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The Reality of Starter Marriages

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It's a disturbing trend that has shown up not only in my practice, but among young women from church-going families. The trend involves something called "starter marriages". A "starter marriage" is a first time marriage that lasts five years or less, and produces no children. What is distinctive about these marriages is that they are gaining popularity among women in their early 20s.

Good Morning America's discussion on starter marriages began when they reported on a woman who got married when she was 22 years old. One year later, she separated from her husband. And by the age of 26, she was divorced. This young woman acknowledged feeling totally unprepared for what happened after the wedding day. Her comment about her short-lived betrothal was, "I view marriage as a rehearsal. Now, I am ready to play the part better because I can expect more of people and they can expect more of me…We, as the generation Xers, live in a culture of new beginnings where we can fix anything."

"Starter" or "practice" marriages have become in vogue in Hollywood as well. Notable young stars, such as Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Uma Thurman, and Jennifer Lopez, have all married and divorced in their 20s. And media proclaims these marriages as hip and the "in" thing to do. Headlines read, "Hot, Young, and Divorced." Because of the way these marriages are portrayed, teens often believe there are few downsides to these "rehearsal marriages". What deception!

Young women are encouraged to cohabitate before marriage in order to check out their compatibility with potential partners. Research does not support the idea of couples living together as a prevention to divorce. Divorce is hardly a positive experience even when it's desired, and remarriage has another set of its own problems.

Marriage is reduced to clothing status: you try it on for a while; if it doesn't fit, discard it, and look for a new coat.

What is so sad about this view of marriage is that it feeds on low-self-esteem, lack of self-respect, and self-gratification. Young women who are unsure of themselves, struggling with independence from parents and launching from the family, may marry for security. Or they may see marriage as a complement to their idealized careers and personal status. Marriage is just another experience. If it doesn't work out, it's no big deal. Many are themselves children of divorce, and have no direct experience with parents who have staying power in their marriages. They idealize the wedding day and fail to really get to know the person whom they will live with after the romantic ceremony and honeymoon.

What no one talks about, however, is the incredible emotional disaster that follows the severing of a sexual and spiritual union. It is a big deal and these young women hurt.

Consequently, we need to begin teaching our children early on that marriage is a sacred act in which two become one. God does not want us breaking covenant with impunity. The decision to marry is serious and should be made only after much time, prayer, and godly counsel. It is not something to be tried on for size because you fear independence, want to be loved, or desire a trophy.

Furthermore, parents need to examine their own marriages and honor their wedding vows. Children and teens learn by example and we've set a bad one. The idea of starter marriages may have developed in response to baby boomers divorcing at record rates. Their young adult children are scared of intimacy and fear abandonment no matter how "in vogue" the culture tries to make divorce look.

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About The Author

Dr. Linda

Dr. Linda Mintle, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author of 16 books and's Family Matters blog. She's a national speaker, news contributor and currently serves as the Chair of the Behavioral Health department in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Liberty University.