7 reasons why 20-something Christians divorce

20somethingPursuit[notice]Revivalist Shannon-Leigh Barry shares her wit and passion and the pursuits of her 20something heart in a monthly column that speaks to the desires of young adults in today’s Christian society. [/notice]

I have to start this column by saying I was raised as an Anglican and entered into the land of Charismatic Christians about five years ago. It would mean that I entered in my early twenties. Some things were foreign to me, such as “courtship, tongues, and the laying on of hands”. If someone told me they wanted to lay hands on me I would probably think of a much different scenario and courting to me sounded like something you would do in tennis. All this to say I write this from observation as well as walking through this journey with Christian friends who have gone through divorce in their twenty-something years. 
Here are some reasons why they divorced
Lack of maturity 
In Christian circles and especially Charismatic circles there is a pressure to get married young. Just the other day I heard a preacher speak about the struggle of being single at 27 in her younger years. I thought, “are you serious?” I am 27 and I can’t imagine myself married younger. Yes, I want to get married but at what cost? In America alone, the average age for marriage is 27 for a woman. In Christian circles it is much younger. To keep pure, meaning (I do not want to have sex before marriage) Charismatics endorse getting married younger. I believe marriage and purity should be endorsed and fought for in today’s society. However we can’t overlook the lack of emotional maturity and solidification of identity in Christ in our early years. 
Feeling unaccepted 
Something that I saw in the divorce patterns in my Christian circles is a dynamic that may occur when someone marries into a Christian household and has not come from a Christian family themselves. That person can feel as though he or she never quite measures up to what the family has already established in God. The family are long standing pillars in the Church and marrying into that was just too much. That person didn’t just marry the family, she (or he) married the Church and all its relatives. It becomes overwhelming for her and she leaves. 
False expectations 
Finding the One; when expectations are put on one person the realisation that the person isn’t perfect could really hit you after your wedding day. One friend expressed how children are expected to come sooner after you get married and that adds even more pressure to the challenge of discovering the person you are married to while also running a household. Imagine my horror when one woman admitted to having sex the wrong way and that no one had told her what to expect. As well the disappointment of sex on the wedding night and that sex is not something you have every night. Its like sex talk has been taboo for Christians and media has been their only source of education.
Distorted teaching 
I have heard the “don’t kiss before you marry” teaching. I pretty much only know of one couple who have actually done this successfully. Some couples complain that sex was just not what they thought it was made out to be due to the teaching they received. This goes back to false expectation. The “prosperity gospel” encourages both men and women to focus on material acquisition at the expense of their marriages. Young couples pursue wealth and end up divorcing because of their workaholic lifestyles.
Lack of sacrifice 
You shouldn’t get married if you are not prepared to do die for your spouse says my pastor. What he is emphasising is that Christ died for His bride. There is a high level of sacrifice that is demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Today careers come before family and even church before family. One friend expressed how she was expected to go to college, get married and then quit it all and become a stay at home mother. She was tired of the box and saw her mother had been placed in the same position. Being a stay at home parent was not what she wanted. She switched Charismatic circles, is much happier now and no, she was not from a small town. 
Cheating exists and it exists in Christian marriages. With misaligned expectations people go to other people to get their needs met. In your twenties you are probably still figuring out what your needs are. When pressure is put on one person to fulfil every need there comes a shortfall and people are tempted to look elsewhere. We have to ask ourselves if wholeness was promoted more than early marriage, would infidelity rates drop in the church and especially among young adults? 
Marrying for potential 
Many young people are faced with this challenge and it’s hard when it backfires. When people marry for potential we say that they are marrying with the future in mind. Yes, it’s a great thing but how does that person treat you and love you currently, right now, in the moment. My friend who happens to be really prophetic describes her struggle with this. She says that the prophetic nature of who we are as Christians will always want to see the gold in people. We see how God sees them and so we give grace to that person. Regardless of potential or spirituality people get divorced because the other person lacked character. 
I don’t have solutions as I have never walked in these shoes. I do know that marriage is a beautiful thing and seeing restoration in the lives of my divorced friends has been something wonderful to witness especially after tears. If you had to endure a divorce in these years, you have time to work on yourself and find love again. You are not a failure. You probably dealt with a lot of people judging you in the church. I hope that you share your story with the rest of those around you to break dysfunction experienced in the church and combat the vast false expectations young people are bombarded with today, especially in Charismatic circles. Lets learn from each other’s mistakes. Share your story and try again. 


  1. Many good insights.It is true that many believers ‘stumble in the dark’ on the subject,because parents and spiritual leaders are not open to address it.

    People often appreciate truth more when it is shared frankly and openly.We should allow people to ask awkward questions in order for truth to ultimately find it’s place inside themThe word of God has answers for each question raised.I suggest a forum where people can freely comment and ask questions on these matters.

    The people of God are often left to their own devices,because few people want to address intimate matters.That often leaves many with no other option than to consult secular thinking.

    If that fails,they often feel betrayed.

    • Sheri-Ann Pietersen

      I often heard about a forum called “Coffee bar”. A place where you could come and discuss. Whether they did discuss matters like these, I do not know. In Uitenhage we have stated an extention of the youth for those 25+ called LAUNCH. This is that group where we have and do talk about these and other things while single or “courting”.

      • Shannon-Leigh Barry

        Thanks for your feedback Sheri-Ann. Glad you enjoyed the article. Churches have yet to understand the twenty-something dynamic. Such change takes place in your late twenties. At the church I’m at they have started “tribe” which is geared to this. There is also a lack of marriage counseling before getting married in churches. One friend told me she really had to search had to go out of her church to look find it at another church because it was so hard to come by. Walmer Methodist is launching ‘define the relationship’ that something worth experiencing and seeing if it could work in your church. It’s a series from Danny Silk. It helps people not make hasty decisions with relationships. The boundaries series is also great. This generation needs tools for better understanding. I’m writing my next article on the myths of ‘”courting” and how courting was only introduced through the writer I kissed dating goodbye. The effects of it! Should be interesting.

    • Shannon-Leigh Barry

      Thank you for your feedback. I like what you said about secular thinking because few people want to address intimate matters. I hope awareness is raised and safety structures setup so young people can ask the questions they have in church environments. Relationship dynamics is what will be highlighted in this generation. Pastors with great relation skills are the pastors leading movements. The generation is so relational that it has be of importance.

  2. My husband and I met in the church as teenagers, and married at 19. I would like to address what you have said, as most of it has not been my experience or that of my friends/family, most of whom also married young.

    Lack of maturity: Yes, we were young, inexperienced and immature. But we knew that anything worth having would be worth fighting for, and we have grown up together. I can’t imagine a greater gift. Is it really any easier to marry someone at 30, after each person has developed their own bad habits, points of view and ways of doing things over the past decade?

    Feeling unaccepted: The Bible warns Christians of the repercussions of marrying someone who does not share your faith, or being “unequally yoked”. I’m not saying that every believer has grown up in the church and has a family who is deeply rooted in the church. But I also don’t think that blending families is a uniquely Christian challenge. Yes, there is a lot of pressure that comes with joining a tightly-knit family, particularly one with high standards and morals. But there are several things that can happen in order to turn this into a blessing instead of a dividing point: First and foremost, the husband needs to be willing to stand up for his wife, and be the one to say, “I am hers, she is mine, and we are one now.” He needs to be the one making the effort to be a tie that binds, rather than adding to the pressure for his wife. (Likewise for the wife when the husband joins her family.) Second (and probably should be first), the shared Christian faith should be THE tie that binds, rather than a stumbling block. Yes, there will be challenges and differences in view points, but we are called to LOVE and accept others as Christ has loved and accepted us. Finally, if the Christian in the relationship has ignored the warning to marry someone of the same faith, there may not be much that can be done. It will always be easier to be pulled away from your faith than it will be to pull your spouse over to share your faith.

    Distorted teaching/False expectations: Again, not a uniquely Christian problem. Yes, at 19, I had no clue what I was getting into (does anyone know what they are signing up for when they get married?!), but again, I knew that anything worth having would be worth fighting for, and my husband and I learned together. Sex was everything and nothing like we thought it would be, but we had the rest of our lives to learn how to satisfy each other. (As an aside, I agree with you VERY STRONGLY that Christians do their kids a HUGE disservice by failing to teach their kids about sex.) Children came when WE were ready, and we learned how to stand up for ourselves to those who expected differently of us. We knew that in order to make our marriage succeed, we would have to put aside anyone else’s opinion except what God had told us in the Bible, and what our premarital counselours (who did a phenomenal job of telling us anything we wanted to know about anything, including sex) had told us before we married. We became each other’s biggest fan and best friend, and did life the way we wanted.

    Lack of sacrifice: I have a hard time wrapping my head around what you’re getting at here. If you are not willing to put your faith and family ahead of all else, your marriage WILL crumble. Period. Christian or not, marriages fail when a person no longer feels that he/she is their spouse’s priority. Christ has provided the best example of commitment, and it IS what Christians strive to emulate. (We do also have to establish good boundaries in relationships, but that is for another article.) As for the stress a woman feels to stay at home and give up her career after kids come along, that is up to the husband/wife to decide and no one else. They should pray about it and come to the decision that best suits their family’s needs (wife included).

    Infidelity: You are correct in saying that infidelity does unfortunately exist in the church. And you are correct in saying that getting married will not meet all of our needs. There is only one relationship that can fulfill all of the voids in our lives, and that is our relationship with God. When we realize that He alone is the one that we should be trusting to make us whole, then YES, I do believe infidelity rates will drop- ESPECIALLY in the church!

    Marrying for potential: Again, not a uniquely Christian problem. If the person does not treat you like gold NOW, marrying them will not change them. Period.

    Marriage IS a beautiful thing. I sincerely hope that my thoughts here can show that these points you have raised will show that if your highest goals are to walk out your faith and keep your marriage strong no matter what, it IS possible.

  3. Shannon-Leigh Barry

    You make valid points Anita. Thank you so much for your input. Like I said this was from observation and actual divorces within Christian circles so I write from my friends experiences and it’s an article geared to point out misconceptions because of what people have experienced. I don’t believe a precedent should be followed. The point is that people are different and a decision like who you want to spend the rest of your life need not be rushed. There are definite perks to both. As a writer I simply write what I see. My parents got married in their early twenties and are still married today. It’s something I believe in. It’s the representation of healthy marriage that needs to be promoted and not early marriage. Age has a small part to do with it. This article is designed to take the pressure off young people into making decisions they might not be ready for. Watching your young friends go through divorce is a rude awakening. The article is also written to twenty something’s not necessarily married people. Once again, thanks for your input it is appreciated and you make valid points as well.

  4. I was very impressed with your observations and I found the responses insightful! Thanks Shannon-Leigh and to all of you for sharing. Though I am a matured professional, I pray I find a wife with such caring insights.

  5. Shannon-Leigh Barry

    Virgel, thanks so much for reading and your kind words that really spoke to my heart. It is appreciated. You should read some of my previous columns seeing as you liked this one also on Gateway. I write monthly. Hopefully, they will be as insightful to you. I write on relationships mostly and things I think about.

  6. Cool article as for someone who is still waiting for God for that special someone

  7. Was blessed with your views and practical insight Anita. Thanks Shannon-Leigh for your observations. Former Port Elizabethan