On Mormon Marriage Anxiety

I was 27 when I got married. That was well after most of my friends, whose wedding functions I attended. It was also after two younger sisters had preceded me into marital bliss. When my marriage did occur, it happened to the relief of some distant relations and other parties who had started to worry that I was malingering in bachelorhood. And it was also something of a relief to me, who had started to believe them. For this reason I’m sympathetic about what I and many I’ve talked with perceive as a growing anxiety among young LDS people about the prospects and process of marriage.

To say nothing of the debates about same-sex marriage, the social terrain surrounding traditional, heterosexual marriage in the United States continues to shift dramatically. The proportion of Americans that are married is at an all time low (51% as of 2011, down from 72% in 1960), and so is the marriage rate. And age patterns for marriage are changing also. According to a large-scale study in 2013, (appropriately titled Knot Yet) the average age at first marriage continues marching steadily upward, with both positive and worrisome consequences. The average age of marriage among Americans is now 27 for women; for men, 29. As the study summarized: “Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life.”

According to nonpublic statistical data collected by the LDS Church, which I happen to have seen, the marriage age among Mormons is tracking upward alongside the national trend. Mormons are still significantly younger than the average American at the time of first marriage, but the ages are rising. This creates a remarkable situation in a Church where marriage not only a religious sacrament, but the centerpiece of religious and social life. On my reading, demographic shifts (and perhaps other things, like fear of divorce) have caused an increasing cultural stress within the Church and among its members.

Or at least that is one way to account for the collective anxiety that seems to be descending on many young adult Latter-day Saints. Surely entering marriage has always been a challenge for some, and impossible or unlikely for others, but my sense from my own observations and experience is that marriage for Mormons is increasingly stressful. Cultural paradigms of marriage—and singleness—which once were fitting now don’t fit so well, and the result is, I think, a significant number of Mormons who feel out of place or inadequate. Add to this the theological weight of Mormon marriage, which makes the marriage process one of eternal consequence, and you have a recipe for neurosis.

There are reasons to welcome a rise in marriage age. On the national level, according to Knot Yet, this seems to have helped drop the incidence of divorce. Waiting to marry can, it seems, help build more lasting marriages. And for what its worth, it also has positive economic effects, particularly among college-educated women. Less tangibly, waiting until the mid or late twenties to marry and the life experience in the interim seems to broaden the horizons of those who follow that course. They may bring more maturity and more stability to the affairs of adult life. These benefits, of course, are clearest in hindsight.

That said, I suspect that most Mormons would beg to differ from the proposition that marriage is the capstone, rather than the cornerstone, of adult life. Hence, Church leaders have tried to encourage young Mormons not to let marriage be disestablished as the heart of adulthood. Young men, in particular, have come under fire for what seems an irresponsible putting off of the conventional (and for Mormons, religious) duties of adult life: family life and child-rearing. This has always been a sociological danger, one which marriage historically helped to combat.

There is clearly much to be discussed on this subject—and it needs a thorough discussion—but my point here is to draw attention to the simmering emotional tensions experienced by many young, single Mormons. There are some who may fall into the category of irresponsible self-indulgence, but many—probably the majority—are caught in the crosswinds of a challenging personal journey and structural change, and this exacts some emotional cost from both men and women. What is needed is neither pity, nor even an increased sensitivity to the plight of single Mormons, but a better understanding of why the domain of marriage is becoming the way it is.

 

  • Rosalynde

    Great piece, Ryan, though I wish you were willing to hazard more specific hypotheses about the nature of the demographic shifts and cultural paradigms that are no longer meshing well. For my part, I think later marriage is generally a positive development except for one elephant in the room: it is really really hard for twenty-somethings to practice celibacy for most of that decade, and the resulting sexual chaos, wherein sex remains unconstrained by the ordering effects of marriage, has high costs for the vulnerable.

    • A. H. Wright

      To that serious sexual confusion, we could add a serious case of ‘hyperintension,’ to borrow a term from Viktor Frankl. I know many single Mormons who want to be married so badly that the normal marriage process is impossible. They become so focused on dating and marriage that, through anxiety or deconstructive analysis, dating becomes painful and falling in love is reducted to issues of compatibility.

      • trytoseeitmyway

        You think that Mormons are the only ones who find dating painful then. ;^)

  • magpielovely

    I don’t know. I see an inherent conflict in this essay. On the one hand you’re telling me that young people who wait for marriage are mature and wise, economically stable, with broad horizons. On the other hand these same young people are so anxious, with simmering emotional tensions that the rest of us should drop everything to address all of their feelings. Which is it?

    • maggiesq

      Why can’t it be both/all of the above? From my experience, all of those descriptors apply to the singles in the church to varying degrees.

      • magpielovely

        All of those descriptors apply to singles *and* married people to varying degrees. There is just as much difficulty adapting to young marriage in a world designed for dual-income/no kids as there is for singles trying to adapt to family-centric Mormonism. Where are the support groups for the young marrieds?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    The article says, “There are reasons to welcome a rise in marriage age. On the national level, according to Knot Yet, this seems to have helped drop the incidence of divorce.” My response is mainly that any such statistical comparison is not likely to tell you much about LDS marriages, since there are other factors tending (this isn’t universal – just a tendency) to keep those marriages together.

    And I don’t see anything here about unwed pregnancy and child rearing. We know for sure that marriage is a powerful benefit to children and mothers. If postponing marriage doesn’t necessarily mean postponing parenting (this is a more general observation, not specific to the Mormon subgroup) then it’s not a good thing at all.

  • laverl09

    After my wife of 37 years died in 2008, I used all due diligence to find another “compatible” spouse and have been happily re-married now for several years. I can say with emphasis that it is not any easier the second time around even with career development and children not involved.
    I heard Pres. Boyd K Packer opine on one occasion that we are put in families and with spouses that know how to push our hot buttons because those are the areas we need to most improve. So in my opinion, postponing our “exercise regime” only postpones our spiritual conditioning.

  • pagansister

    I have a 26 year old Mormon niece, who has embarked on a career. Her father is a Mormon, her mother, my sister, stayed Methodist. Her sister chose to be Methodist. Many of her Mormon girl friends are already married, one, however, is already getting a divorce. She has never had a boyfriend, Mormon or other faith. Fortunately in her Temple is another unmarried woman, who is older by a few years, that she could relate to. She is out of her birth state now, working, and I don’t know if she is attending church or not. I would suspect not, since her job requires weekends too. Perhaps she is one of those who would be counted as postponing marriage in the LDS church, as you mentioned above. She has also told her mother that when she marries, she will do so in a place her mother is allowed to attend. Since her mother isn’t a Mormon, I believe that her mother wouldn’t be allowed in the temple to watch her marry. I expect some one here could tell me if that is correct.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      To answer your question, there is a Mormon temple ordinance called “sealing” that is often performed at a time when it serves to solemnify a civil marriage. On the other hand, couples who have been married for a year or more (via a civil ceremony performed outside the temple) may also be sealed together in a temple ceremony. In those instances – this happened in my case – the wedding and the sealing are two different things, and the marriage ceremony can be held anywhere and attended by anyone. It’s true that participation in temple ceremonies, even as observers, is limited to members of the Church in good standing as determined by an interview with local ecclesiastical leaders. (Your comment seems to conflate “her Temple” with a local church building – “meeting house” – where one or more congregations hold religious services on a weekly basis. Local church buildings are always open to the public – in fact, each such building proclaims, “Visitors Welcome” in signage on the outside. Temples, by contrast, are separate from those local church buildings and typically there is only one temple for any given region.) In limiting temple attendance, the intent is not to exclude – although I appreciate that it can feel that way – but to preserve the sacredness and spirituality of the ordinances that are performed and of the temple itself. Non-members are invited to tour our temples before they are dedicated (most recently in Gilbert, AZ), but afterward we ask that we be allowed to enter into sacred covenants in the deepest reverence, attended only by those who share that reverence, having made similar covenants themselves.

      Often, a couple who, having been sealed in the temple without the presence of some family members, will exchange rings at a time and place when friends and family of any faith, or of no faith, can be invited. Some of the pomp and circumstance (bridal gowns, tuxedos, flowers, that kind of thing) are present on those occasions, and can meet the needs of those who wish to join in the celebration of the marriage as witnesses, well-wishers and friends.

      Sealing also differs from civil marriage because it is intended to have eternal significance. That is, in a civil marriage, the officiator typically says something like, “until death do you part.” But a temple sealing is explicitly for time and for all eternity. The idea of a couple being sealed is based, in part anyway, on the idea that Christ left “keys” of authority to His Apostles, that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt. 16:19; see also, Matt. 18:18. Mormon couples seek to be the inheritors of that promise through the temple ordinance.

      Almost always, someone comes along and says, “Wait a minute. I know for a fact that Jesus said there would be no husbands and wives in heaven.” But that isn’t quite what He said to the Sadducees on that occasion (Matt. 22), and, anyway, there is a near-universal Christian belief that faithful or “saved” family members can be reunited with one another in the next life, whether textual support for that belief can be cited or not. Mormons seek, and receive, divine assurance of the permanence of those family relationships through temple covenants.

      • pagansister

        Thank you for explaining everything in such detail. Glad to understand the difference in the local church building and the temple. :-)

        • Namakaokona

          See, you needn’t feel bad about being excluded from the Temple. It is only for the ‘worthy’ and those deemed ‘unworthy’ are excluded. Don’t you feel better already?
          Of course, one of the prime reasons for being found worthy, is paying your ten per cent.

          • pagansister

            I really shouldn’t be responding to you, since you have a very negative feeling about this denomination. Why would I feel bad about not being about to enter the Temple? I’m not a Mormon. It really doesn’t bother me at all. My sister isn’t upset about it and she has been married for over 33 years to a Mormon with one of their 2 children also choosing to follow that faith. Not a problem that I can see.

          • Namakaokona

            Good. Nice that you don’t mind being one of the ‘unworthy’.

          • pagansister

            Seriously? What is with the unworthy crap? And why should I have a problem with your concept that Mormons think a non-Mormon is unworthy when it is a religion that I do not care to join? IT seems to bother you,however. My Mormon brother-in-law is one of the nicest men I know and he certainly doesn’t find non-Mormons “unworthy”. He married my Methodist sister and only 1 of his 2 girls chose his faith. My sister and niece are certainly not held by him to be “unworthy” . Have a nice evening. Unworthy of what?

        • Namakaokona

          PS Don’t you also feel better having the Mormons (who speak for God and Jesus) explain things to you?

      • Namakaokona

        Actually, shouldn’t the signs outside of your meeting houses read: ‘Visitors welcome, especially white Republicans but not so much the gays’ I think that a more accurate description.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          It’s interesting that you offer this comment (I use the term loosely) 13 days after my earlier comment, and that the comment is so tangential to the answer I provided to the specific question that was posted. It is easy to see your belated and irrelevant comment as a way you have of attacking my faith, specifically in reaction to a response I offered to you, on the same day as your comment here, in another thread elsewhere. Maybe it’s just me, but that makes you look like a bit of an unpleasant person. But since you have chosen to say this here, I’ll respond.

          You’re wrong. And to quote your own comment from the other thread back to you, “Get some facts before you speak.” Considering the growth of the Church abroad, I expect that there are more non-white members of the Church than white. I can say from my own experience that there are many more non-white members of my local congregation than white. So, get some facts before you speak. There are more non-white church leaders in my local area than white. Get some facts before you speak. And I don’t know anything about the political affiliations, if any, of the vast majority of the members. I would say that most are less interested in politics, and lack an affiliation, than, say, either you or me. Get some facts before you speak. I do know that there are Democrats as well as Republicans in the local congregations here, and that there are self-identified Democrats serving in leadership positions. Get some facts before you speak. We know from ethnographic research that those who attend church weekly or on a frequent basis are more likely to vote Republican, but that’s just a fact which cuts across denominational lines and is not specifically a Mormon phenomenon. Get some facts before you speak. “Gays” are absolutely welcome to attend church, and I know specifically of gays and lesbians who attend services, and who maintain membership in the Church. They are absolutely welcome. Always. In some cases those members are obedient to the law of chastity, in other cases not, but in all cases they are absolutely welcome. Get some facts before you speak. It is possible to welcome, and to love, children of God for who they are while still affirming timeless principles of moral conduct. I realize that such a concept is foreign to you, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

          The sign just says, “Visitors Welcome,” and we mean it literally.

          • Namakaokona

            Yes, that is the correct PR response, but since it isn’t true, people are leaving in droves. PR and the truth are different things.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            It is the truth. You’re the guy in the fact-free zone.

            What you are saying is that a church – not just mine, but any of them – must APPROVE of homosexual behavior in order for “gays” to “feel welcome.” But the truth is that churches – not just mine, but most of them – DON’T approve of sexual transgressions (a category that is by no means limited to homosexuality, by the way) even while inviting anyone and everyone to come unto Christ. People who choose to stay away do not do so because they are unwelcome; they do so because the spiritual truths being taught conflict with their own sense for what they want to do, and their own sense that their own behavior is cool as far as God is concerned.

            I understand that, and it’s really too bad. But if you blame my church, you have to blame any other church that teaches – as most have historically done – that sexual relations are reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. You don’t like that – that’s very clear! – but I can’t solve that problem for you. You think it gives you some kind of moral permission to attack me and my faith however and whenever you want, and I understand that too.

          • Namakaokona

            Most homosexuals including myself, couldn’t give two cents what your so called church teaches–since it is just a corporate real estate development organization which launders tax free money into businesses and as such has NO moral authority whatever. You may have the delusion that you speak for God, but you do not. My concern is the multi state multi million dollar political campaigns conducted by Mormons against the dignity and civil equality of homosexual citizens. Your so called Church says they do this because of they are ‘moral’ issues. However, I am unable to find a single other issue designated as a ‘moral’ issue, and so far you haven’t been able to provide one either–because you can’t. The only ‘moral’ issue Mormons have is attacking gay people.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            It’s ridiculously false to say that the only moral issue Mormons have is attacking gay people. Mormons don’t attack gay people at all, even if we among other Christians and some people who have no particular faith think that marriage means what it always meant.

          • Namakaokona

            So clearly you don’t live in CA and are unaware of Prop 8, a political campaign built on lies and fear mongering mostly funded by Mormons and Mormon Inc. In state after state the so called Mormon Church has chosen the role as the chief enemy of civil equality under the law for homosexual citizens. You bought and paid for your attack, you started it. Gay people never cared two cents about what Mormons believed or did, until you decided to take your campaign of political fear mongering and lies to take away our legal rights. Well, you can live in denial if you choose, but we haven’t forgotten, neither have millions of Californians who now view Mormons unfavorably for having lied not only about gay people, but for lying to the State of California about its direct contributions, and for which it was fined.

          • Namakaokona

            I’m sure all of the posters here appreciate you helping us understand that being ‘unworthy’ we are not welcome at the Temple. It makes it all the more special that you and the Mormon Church can speak for God and to determine that most of the world’s people are unworthy. As far as how ‘welcome’ people are at your chapels, I’m sure that is answered by people who show up, and never come back, and those, like me who experienced first hand how ‘welcoming’ Mormons are and found that exit. Your smug self righteous posts are a continual and ongoing reminder of how ‘welcome’ people are at Mormon Inc. Of course, if people are so welcome, word would get out and you wouldn’t need multi million dollar ad campaigns like ‘I’m a Mormon’. Of course those millions are a drop in the bucket to Mormon Inc. so at least you are stimulating the advertising segment of the economy. BTW, so I checked again, but simply couldn’t find anything on any Church website that designated ‘moral issues’ other than gay marriage. So, as you can guess, I am really eager and looking forward to you providing those other issues that are designated ‘moral’ issues that don’t involve sex–especially the sexuality of gay people. Can’t wait.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            I just replied to another self-righteous comment by you to the same effect. You want us to deny that homosexuality is sinful, even though we think that it is. So, you can call us names all you want, and be as sarcastic as you want, and lie about us when you want, and it isn’t going to change the fact that we believe in something called the law of chastity, which prohibits sexual relations except between a husband and a wife. Sorry, but we do believe in that.

            I guess you’d have to admit to being a troll, wouldn’t you?

          • Namakaokona

            Who said anything about wanting you to deny anything? Believe what you want, no one cares. Just don’t try to say at the same time that everyone is welcome, when clearly they are not. So how do you know which visitors are worthy? Do you conduct worthiness interviews at the door? Does that apply to heterosexual couples as well? Or, like you, are the members in the foyer simply able to tell who is worthy and who is not? BTW, you said that homosexuality is sinful–thanks for explaining that too.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            I have no idea what you’re on about now. You have to read my original explanation to understand the difference between temples and local meeting houses. The meeting houses all have signage that says, “Visitors Welcome” because all visitors are welcome. I have explained what that means and you obviously don’t care. In fact you say so right here, so why should I explain the same thing over and over. The answer is, it’s pointless with you. Too bad.

          • Namakaokona

            Except that I have actually experienced what ‘welcome’ means to Mormons, and I know from first hand experience that it means nothing, except that it has PR value, so the signs are up. Smug, self righteous condescension does not a ‘welcome’ make. I know, I have been there, as have thousands who never come back.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            Well, I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. You seem to have a surfeit of self-righteousness yourself, so maybe I would have to hear both sides of the story before I could know whether we owe you an apology. But many of us absolutely do try to demonstrate the true love of Christ, when we’re not having to respond to malicious falsehoods. Just sayin’.

          • Namakaokona

            I don’t need or desire any apology from Mormon Inc. I neither seek its approbation nor accept its opprobrium. What I care about is the unrelenting attack in multiple states with multiple millions of dollars against the civil equality of homosexual citizens. Beyond that, I couldn’t possibly care less what Mormon Inc. does or says. Of course Mormon Inc. calls its political war on gay people a ‘moral’ issue, a label which it applies to NOTHING else.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            You keep saying that but repetition doesn’t make it so.

          • Namakaokona

            So prove me wrong. Name ONE thing the so called Mormon Church has identified as a ‘moral issue’.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            Just to be clear, your original statement (at the other blog) was, “[T]he only ‘moral’ issues Mormons ever talk about are sexual ones.” That’s a preposterous claim, and I asked you to produce proof of it. But you haven’t, because you can’t. You just made that up. You’ve said to me, “Get some facts before you speak,” but very clearly you had no factual basis for that ridiculously false claim.

            Now, I understand that, in an effort to cover up, you have decided to move the goalposts. Now, what you want to know is whether the Church uses the term “moral” to refer to any issue other than gay marriage. Because, you claim – this is really silly too – you have examined Church websites (you say) and can’t find where we refer to morality in a sense other than sexual morality.

            OK, so that’s like a hanging curve ball right over the middle of the plate. I am about to knock that one out of the park for you. But to save you embarrassment, let me just check. Is that still your claim? That there is no explicit reference to morals or morality in LDS
            literature other than in reference to gay marriage or sexual morality? Not even, e.g., in reference to honesty, integrity, tithing, charity, abortion, abuse of spouses or children, none of those things? Is that what you’re really trying to say? If you want to move the goalpost again, just let me know.

            In passing, it might help if I point out that the word “morality,” like many words in the English language, can have slightly different meanings, depending on context. There is a sense of the word morality that refers to any normative standards at all. There is another sense of the word morality that has specific reference to purity, chastity and marital fidelity. Both senses can be found in this generally accepted definition: http://dictionary.reference.co
            You can find LDS leaders using the term in both of those senses of the word, but even in the latter case it is by no means reserved solely for matters of homosexuality or same-sex marriage, which seems to be what you’re being so stupidly wrong about.

            Get some facts before you speak, you know?

          • Namakaokona

            Just as I said. The Mormon Church’s only ‘moral issue’ is in relation to their war on and hatred of gay people. Surely you can by now have produced a single example where anything outside of homosexuality or gay marriage has been defined as a ‘moral’ issue. A one dimensional obsession with destroying the dignity and equal protection under the law for homosexuals hardly amounts to a moral issue in my view, but to the Mormon Church, they have no other ‘moral issue’. I know it is now fashionable for Mormons to deny the words of past leaders–maybe you could just make something up?

          • pagansister

            Sounds like you are feeling sorry for yourself.

    • Namakaokona

      Yes, it is true. Her mother and any other friends or relatives unapproved by the Mormon Church are ‘unworthy’ and will not be allowed in the Temple.

  • Namakaokona

    The main thing missing from your essay was the predictable ‘If gay people are allowed to marry, then everything is ruined. Or, gay people getting married is the reason people are not marrying or marrying later’. I’ll look forward to the correction.


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