a closed community like that, I, of course, would never want to live that way. I have my American freedoms, and I love them. I wouldn’t take anything for my doctorate or this column or the fact that I can do this and teach and parent and be a wife. I love it that my husband supports me in all of that.

But to the extent that our freedoms detach us from a community that sees our business as their business—especially when it comes to matrimony—it’s now clear that there are trade-offs. And marriage often gets the short end of that—especially when the bride and groom are Ye Of Uncooked Prefrontal Cortices.

Thank you (and your parents) for showing us a real and beautiful success story despite the odds!


—Why Tell The Parents???  (Won’t that just make things worse?)—

Monica Says: 

Why does he need to tell any of the parents now?

He’s just gonna get shot down which means, IMHO, two things will happen simultaneously —

(1) the negativity from the parents will strengthen the couple’s resolve to marry, despite their recognition of potential deal-breakers, and

(2) that same negativity will serve as a seed of mistrust and discontent between them.


Duana’s Response:

Dear Monica,

What you’re referring to is called ‘reactance’ by social scientists—the tendency people have to restore their sense of freedom when it’s been threatened. So, research has shown that when parents forbid their kids to date a specific person, most adolescents respond by saying they’re even more deeply in love—the “Romeo & Juliet effect”.


I think if the parents were to react negatively, in this case, it would not matter per this couple’s commitment, since they already have such a high level of commitment to each other.

But your second point, I suspect, would hold true. If the parents don’t get on-board, it can sow seeds of discontent between the young couple. The younger we are, the more vulnerable and in need of some guidance.

I hope this couple’s parents will all help, rather than hinder, to make sure these particular young adults finish growing up well and happy and together. They do have so much else going for them.

Funny—as I’ve been writing this, I’ve been considering how I would react if an 18-year-old of this young man’s quality were to court my daughter as she grows up. I think I would be in favor—certainly moreso than if she were with someone shiftless and aimless and heartless, and moreso than if she were simply to bumble her way through her 20’s with men who mean little and/or break her heart. I would rather help raise her to have a good marriage, even if it meant raising her while she was in that marriage at the start, than having her practice habits contrary to her own long-term best interest. I don’t think I would stand in the way.

On the other hand, if someone unworthy proposed….watch out :).







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All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and Love Science Media, 2010

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Reader Comments (3)

Duana - Love your articles!! You always write about the coolest and most relevant topics, and provide the best-est advice.

Knowing what I do know about the prefrontal cortex and life in general (I have 49 years on-the-job experience, with no breaks in service), I would cringe if my daughter at age 17 came to me with such news.

But I would expect to her tell me, and not just elope with Mr. Motivation (whom I do like and admire) in fear of facing me or receiving my disapproval. I hope I am building such a relationship and trust with my daughter that she would seek my advice. And I love the way you advised the couple to acknowledge the parents' concerns, which are spot-on.

My husband's reaction would be to have a cow, a fit, and a beer, and then possibly accept the marriage because he would be afraid that our daughter was having sex with Mr. Motivation, and sex before marriage in his view is wrong, wrong wrong, wrong x 100% wrong - never mind that no one --including him-- can adhere to that ... bless his heart.

As for me, I don't drink beer, and believe and hope that I would listen, and then strongly suggest they both finish college first. The last thing anyone needs in college is more stress (e.g., a fledgling marriage) and the first thing everyone needs in this world (aside from peace, love, happiness, and all that) is a COLLEGE DEGREE.

I would get them birth control, and propose that they both continue to live at home through high school, in appropriate dorms during college, and then mid-way through college they could set a wedding date and move in together. Being somewhat evil, I would tie financial incentives to this plan, such as my agreement to foot the bill for a nice wedding upon college graduation and possibly help with a down payment on a house.

What do you think?

October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

PS: I would like to add that I passed Psych 101 in college, but I heard about the prefrontal cortex HERE, at Love Science. I keep returning to this excellent site because I always learn something new and useful, both from the articles and the reader comments that follow.

Thank you for your efforts, Duana, in making the scientific data accessible, understandable, relatable (sp?), and enjoyable to regular folks like me who would never pick up a scientific journal, but who appreciate data-based advice, your style of presentation, and the help it gives us in our daily lives and relationships.

October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

Dear Gillian,

You are a major reason I love writing Love Science--it makes my day to see you are finding this applies to your and your daughter's and spouse's lives.

I must admit I laughed right out loud at your description of what your husband would do if faced with news that his teen daughter might wed. There's a group he can join: Dads Against Daughters Dating. (Okay, it's not a real group. The guys who would join are too busy fending off boys who want their daughters. But maybe there should be such a group.)

Anyway, to answer your query:

I think your evil plan is just about perfect, as long as the incentives don't actually create so much discontent that the young adults haul off and get married quickly just because you said No.

The idea is to acknowledge that they are indeed old enough to marry, legally, but that it's in their best interest to wait--and that you are going to *help* them not only to Wait, but to get established as spouses so that they can succeed in marriage and in life. What you don't want to become is that special
Roadblock whose authority is oh-so-important to defy.

I think the idea also is for parents to acknowledge the kids' point of view. Wouldn't you rather your kid found someone Right for them while still young--rather than sleeping around with a dozen heartbreakers on the road to someone who's even Possible? (Of course, there is a middle ground...)

So, hypothetically (since, thankfully, this isn't happening to your daughter), you could say: "I think it's really lucky you found each other so young. You won't have to go through all the dating wrong people and getting your hearts broken, and you know Dad and I value having sex only inside marriage. And you're both so much alike and so hard-working. If you were older, Dad and I would want you to marry right away!

"But because you *are* so young, I hope you will let us help you finish growing up more before you actually get married. Even people who are really good for each other, and really in love, tend to get divorced if they marry before they're in their 20's. You've found the right one, and I want you to go about being together so you *stay* together.

"Which means waiting to get married for a couple years. Dad and I would like to help you both with college expenses after you marry, if you can wait to marry until you're both over 20. We want to help you be happy together. What do you think?"

It might not work--but it's worth the shot. What do you think? :)

October 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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