Can You Stop a 18-Year-Old From Getting Married?

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Jeff’s 18-year old daughter is getting married. Considering the chances of a teen marriage lasting even ten years, that is problem enough. (See my related column about marrying young here.) But Jeff’s daughter is marrying a military guy just out of boot camp. And Jeff is an ex-submariner whose family has served in the military for five generations. Jeff is freaking out.

“I am being overbearing and am dumping massive amounts of information on them,” Jeff admits in a recent letter to SpouseBuzz. “Mostly negative. With quite a bit of emotion.”

I can just imagine. Even though Jeff thinks his future son-in-law is a good guy and respects the fact that the young man is the first ever in his family to enlist, Jeff is worried. He says he wants the young couple to have some kind of premarital counseling from inside the military or at least be forced to get permission from the unit commander. He says he wants the name of a program or a service that could help.

Which would be nice. But what I think Jeff really wants — what I think the parents of a lot of military couples want — is to know the right words to say that would convince this young couple that now is not the time to get married. Wait. Wait. Please, wait.

“I understand what they are faced with,” wrote Jeff. “Neither of them or his mother seem to be doing anything but planning a wedding — without planning a marriage.”

Planning a marriage. Those three words might be exactly what all military couples (regardless of their age) need to do.  So Jeff is on the right track there, but I’m not sure what to tell him next. I thought I would bring it to you. How can Jeff as a father get the help he wants for his daughter? Can 18-year olds really be capable of planning a marriage? Can 18-year-olds be convinced not to marry? What is the best way Jeff can handle his own role in this situation?

Military life never stops offering opportunities to learn about life and love and marriage — even after you leave the military. What is the best thing that Jeff can do now?

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Heather

    Well, considering my MIL got married at 18 (just 3 month after her birthday) and has been married to my FIL for 48 years, I can say yes, a marriage can work out. Now, that doesn’t mean it has been all roses, but they made a commitment and stuck to it. My mom was also only 20 when she got married and her and my dad have been married for 45 years. I could go on about other family members and a couple of friends who have had marriages last when getting married young, but I could also tell of marriages that only lasted a couple of years of those who waited until they were in their 30’s and 40’s. Do I think 18 is too young, probably in most cases. I think there are some 18 year olds who are VERY young and some who are much wiser then the average 18 year old. But the way I would like to think i would handle it if my daughter (who will be 16 this year) said she was getting married at 18 is first of all not freak out. I would be supportive, understanding and while doing so I would get her and the young man to talk about it. I think being over emotional and trying too hard to ‘discourage’ it would tend to backfire. And if that is what is what Jeff is doing with his daughter it may drive her away from him, not the boyfriend.

  • Amber

    I don’t think there is much you can do to change their mind. I think being supportive is key so that if problems do come up she is comfortable coming to dad without worrying about a I told you so. Also helping them with the tools they will need when they are married. Encourage pre marital counseling.

  • LG

    I can understand as a parent having my child married at such a young age. All you can do us supportive and guide them them through any rough spots they may go through. But I got married at 17 years old to my husband and we are still together. A lot of support from family goes a long way!!!

  • SemperSteen

    There’s really nothing you can say to change their mind. As you know, when you’re 18 you know everything. When I was 19 I had a friend my age who got married and was so proud of herself for being so mature and ready for such a big step at that age; they got divorced two years later.

    Of course there will be that handful of couples who marry so young and stay together but they are the exception rather than the rule. And the people who say things like “Well my parent/grandparent/friend’s aunt/whatever got married young and they’re still together,” you have to take it into account the social stigma revolving around divorce at the time they married, birth control availability and the economic opportunities available to women at the time. Today divorce carries little social stigma, women control when they have kids (therefore reducing dependancy on their husbands) and there’s plenty of career opportunities for women if they leave their husbands. It’s a completely different ballgame now.

    Basically all you can do is be supportive and give as much advice as possible. Wish them luck, but keep a spare room ready for her if/when the marriage crashes and burns.

  • Kate S.

    When a niece wanted to get married very young and it became apparent that she was not going to change her mind, we arranged for her and her future husband to have dinner with a variety of married couples at various stages of their lives. It is hard to understand the scope of marriage when you are entering into it, but I think the perspective of talking to happily married folks in an open way about the challenges of marriage can give someone at least a little perspective. A favorite aunt told me that when I choose who I would marry, I was also choosing who I would be buried beside.
    Maybe Jeff can arrange for her daughter and her boyfriend to have dinner with some other military couples to discuss the ups and downs of military life. Sometimes we will listen to anyone BUT our parents.

  • Kelly

    I was 18 when my husband proposed me to me the day he graduated from boot camp. We have been married for 12 years and could not be happier!! We were told we were too young, wait a few years, military life is hard, etc. You name it, we heard it! Yes, we were young! Yes, we could have waited. However, no one was going to convince us of that. We were in love and knew we were ready.

    Of course not everyone is mature and ready to be married at 18. But that isn’t a decision for someone else to make (Mom, Dad, Commander, Friend). You can support them by listening and offering suggestions in a non threatening way, but ultimately it is their decision!

  • http://deyank.wordpress.com Bill

    I was a year into my first hitch in the navy. Since I was planning on staying in for the duration and retire, I went ahead and asked my girlfriend to marry me. She did, in August, right after her high school graduation. Our first few years were very tough – Vietnam and all that this entails (5 tours, eventually). We’ve now been married just under 49 years. Hey, it CAN work out just fine. The more you protest, the more determined they could become.

  • Chuck
  • Gaylord

    When I was in the Air Force I saw a lot of guys get married at 18. I think they got married to solve their “homesick” porblem. They found out real quick that their new wife was also going to have problems with the same problem they have but got mad with their new husband and ended up in divorce. I would advise these young troops to wait.

  • DEVIN

    LET ME TELL YOU.
    I AM IN THE ARMY AND HAVE SEEN NUMEROUS BUDDIES GET MARRIED STRAIGHT OUT OF BOOT CAMP. ALL FOR THE BENEFITS. A HOUSING ALLOWANCE AND THAT LITTLE EXTRA ON THE 1ST AND 15TH. THE WOMEN THAT GET MARRIED TO THESE SOLDIERS ARE SMART. SURE SOME MAY LOVE THEM. BUT MOST JUST LOVE THE INCOME AND SECURITY OF A SOLDIER. ALL THOSE MARRIAGES FAILED. SO THERE SHOULD BE A WAY TO MARRY YOUNG. BUT UNDER THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES AND APPROVAL OF HMMMMMM.. MAYBE THE POPE. I SAY THAT ONLY YHE POPE CAN ALLOW PEOPLE TO MARRY UNDER THE AGE OF 27. SO SOME OF YOU GOT LUCKY AND ARE STILL WITH YOUR SOLDIER. BUT I WORKED AS A DOD POLICE OFFICER FOR THE NAVY HOUSING. I DEAL WITH DOMESTICS AND ADULTERY ON A DAILY BASIS. NO JOKE. ALL FROM THE YOUNGER COUPLES. SO I KNOW ITS ALL FOR MONEY. THATS WHAT MARRIAGE IS ABOUT NOW DAYS IN THE MILITARY.

  • Soldiers Mom

    Hi, I just read your article on military.com and I thought it would drop you a note and share my story with you. I am a mother of a young private (E2) that had his life turned upside down. He met another servicemember and started dating – all of 6 months [3 months in person – 3 via email and phone]. Now they want to get married – they are both 20 and surprise, surprise she is pregnant. She no longer wants to be in the military (doesn’t like it – did it to please her parents) and of course is now longer eligible to remain in the army since this pregnancy happened during AIT. He feels he now has an obligation to marry her because it is the right thing to do and his child should grow up the way he did. He is being reclassified due to needs of the army and feels completely overwhelmed, constantly calling me and his Dad for advice. It is an old game alot of these girls play get pregnant, marrying their servicemember boyfriends, they get out and he stays in. Do you honestly believe these young people have the emotional stamina to maintain their relationship he/she is away and he/she out “doing whatever” in the civilian world. The men eventually get bitter, strains the relationship, the 20 year old girl out in the civilian world is doing “her thing” and he is excluded. This may account for the rise in domestic violence in the army – it ain’t always PTSD.

  • younginandmarried

    ya know a lot of parents especially fathers of a young bride are scared to see their little girl get married. I personally have been in the shoes of the bride. 18 just graduated early from high school going to college met an Airman, fell for him quickly. day of our wedding my father still didn’t agree with it didn’t show up(&all of us being from Texas he spoke his mind) I still to this day (1 year later) am still happy in love, and won’t forgive my dad. we have the support from our parents but you can tell everyone else thinks we did it for benefits, money, or I was pregnant, none of that was true! I love my husband very much and I see our relationship being strong an lasting til death do us part! basically just trust your daughter that she believes it’s going to work, she may not be a little girl anymore, but every girl, or woman needs their daddy to always be by their side!(: best of wishes!

  • nb

    If they want to get married and they are well aware of what the military life style is like, then give them the support they need. I met my husband when I was 17 and he was 20. He left for basic and after he graduated we got married, only 17 days after my eighteenth birthday, while I was still in high school. We did not have a big wedding nor made a big deal about it. We discussed why we did not want to wait longer before getting married. The fact of him getting deployed only after 6 months after getting out of basic came up. So for us to spend as much time as possible together and for me to be taken care of while he was away played a big factor as well. I’m not talking about me taking his money, but for me to have health insurance, a stable place to live, and for me to help get us out of debt. We knew what this life style would bring, and we discussed it a lot before getting married. Marriage is a big commitment and should be talked about as so. My husband and I are going on our third year of marriage and couldn’t be happier with one another and where we our in our lives together. But, I do not believe age is a factor, if its that special person that you can’t see you future without them in it then I don’t see an issue.

  • Jenna

    There is one difference: my parent’s love my fiance. They conceed that he makes me a better person. They are the first to admit that we balance each other out in an erie sort of way. My dad says that he is just like himself, but better. My mom says that he’s mellowed me out, become more mature, given me a focus on what’s really important and that we’ve figured out how to work together, as partners, through the good and especially the bad. However, I know that the idea of their oldest daughter to be married and “gone” before I graduate or reach my late 20s terrifies them. Understandably so. And we’ve had many arguements where they’ve tried to convince us to wait, albet unsuccessfully.

  • Jenna

    We meet freshman year of high school and we’ve been dating (continouesly) for over three years. We now go to college together (well, he will once he comes back) which has given us the opportunity to see, as some people say, our other options. We live together which has helped us REALLY get to know each other. We share finances, pay bills together and have worked through the MANY adjustments that come with sharing money and being “grown-ups”. Dealing with real world situations that come with a marriage, before tieing the knot, is EXTREMELY important. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve dated; dating can be very, very different from marriage and it’s up to the couple to test the waters before making such a commitment.