How can we help our teenage children be realistic about love and marriage?
February 1981

“How can we help our teenage children be realistic about love and marriage?” Ensign, Feb. 1981, 14

As we’ve heard our teenage children and their friends discuss love and marriage, we’ve been concerned about how unrealistic some of their ideas are. Is there some way we can help them separate the fictions from the facts?

Clark Swain, marriage and family counselor, associate professor of marriage and family studies at Boise State University and father of five You may be doing one of the best things already—by giving an example of a loving marriage relationship, and by maintaining open communication with your children.

Let’s consider some of the most common fictions about love and compare them with the facts. Hopefully your children will be able to associate these facts with certain couples they know who have developed successful loving relationships.

Fiction: Being in love is all that’s necessary for a good marriage.

Fact: Love alone is not enough for a satisfying relationship. I counseled with a young couple not long ago who were “in love”—with all the symptoms: they idealized each other, felt strong feelings for each other, and always wanted to be together. But he wanted children and she didn’t. Disagreement on such a basic value has to be resolved before a marriage can be successful. The fact is, being in love is not enough for a good marriage. The lifestyles and life goals must also be compatible.

Fiction: Jealousy is a sign of love.

Fact: Intense jealousy is a sign of insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, a signal that the jealous lover “fears” his partner might abandon him. This lack of trust can weaken and even destroy the relationship.

Fiction: Feelings of love should always remain the same in a relationship.

Fact: Partners’ feelings in love relationships often change as time passes. Time may dull a couple’s ability to enjoy skiing together, for example, but may sharpen their ability to understand and appreciate each other’s sense of humor. We cannot feel exactly the same way now, about love or anything else, for that matter—as we did five years ago. Each couple must allow for change and let their love grow to include new, equally delightful aspects of the relationship.

Fiction: Falling in—or out of—love is something you can’t control.

Fact: Loving or not loving someone is a decision. That doesn’t mean that someone decides, “Next week I’ll fall in love” or “This month I’ll stop being in love with my wife.” The decision is more subtle than that. Loving means treating someone in certain ways, and consciously selecting that behavior is a decision.

Fiction: We should follow our feelings about love.

Fact: Because love is a decision, we need to involve our heads as well as our hearts. And we need to pray for the power of discernment—for the ability to make good judgments in our relationships. A few years ago I counseled a young couple who were financially secure and had four children, but the wife wanted a divorce. “I don’t love my husband anymore,” she said. “That’s all.”

It wasn’t quite all. She was “in love” with another man. She divorced her husband, but things didn’t work out with the other man. There wasn’t enough money for her and the children to live comfortably. She was lonely. She sought reconciliation, but her former husband had made other commitments. Obviously, her “feelings” about love had not been a very reliable guide. Our decision to love or not to love someone must be based on careful thought as well as feelings.

Knowing these facts about love should strengthen your teenagers’ ability to love and help them use greater wisdom when choosing a marriage partner.