If I could recommend a magic pill that you could give your kids now that would give them twice the chance of having a lasting marriage someday, would you make them take it?
Of course you would.
With the divorce rate being what it is, wise parents with any foresight at all want to prepare their kids for long-term relational success. After all, you have seen the pain and hardship in the dissolved marriages around you. You want to give your kids the best possible shot at a life-long marriage and a legacy of spiritual and relational health in their kids and grandkids.
While we can have good intentions with our kids and even do our best to model healthy relationships (in our imperfect and normal homes), there is one key NOW that studies have shown is invaluable towards marital success LATER. It is, in effect, the “pill” that parents must give their kids. Here it is:
Parents must do everything they can to help their kids to remain sexually pure, because the more sexually active a young person is before marriage, the greater the chances that their marriage will fail.
South African pastor P.J. Smythe captures this reality in the following illustration:
"When I lived in Harare, Zimbabwe, close to our flat was the most enormous hole in the ground about the size of half a football field, and at least 40 meters deep. It was the foundation for a huge skyscraper office building. The bizarre thing was that during the pause in the work between digging the hole and starting to build, the site was totally unguarded for a few weeks. If I had the desire I could have got down into the bottom of the hole without much difficulty. Why were there no guards? Because there was nothing to protect, of course! But let’s imagine that for some reason I wanted to destroy the building. Rather than take a wrecking ball to it once it was up, I would be cunning to sneak down into the unguarded foundation, dig a couple of grave-size holes, lay some explosives that I set on three year fuse, cover the over, climb out, walk away and relax for three years! And the beauty of it would be that they would probably never suspect that it was me!
The foundation of your marriage is your pre-marriage years. If Satan can sneak in and mess you up during those foundational years, then he is well on the way to destroying your marriage in the future. The master stroke of Satanic genius is to make you believe that marriage only begins when you say 'I do.'"
I recognize the effects of this “pre-marriage time bomb” in the marriages I see struggling today, but I only see the problems being compounded for our children’s generation. They are growing up in a culture that is more sexualized, that encourages more casual relationships, that is loading them with more emotional baggage than their parents’ generation ever experienced.
Research from a variety of sources has shown that the relational and sexual issues of our kids’ younger years will significantly affect their marriage relationships.
In 2011, the University of Iowa studied the link between teenage sex and divorce rates in women. Published in “The Journal of Marriage and Family,” their research concluded that women who lose their virginity as teens are far more likely to divorce. Of married women who had sex for the first time as teens, 31% were divorced within 5 years. In addition, 47% were divorced within 10 years. In contrast, married women who delayed sex into adulthood had a divorce rate of 15% at 5 years and 27% at 10 years. That’s twice the likelihood of divorce at the five-year mark and near double at the ten-year mark.
Jay Teachman of Western Washington University showed that when a woman had pre-marital sex with just one partner before her spouse, she tripled the risk of divorce when compared with those who married as virgins.
A study of roughly 10,000 women by The Heritage Foundation in 1995 discovered some very interesting truths related to premarital sexual activity and later marital success/satisfaction. Through a variety of factors, they concluded that “women are best off in life if they are sexually active only within the bounds of marriage. Increases in the number of non-marital sex partners are linked to a very broad array of negative life outcomes.” Among their findings was that 80% of women who had no previous sexual partners before their husband were in stable marriages. In contrast, only 44% of women who had just two previous sexual partners before their husband were currently in a stable marriage. Again, that’s nearly double the problems in marriage for young women who are sexually active as teens.
The bottom line of these three studies: those who guard their sexuality have somewhere between two and three times the likelihood of marital success than those who have, by the world’s standards, even just a little sexual experience. But this is not the time to start thinking "not my kids." With the sexual behaviors of Christian teens and young adults being almost statistically the same as their non-Christian peers, we cannot be that naive.
The bad news of all this research is that there is no simple “pill” we can give our kids. Instead, we have to roll up our sleeves and take very seriously the responsibility God has given us to guard and guide our kids towards emotional and physical purity in their opposite sex relationships.
These are the issues that keep me up at night as I minister to so many families who are oblivious to how high the stakes are in their kids’ dating relationships. They are what drive me to keep on writing the book that God has pressed upon my heart. Pray that I can complete this writing project soon and that God can begin to awaken this generation of parents to their children’s great need for leadership and guidance in these areas.