The two most “shocking” trends that everyone seems adamant about diagnosing in regards to Millennials are (A) Why are Millennials getting married later and later, and (B) why are fewer Millennials attending church? Perhaps the two are correlated to each other; since fewer Millennials are going to church, and being trained in the Church’s equation for a successful marriage, they are finding these things out later, and thus, getting married later. Often times in my friend circles, the idea of getting married at 20, 21, 22 gets criticized–we don’t understand why someone would want to choose that path: “They don’t even have their finances established yet”, “Have they even talked about raising children?”, “They are going to change so much, it’s sure to end in divorce”, as if by criticizing these young marriages, we are justifying our choices to not choose that route (I’m sure they say the same thing about us, unmarrieds: “She’s going to be too old by the time she settles down and won’t be able to have kids!”, “Don’t they know that all the quality people are already taken?”, “I can’t believe she could just blow all that money like that”).
Of many of those young marrieds that I know, part of their decision to marry young occurred because they were following this formula set by the Church. I am the kind of believer that–even if the church turns out to be a bunch of hooey and there’s no such thing as a heaven or an afterlife, it’s still worth investing in, because whoever wrote the Bible sure does know a thing or two about the human condition and how we work; I find that, the more I submit myself to the teachings of the Bible, the richer, more meaningful, “easier” my life becomes (I say “easier” because as humans, we really are always suffering, but when I’m able to understand what the intentions behind my suffering are, then it makes the actual suffering a little more bearable). I do think that, in regards to training for marriage, the Church does know a thing or two about how to set up a successful relationship:
Being in for the long haul: I think, as Millennials, we often have this misconception that the person we marry is the person we will stay with (which kind of makes choosing a partner sound really daunting, because if I make a mistake, then I’m stuck with them for the rest of my life). But, if we think about our own persons, we are constantly changing, learning new things, having different experiences, evolving our understandings of the world. And, we each have our very unique experiences of the world; we could go on a road trip with someone, eat all of the same food, sing along to all of the same songs, take all the same bathroom breaks, and yet, our recall and experience of that road trip could be quite different (SEE: How Lonely It Is)
What the Church focuses on is this idea of “seasons”, and that when we accept someone into marriage, we accept them for the good seasons, but also for the bad seasons. If you interview couples who have been married for many decades, they will talk about chunks of time in their marriage where things happened; someone moved out for a year, someone spent twenty years in an industry and then moved the family during a mid-life crisis, someone fell ill, the season of raising children, of waiting for children, of having grand children; our lives are constantly evolving, just as we are. As Millennials, because we are deemed the “generation of instantaneous gratification”, we are often quick to get out of situations when things seems bad or uncomfortable or awkward, but what the Church emphasizes is that we journey through these seasons together, and that we endure, because the bad season will eventually turn into a good season, and because there is value in sticking it out and being in it for the long haul. I’m sure there were times when those couples married for decades questioned their decisions to be together, but then there were other times that their relationships were magical, and had they pulled the Millennial card, they would not have ever experienced those magical moments, because they would have let the bad ones get in the way.
Setting aside time for prayer: Prayer, meditation, journaling, etc. all serve the same purpose–moments in which we can enter into personal reflection, ruminate on our days, consider our roles in our relationships; as 21st century people, we never donate enough time spending time alone, I think, because we are always afraid of what might come up during that alone time.
When I’m praying or meditating, I’m doing three things: thanking God, and showing gratitude, thinking about potential conflicts in my life and how I should respond to them, and trying to practice that trait of selflessness, and consider their circumstances. Its kind of something like, “Dear God, thank you for my job, my family, and my friends; please direct me on how I should respond to that person; and, let so-and-so know that I’m thinking about their mother-in-law situation” (because, aren’t mother-in-laws always problems?)
The Church says to pray, because there is value in spending time alone, whether you believe is is God talking to you, your inner alien, or just your own mind. In a relationship, setting aside this time for personal reflection could be very important. First of all, by praying and focusing on gratitude, we are (attempting) to shift our focus to positive thoughts, which, studies have proven lead to a happier well being; sure, my husband could have stinky feet, but instead, I’m going to focus on his kind gesture of cleaning my car. Second of all, by setting aside time to reflect on our days, and to consider potential conflicts, we are allowing ourselves time to rebuild, reconstruct, and re-examine situations so that we can continue progressing our relationship. For example, say we had a disagreement with our significant other; during this time of reflection, we might conclude that the reason we lashed out was because we were feeling unloved, and then we can figure out a way to solve that so that it does not happen again. And last, relationships are always about putting someone else before yourself, so by setting aside time to just think about someone else, you are practicing that trait of selflessness.
Working together as a team: the Bible sets up the roles of women, and the roles of men, and that together, they are a union, because whoever wrote the Bible saw that two minds are always greater than one. In my opinion, sometimes these gender roles can be a little outdated, but I do believe in the value the Church teaches about working together as a team, and that there is something very intimate and special about a couple who works in those moments together. For example, say that your significant other has qualms with a member of the family, and they feel like this particular member of the family “steals their thunder”, and they always come home super upset and deflated after a family gathering. Knowing that, and working together as a team, you could do some stuff before, after, or during the gathering to curb some of these feelings. Or, your significant other is buckled down with work and needs you to do the grocery shopping, or whatever the case may be. But, when you can do these things together and work together as a team, as the Bible says, the load gets a little lighter, and a little more enjoyable to share.
Pre-Martial Counseling: There are some demonizations that have strict guidelines for how this pre-martial counseling goes, and others that make a mere suggestion, but I think the Church is right in at least recommending this in order to maintain and establish strong relationships, because there certainly is something humbling about having to go in front of someone you love and confess all of your insecurities, deepest desires, and political opinions. I think, too often, we skirt around potentially controversial issues because we don’t want to offend someone, and then something happens, and we wish we would have known that opinion way sooner (SEE: Questions I Wish It Were Socially Acceptable to Ask on a First Date). While counseling often has a negative stigma to it, of all the people I’ve known who have done it say that it made them fall more and more in love with their significant other because they were asked to consider situations, solve hypothetical problems, and inevitably, understand at a deeper level what makes that person tick (and, as we know from To Kill a Mockingbird, understanding someone’s perspective improves empathy, which makes us see them as a fallible human, just like ourselves).
No sex until marriage: Certainly in 200 B.C, this made more sense, because people lived shorter lives, there were no antibiotics for STI’s, or birth control pills, but I think there is something deeper to this warning than just not engaging in this physical act. Because, what the Bible understands about the human make up, is that a certain amount of emotion is tied up in this physical act, and that engaging too soon, too often, too promiscously could be extremely detrimental. When I look at people who share some of the most damaged stories, often times, it is the result of some kind of thing relating to sex. And, the Bible wants to caution us against these wounds, because It wants to keep us as pure as possible so that we undergo the least amount of suffering. So, it’s not the physical act that the Bible wants to protect us from, but rather the emotional trauma that can be the result of making that very instinctual and human decision–it knows us better than we know ourselves.
The power of forgiveness: Besides selflessness, charity, gratitude, the most important lesson we can take away from the Church is how to forgive, and how often we must forgive in relationships. One of the reasons the Church is against divorce (except in cases of abuse) is because we should learn to forgive others, and they will likely have to learn to forgive us. In my own personal experience, I notice that, whenever I carry around ill feelings (judgement, grudges, jealousy towards others), my energy levels deplete, and it is a much more enriching experience if I can learn to overcome those ill feelings. Of course, forgiveness is a process, and if you go to enough sermons, you will eventually get a step-by-step process of how to do it. But, because we live lonely existences, and I sometimes can’t even predict how I will react to a situation, our significant others will do something that requires forgiving, whether that is something small, such as eating all of the leftovers, or something larger, such as some kind of addiction or secret we never knew, so learning how to forgive, as the Church recommends, will curve some of those ill feelings–or perhaps just make it so they don’t hang around for too long and disrupt other potentially more enjoyable feelings.
So, perhaps these young marrieds who have submitted themselves to the teachings of the Church as wiser than we initially thought.