It starts early. There are things we need to teach our children, especially our teenage and young adult children, about marriage that sometimes gets lost in what seems to be acceptable behavior in today's world. More specifically, sexual involvement before marriage. Our teens and young adults seem to be clueless about the seriousness of their sexual behavior and how it will affect their future marriage.
Recent studies show that premarital choices are significantly important in determining the outcome of marriage. A new report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia states, "Our first major conclusion challenges what we'll call the Vegas Fallacy—the idea that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Actually, what people do before marriage appears to matter. Specifically, how they conduct their romantic lives before they tie the knot is linked to their odds of having happy marriages."
This debunks the idea that sexual experience, including cohabiting, before marriage has no effect on the marriage. The study found that couples who save sexual intimacy for marriage have a higher rate of success in achieving a happy marriage.
In our work with couples in therapy we see the unhappy results of premarital sex and promiscuity. Youth or young adults who think playing around with sex is simply that, with no consequences, are in for a rude awakening. There comes a day of reckoning. Like the study mentioned, what happens in Vegas doesn't just stay in Vegas. Sexual activity before marriage lives on. It can end up with disappointing feelings about self or disillusionment about what love really is. Or sometimes a pregnancy results without the stability of married parents to raise the child.
The study also mentioned that when a person has many sexual partners they are continually in comparison mode. When you stick to one partner — the one you married — you find happiness in developing a loving sexual relationship together without the intrusion of comparisons.
Another interesting side affect this study brought out is that of having multiple sex partners means you've had a good amount of experience in breaking up. Breaking up can then become the norm with "a more jaundiced view of love and relationships." Breaking up a marriage may not seem all that bad. After all, it's just another romance gone bad. This is not the attitude we want our young people developing before they enter marriage. They need to understand the tragedy of divorce and their responsibility in building a successful and happy marriage.
For a condensed version you may prefer reading with them a news report on the findings such as this one by Lois M. Collins. Education is the key to understanding. When they know the whys they are much more likely to choose a safer path.
2. Let them know that marriage is a big deal
This one event starts a whole new family unit. It needs years of preparation by working at becoming the best person you can be and finding someone who is doing the same. That is not done by experimentation. When people become sexually active, that ends up being all that the date is about. It doesn't leave time and space to really know a person and discover qualities that you want in a future mate. Preparing for a successful marriage means holding onto a belief that saving sexual intimacy for marriage will provide the best opportunity for lasting happiness in marriage. Review again how the studies bear this out.
3. Take them to a wedding or a wedding reception
Let them see the happy couple and that many friends and family come to celebrate the beginning of this new family. Help them see that marriage involves more than just the couple. Many people are counting on this marriage being happy and lasting. Couples owe it to themselves, their future children and to their community to create a lasting marriage. It's not just about them. That's why what they do to prepare for this most important event matters so much.
Happiness in marriage is well worth sacrifices and preplanning to make it the best it can be. These few ideas can help make that happen.
See Gary and Joy Lundberg's new .99 e-book "Wake-Up Call: What Every Husband Needs to Know" on amazon.com.