Getting married during school is a multi-generational tradition in my family. Grandpa started it: many aunts, uncles, and siblings on both sides have also made it a habit. So we have heard all the usual objections: “You’re too young;” “It’s financially unwise;” “You won’t finish your degree;” “Babies will end your career before you can start it;” and so on. Some people have assumed that the weddings must be shotgun weddings — why else would you get married before you have a degree and a job? Others think that parents will indulge and provide financial support until there is enough money for a nice house. A few think that home must have been a horrible place for us to make such a reckless choice.
In America, even Christians assume that finishing school before marriage is a logical and irreversible chronology. Try and change the order, and you will end up poor, uneducated, with marriage problems, and three preschoolers. There is genuine pressure for young Christian couples to wait for marriage until their degrees are done. Most often, the pressure comes from the culture, then the Christian community, and even parents.
This week, we asked half a dozen couples from different countries, married in different decades, to look back on the plus side of being married in school. The variety of answers opens up new ways to think about when to get married, and why.
One woman made a crucial observation: “I think if you’re at the point in your relationship where you should be married, then it doesn’t matter if you’re in school or not. If you’re Christians and getting married for the right reasons, then it won’t be a life destroying idiotic mistake no matter what stage of life you’re in, whether school or not. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend people try and get married while in school unless it so happens that that’s the timing of their relationship.”
It is the stage of the relationship, not the stage of education, that determines when someone should or should not get married. This is biblical. Just as we should not stir up love before it desires (Song 8:4), neither should we put off marriage to another believer while we burn (1 Cor. 7:9). Being in school is not a reason to get married. But it’s rarely a reason to not get married.
Another couple said that they felt as though other Christians were telling them to put up with sexual temptation in order to secure a career, endangering or sacrificing sexual purity so they could finish school: “People kept telling us to wait till school is done, but we didn’t want to risk the danger of waiting and falling into sin. So it is basically holiness vs. career, which would you choose? We put God before career/scholarly pursuits.” Despite being told that he was placing his career on the altar, this particular man went on to do graduate studies after the wedding and has risen quickly in the career of his choice.
One wife noted, “It was good that we got married when we did, and probably should have a few years earlier, because there was less of a split focus between relationship and school especially since we were so far apart. But it wasn’t easy and was frowned upon by pretty much everyone who found out we were 18 and 19 and married.”
That “split focus” often disappears after marriage. A settled relationship frees people. That is why the large majority of people whom we know who married in school saw their grades rise effortlessly after the wedding. One man noted, “Marks went up. For guys this is a no brainer—imagine switching from a house full of video games into ‘real life’.” “My grades actually didn’t go up,” a wife confessed, “They stayed the same, but I skipped more classes. And my husband’s average went up.” Another wife said, “Living together means you’re always available to encourage/motivate each other during academically related panic attacks, discouragement, etc… My husband benefitted from having me to brainstorm ideas with and edit his writing (esp. as English is his second language).” Marriage brings a settledness and built-in academic support, evidenced in rising grades.
A business major graduate had helpful observations about the financial aspect of young, “college” marriages. “Getting married in school, with no money, seems like the best financial place to start. We learn to be fiscally responsible together. We rejoice when we get a toaster. You get to experience saving and building a home together. Perhaps the stupidest critique of early marriage is that you need to wait till you have money and a house—only when you have those material things in order, can you be ready to get married! Rubbish.”
One of the biggest reasons these couples were thankful for their early weddings was the chance to grow up together, quickly. Responsibility, productivity, maturity, and spiritual fruitfulness all scored high for people. Getting married in school makes, “the transition from the ‘fairy tale’ life style of university (sleep in like crazy, do a bit of studying, partying, etc.) to real life (an alarm clock that works, schedules, being dependable/responsible, working) easier. When you get married you are responsible to one another and will work harder than if it is just yourself, I think. So, people who get married in school could start becoming more productive members of society more quickly.”
People who chose to get married in school are often more aware of what they are doing than people realize. Someone told an engaged teenager, “You’re not even grown up yet!” She wisely pointed out that she and her fiancée would be able to grow up together. This woman knew that maturation and productive, adult life would be consequences of marriage and was welcoming that. One husband worked two part-time jobs after his wedding while being a full-time student (for one and a half degrees) and becoming a father to two children. It certainly seems like a more fruitful route than many 20-somethings are taking today.
Couples also said that they grew “together” more quickly. Having a wedding before life habits and patterns are established generally makes the shift to marriage easier for both people, and creates a oneness from the start: “We now are able to work very closely together, anticipate the others’ needs and thoughts, and have a strong sense of shared vocation that I doubt we’d have if we were not married during the most intense stage of my husband’s PhD studies.” University is a formative time in a person’s life: sharing that with a spouse only builds a marriage, as relationship history is long and includes a major part of personal history. Another wife said, “Campuses always have something neat going on; we could do all sorts of things together on campus.” More than three decades after graduation, that couple has very fond memories of enjoying student life with one another—despite poverty and busyness.
This is also true spiritually. “We became more productive in the church as we encouraged each other to serve more. Iron sharpens iron,” said a husband. This comes not only with living with a Christian spouse, but also by building a social network as a couple. “I learned a ton from all the smart and godly friends who were part of seminary life,” one woman noted. Another said, “Because we were married and had our own place, we could host all the campus Bible studies. Our house was the hub of the Christian student community.” What better way to start of a marriage than to be actively involved in ministry to and with others?
One wife, who completed six years of university after her wedding, had a comment in a new category: “Being married in school is just fun.” Many other couples affirmed this. While it’s no reason by itself to tie the knot, it sure is icing on the cake.
These comments are from people who studied fields including medicine, engineering, science, business, theology, history, philosophy, literature, and more. They have stable marriages and are doing a great job parenting children of all ages. They have jobs—jobs in their fields, with adequate incomes.
Their situations are just that—their own, unique stories. Nobody claims that marrying young guarantees a sweet gpa, good career, and stable marriage. But many people claim that you have to choose between those two options. If you are marrying the right person for the right reasons, it’s just not true. The “who” and the “why” are essential. The “when” and the “how” will sort themselves out if the first two have solid answers.