Early marriage vows challenge teens

Manal Salim

photo illustration by Paige Keihl

Many little girls dream of the day they will marry. It is the day they will wear a white, flowing wedding gown fit for a princess. They will walk down an aisle strewn with flower petals, linked arm in arm with their father. Once the bride steps to face her soon-to-be husband, two simple words will finally commit her to a lifetime of happiness with her prince charming. But senior Sara Anderson never imagined that this day would come so soon.

Marriage can be quite an overwhelming task even for adults. The 2009 Census revealed that the national divorce is over 11 percent. But teenage marriages are even less promising. According to a 2011 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenage marriages are two to three times more likely to end in divorce than marriages between people 25 years of age and older.

Statistics like these, however, were not enough to deter Sara Anderson and her husband, Anthony Anderson, who could not wait to start their life together. They said marriage would allow them to stay true to their Christian values and to be together righteously.

“We just wanted to be together. We wanted to live together, do everything together, but we wanted to do it the right way,” Sara Anderson said. “Our family is religious, so us living in the same house and the certain things that come with that, they didn’t approve of.”

After promising to love each other until death would part them, Sara Anderson and her husband faced struggles that many committed couples face. Trying to meet the bare necessities of housing, food and health care has the potential to put financial pressure on a couple. On top of the that, long-term relationships necessitate great communication skills, creative problem solving, and the ability to collaborate and set aside one’s own needs. These struggles were ones psychologist Dr. Deborah Wright foresaw with any teen marriage.

“Due to their age, [teens] likely have less skill needed to successfully navigate the demands of a long-term committed relationship,” Wright said in an email interview. “Teens are still in the midst of identity development, and have not met or may not be aware of their long-term career aspirations and are limited in options related to income.”

The Andersons find themselves fitting into many of Wright’s predictions in terms of income, careers, and maintaining a healthy relationship.
Attending high school, working 30 hours a week and keeping up with an apartment added overwhelming loads of stress upon Sara Anderson’s shoulders.

Getting married “is a lot harder because you have to juggle so many different things. You have to work. You have to, obviously, spend time with your husband and your family, as well,” Sara Anderson said. “I don’t want to say [high school is] the least of my priorities, but there’s so much other stuff to worry about.”

Not only is working playing a large part in the balancing act she has to put up with, but money is also starting to count a whole lot more than it ever did before.

Marriage “is a lot of added stress other than worrying about ‘Oh, what am I going to wear Monday morning to school?’ It just puts everything into perspective,” Sara Anderson said. “It’s really, really hard. There’s things you don’t think about, like who pays your bills.”

Sometimes, married teens can’t financially
support themselves as easily as they had planned. The
Marriage Baseline Statewide Survey taken in 2003 about reasons for conflict in a marriage indicated that 39 percent of
conflicts were because of financial issues.

In addition to financial instability, marriage takes away from any opportunity to live independently and develop and explore their own identities. Dr. Wright said this vital aspect of self growth that is necessary in healthy relationships includes exploring personal
identity, values, purpose in life. Sara Anderson admits she gave up certain aspects of her previous way of life in order to make way for her husband.

“I had to gain a lot of
maturity really, really quickly. Goofing off with my friends and going to parties all gets put on hold. You get no ‘me’ time. I think I got a couple of days since we’ve gotten married where I got to go get my nails done, get my hair cut and just spend a day on me,” Sara Anderson said. “You don’t realize how much growing up you have to do.”

Sara Anderson said this maturity had to be maintained not only outside of school, but at RBHS, as well. She felt that once teachers found out she was married, their
expectations changed toward her, that she was expected to be more mature and responsible than other students. It was almost as if her teachers would look down on her for turning in a late paper or
asking for more help, and they seemed to have higher standards for her.

Through her marital experience, however,
Sara Anderson has gained the ability to uncover the true colors of her peers. Few loyal companions stood by her in her decision to get married, while others let her down with their judgement, forcing Sara Anderson to find those she could rely on in difficult times. This ability to find light in dark times has helped her maintain a healthy relationship.

“Now that we’ve been together for a while, we’re calming down. We’re getting the hang of this and we’re getting used to doing things on our own.” Sara Anderson said. “We’re keeping up with the house and we’ve become a lot closer, too. We know each other’s boundaries a lot better now.”

But Sara Anderson has found that her utmost priority has become caring for her husband. She often finds herself nodding her head and responding to her husband’s requests with a simple, ‘Yes dear.’

“It’s kind of like having a baby because his laundry needs to be done. He needs to have a meal, and you have to make sure you cook for him,” Sara Anderson said. “I’m not saying I’m into that whole male dominance thing, but I believe that it’s my responsibility to make sure that the house is clean and that food’s on the table.”

Though Sara Anderson is happy with her decision to marry, she wouldn’t suggest it to other teenagers. She would support someone in their decision to wed as a teen, but would strongly advise against it. Regardless of how in love they might be, it is hard for young couples to cope with the maturity needed in a marriage. Sara Anderson and Dr. Wright share this belief.

“Life is long, and true love is enduring. Being in love does not equate to the need to marry,” Wright said. “Those two issues are separate from one another and should be given consideration that is independent of one another.”

Sara Anderson and her husband plan to be together for many years to come and have made future plans, even if it seems they are currently living in the moment.

“We’re just kind of riding it out right now. They always say your first year is the hardest, and it has been, but he’s planning on going to college this next year. He wants to go into
medical school,” Sara Anderson said. “I think I want to take a year break. I want to get a Monday-Friday job, 40 hours a week. I’d like to work in CNA in home care, maybe even kids in a few years.”

Despite the hurdles Sara Anderson has had to overcome after becoming a teen wife, she admits that she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I love the experience. I love my husband and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I wish I would have listened to others and waited another year,” Sara Anderson said. “That way I could get through high school and it would be less stress, but I still wouldn’t change it because I’ve grown a lot from this experience.”

Although, Sara Anderson is aware that her struggles are far from finished, there is one thing she knows will keep her sane during exceedingly stressful times to come.

“I’m just kind of playing everything by ear,” Sara Anderson said. “Where my husband and I are going to be, I don’t know. What we’ll be doing, I don’t know. But I do know that we will be
together.”

By Trisha Chaudhary and Manal Salim