Avoiding Unnecessary Delays to Marriage

As I observe young people in our church today, it seems that delayed marriage is now the norm rather than the exception. I love interacting with singles to discover the thoughts driving their beliefs on marriage and family. Many of the reasons I hear for delaying marriage are weak.

I can’t afford to be married.”

I need to get my advanced degree before settling down.”

I need to settle into my career first.”

I need to learn how to be independent before I can ever be successful in marriage.”

Do you think money, education, vocation and independence are legitimate reasons to delay marriage, especially at a young age? I think not. Before you go all Jackie Chan on me, let’s look briefly at each one. Please keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list. There are many other unnecessary delays to marriage. These are just a few of the most common.

The spreadsheet delay
I love when a guy tells me, “I can’t afford to be married,” while holding a Venti Caramel Macchiato in his right hand and an iPhone in his left. Give me a couple of minutes with your weekly budget and I’ll show you the feasibility of marriage.

Entitlement says, “I want in three years what my parents accumulated in thirty.” It is unnecessary to delay marriage just to maintain an absurd standard of living. You can avoid the spreadsheet delay by adjusting your lifestyle, having realistic expectations, playing less video games, and working hard.

Professor Mark Regnerus addresses this issue: “Marrying young can spell poverty, at least temporarily. Good marriages grow through struggles, including economic ones.”

Let me interpret that for you. Think egg-crate furniture and mattress on the floor, not Ethan Allen or Posturepedic. Think top ramen or spaghetti at home for dinner most nights, not Applebee’s. Grab Folgers on the way out the door in the morning, not Starbucks on the way to work.

The education delay
I married my wife in 1996, between her junior and senior years at Liberty University. We thought about delaying a year to let her finish her senior year on campus, but that was too long for both of us to wait. Instead, we had the blessing of Liberty’s extended-learning program, and Amy was able to finish her degree through correspondence. It’s doable.

There are several reasons why the education delay is unnecessary.

First of all, college is not for everyone. Men and women alike can choose occupations that do not require college degrees.

Second, and I know this is a crazy thought, but what about expediting your marriage and delaying college? What? You may be thinking: “Heretic! This guy’s a false teacher.” But the fact remains that mature twentysomething adults can be married while attending college. I have a dear family friend who recently completed college in his thirties. He has been very successful and has a fantastic family. I know others who have gotten married while in college and completed their studies while young and poor and working. It can be done.

Third, this delay can mean loss of cash, because, as I said, some parents will discontinue tuition assistance if you marry prior to graduation.  It felt chivalrous to be able to tell Amy’s parents that I was excited to pay for her senior year of college.

The job delay
This is probably the second most common delay I hear in our church, and it often makes sense to the majority of young people. After all, they did not set up the “American Dream,” but for some reason, many of them feel they must conform to it.

When you’re just getting started in marriage, things are extremely tight. It’s hard, and you must chase entitlement from your heart. Entitlement says, “I deserve.” Entitlement sets unrealistic expectations for income and lifestyle; it cops an attitude toward authority because you always feel like you’re worth more than you really are. Don’t miss the common denominator here: you.

Maybe you’re considering delaying marriage until you land the perfect job or climb the ladder at your current job. I say it doesn’t matter—work a job that may not be ideal, but one that pays the bills. I had more than one job I despised early in our marriage, but all along I was thrilled to care for my family. There are many benefits to marrying, then pursuing your career. I loved coming home and telling Amy that the company I worked for gave me a promotion, raise or a generous Christmas bonus. I always enjoyed giving Amy the “extra” money that came in.

The independence delay
Independence is now a socially acceptable term for selfishness. As a pastor who regularly does marriage counseling, I see independence as one of the leading causes of marital conflict. At the root of couples in crisis you’ll often find two people trying to live independent lives. They no longer dream together. They don’t attend church together anymore. They stop praying together. Date night is out the window. They have different spending patterns and parenting styles. She begins looking for intimacy from other sources. And he turns to attention to other women or masturbation rather than intimacy with his wife. Satan fed the independence line to Eve when he said, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). If we’re not careful, we can start to believe the lie and try to live independent of God and others.

When Genesis 2:24 says,

a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.”

The word united means “to cling, stay close, cleave, stick to, stick with, follow closely, and join to.” The goal of marriage is to weave your own dreams, goals, and passions into the dreams, goals, and passions of your spouse. That’s part of oneness.

Delayed-marriage advocates say you should get married only after you’ve been successful living independently. A better way to solve the Independence Delay is to take 100-percent personal responsibility for your sin, feelings, thoughts, and actions and be joined to your spouse who is 100-percent responsible for his or her sin, feelings, thoughts, and actions. Personal responsibility can help create a great marriage; independence does not.


Author of Young and in Love, Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church, in Branson, MO. He has co-authored four other books with Dr. Gary Smalley: The Language of Sex, From Anger to Intimacy, As Long As We Both Shall Live and Great Parents, Lousy Lovers. He is a regular guest on Focus on the Family, Life Today and Moody Radio. Cunningham enjoys teaching on marriage and family straight from Scripture. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary. Having met his wife, Amy, on a blind date at Liberty University, Cunningham determined to marry her that night. Although he didn’t ask her then, she said “yes” to his proposal one year later. Now married for 15 years, they both love taking road trips and boating on Table Rock Lake with their children, Corynn and Carson, near their home. Follow Ted Cunningham on Twitter.

  • Jana

    I appreciate your points, but I’m not sure that rushing young people (many of whom are already hormone driven and impulsive) into marriage is necessarily wise. I would like to see this article counterbalanced with an article about legitimate reasons TO delay marriage. For example, knowing eachother fewer than 6 months, not having had an in-depth discussion about your shared and differing values or knowingly getting married for only sexual gratification reasons.

  • This is a great article – people often ask why on earth I’d be open to marrying young, but if it’s God and it’s good, why wait? The argument, “If it’s God, it will still be there when you… finish/start/earn/have” just doesn’t make sense to me!
    But on that note, do you think there are any reasons not to marry young? Things that you should wait for or at least be aware of when deciding when to time marriage?
    Thanks again!

  • Lindsay

    I completely agree with you, Ted! I do see a lot of young adults in my church and community making unnecessary delays, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, I think it’s different for men (who can pursue relationships and marriage) and women (who have to wait to be pursued). I always assumed that I would meet “the one” and get married in my early to mid 20s, having all of my children by age 30. I never thought I would still be single at 32 years old. So, some of us young, single Christians – especially women – are not single by choice.

  • Ese

    Great article. In Nigeria, family traditions, cultural demands, socio-economic status for the Man (Bridegroom) and Local Church rules screen a lot of young girls from early/optimal time marriages. In al, I am very impressed with your article. Especially about the concept of growing up with ur spouse from scratch to sky-scrpper.

  • This is good stuff. Thanks!
    Quick question on what I read in the Focus on the Family email on leaving and cleaving. As a father of five, two daughters and three sons, ages 14-22, I am now thinking that the way my wife and I launch our sons is different from our daughters. I am trying to think and act biblically as I know that the culture think this is crazy. For instance, my son age 18 is going out of state to the USCGA but my daughter age 22 is still at home going to school locally. This is intentional though we don’t make a big deal out of it. We are trying to execute Gen 2:24 is a post Christian culture. (not sure what Branson is like) Any thoughts on this?

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