For a religion that prides itself on family values, time and togetherness, the LDS Church does a poor job preparing its rising generations for what they consider the most important institution of life and heaven, marriage. You might say that is a bold claim, however, having been raised and indoctrinated by the LDS Church from birth through adulthood, passing through all of the rites, ordinances, classes, youth programs, mission and temple marriage traditions, personal experience qualifies me to make that claim, which will be further emboldened and quantified in the paragraphs that follow.
Much of the preparation and teaching around marriage in Mormonism is founded on the premise established by Pres. Spencer W. Kimball in an address given in 1976 at Brigham Young University where he made the following statement(a):
"“Soul mates” are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price."
This is a quote that is still circulated today in Institute (college seminary courses) and other marriage prep classes. While the statement is a nice thought, it glosses over the real dynamics that make marriages happy and successful. While any two good people probably could get married and make it "work", it doesn't mean they should. But I'm getting ahead of myself. While the majority of marriage specific instruction from LDS Sunday School lessons and Institute courses increase the closer young Mormons get to the approved age of marriage (18 for women, 21 for men), much of the misguided teaching is instilled and enforced much earlier.
Mormon marriage teachings hinder young people in several ways that are vital to relationship compatibility once the knot has been tied: mentally, emotionally, sexually, and financially. Few things are more revered, reinforced and urged in Mormonism than Celestial Marriage. Besides being the license needed to achieve sexual release in any "legal" way, it is also your ticket to the highest degree of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom. Such a marriage can only be performed in one of the LDS Temples circling the globe. The enforcement to be "worthy" of this sacred marriage begins soon after birth in many families, and is reinforced all throughout childhood in Primary, further enhanced in your teens through the youth programs and seminary, and pretty much harped on once you reach college years through Institute, Mormon college culture, and often by pressure from family and friends. These religious teachings coupled with cultural pressure leads to Utah having the youngest median age for first marriages among men in 2009 being 25.7 compared to the national median age of 28.4 and third youngest median age for women at 24.1 (Utah was first in 2008 and the years before that with a median age for women as young as 22.1 as recent as 2005)b.
As mentioned previously, marriage is the only "legal" way one can attain sexual release without inducing guilt for having fornicated through either personal masturbation, or by fooling around with a boyfriend or girlfriend. This repression of natural urges makes for a heavy guilt factor in Mormonism among teens, both males and females, as well as in adults, married and unmarried. Beginning as young as 12 years of age, the ward(congregation) Bishop begins conducting yearly worthiness interviews with all young boys and girls. Though not included in the official questions listed in priesthood instruction manuals, many Bishops still ask questions about sexual purity, masturbation and sexual transgressions. The Bishops may ask these questions out of personal concern, learned from being asked those same questions when they were young, or other curiosity. For many a young LDS boy or girl, this may be the first time the word "masturbation" has reached their ears, leaving them to either guess at what that could possibly mean, or asking "what is that?" and then getting a vague or explicit description from their trusted leader. Regardless of whether the Bishop asks about masturbation by name, it is often implied in the official question, "do you keep the law of chastity?", due to the well circulated pamphlet and conference talk, "To Young Men Only", discussing masturbation directly but through vague euphemisms ("little factory" in place of penis or glands etc). My brother and I were both given this pamphlet by our father at around 12 or 13 years of age, leaving myself confused and also ashamed of my body and its urges. No such pamphlet exists for young women. Imagine the emotional damage caused to a young girl who confesses masturbation and is given a pamphlet usually only given to "horny" men(For more examples of other misguided and damaging LDS teachings surrounding sexuality, visit this official LDS resourse). Teens and adults will often volunteer that they sinned by masturbating even if not asked about directly.
This early and repeated repression of sexuality leads to a lot of unnecessary shame, guilt, embarrassment and poor sex education. A good number of Mormons make it to the altar as virgins (I did), leaving them very illiterate as to their own sexuality which makes for further opportunities for sexual incompatibility with their partner who may also be confused as to their sexuality, what they like, how they like it and such. On top of their sexual illiteracy, the guilt and shame from years of sexual repression doesn't go away with the flip a switch after the marriage "I Do's". One or both partners may continue to experience shame or guilt, along with inhibitions that make relaxing and enjoying sex difficult or near impossible. My own marriage experience was thus hampered and damaged, leaving me wondering if my wife was even capable of experiencing an orgasm for nearly 7 years of marriage(we're good now though, thank God!). This is not an uncommon experience. I know of others who didn't even know how to "do it" on their honeymoon night. Whoever thought it was a good idea for two virgins to marry and then discover their sexuality was sorely misguided and not inspired by any God who possibly created our natural urges. It can take couples years to sort out these sexual inhibitions that were programmed from their teen years, and some never do. This sexual repression does benefit the LDS church in one way though, it drives couples to marry younger and have kids sooner, as that is the only way to get their rocks off.
Due in part to the sexual repression discussed above, and also in part to the rushed manner in which LDS couples date, get engaged, and shortly thereafter "sealed" in an LDS Temple, and on top of their younger than average age and lack of higher education, their emotional and mental maturity isn't always where it should be in regards to marriage, relationships and rearing a family. Many an LDS woman is married just months or maybe a year or two after graduating from high school. My wife had not even been graduated from high school for three months when we got engaged, and married just seven short months later. Our engagement was preceded by only five weeks of dating, prior to which we had never met each other. I was 21 at the time and my only life experience after high school was as a LDS missionary in Chile for 2 years. I had only just begun taking a couple college classes over the summer and other than knowing I wanted to get married and start a family due to my religious upbringing, I had little idea what else I wanted to do in life. My wife had had her plans to attend college at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City but that was quickly squelched once the marriage and family plans got underway, starting with our engagement. I wish I could say we were the exception and not the rule, but in Mormon Utah college culture, we are most often an example of the norm and not the exception. I know of many couples who got engaged after dating fewer weeks than us, and married in as few as two or three months after engaging. This culture of marry right out of high school for females and right after the mission for males is also pretty apparent at BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii, as well as in those communities that are dominantly LDS in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. Also, many LDS college women and men go to LDS schools with the primary goal of getting married, graduating being secondary. A common major among LDS women often being childhood education and related home economics type courses.
Two young people with little life experience outside of high school and church service can hardly even know themselves, their genuine wants, dreams and goals in life, nor how to achieve those ambitions if they conflict with those of their partner's. Though one thing that is pretty well indoctrinated into many a young LDS couple is that they shouldn't wait to finish college, get a career, a home, or even be financially stable before starting a family and bringing kids into their mix. Despite efforts to highlight LDS women who are working moms in and out of the home, the cultural roles of husbands working a full time job and women working solely in the home rearing children and handling domestic duties are still prevalent in dominantly LDS communities. Utah still has the highest percentage of families with one stay at home parent (50.4% vs 40% nationally)c. These prescribed roles and emphasis on not waiting to start a family drive many an LDS couple, myself included, to get pregnant within the first year or two of marriage, even while one or both are still going to school, with little income from mostly part time work, and no private health insurance. Of course it is more often the wife who has to drop out of school to take care of the baby since that is her doctrinal role per "The Proclamation on the Family". Also, likely for this reason, BYU offers student insurance that covers prenatal and delivery care to help struggling students follow the counsel of the brethren to not wait until studies are complete before starting a family. Besides being financially strapped and busy with studies, you also get to bring kids into your budding relationship that was already struggling for reasons mentioned previously.
For the LDS newlywed and new mother, this can be very depressing, overwhelming, stressful and emotional. I don't know fully what they experience, but I did witness and deal with the heartbreak my wife went through in losing her educational, career, life dreams, goals and ambitions. Ten years and 3 kids down the road from our wedding date, and neither of us have finished schooling and only one of us is currently employed. While I recognize that we made our own decisions along the way that affected our ability to finish schooling or other goals, the influence LDS culture and expectations played in making an already handicapped relationship more difficult cannot be dismissed. This culture likely breeds or at least feeds the high depression and anxiety drug prescription rate in Utah that is the highest nationally per capita of any US state (twice the national average)d. (More on women, prozac and therapy)
The nature of LDS couples marrying young, usually while still going to school, and starting a family before securing a degree, career or financial security, often leads to a financially burdened pattern that takes decades to recover from. With the likelyhood of the wife being a stay at home parent, that leaves for a single income through much or most of the LDS financial life. On top of that trend, Mormons tend to have larger families than the national average, which leaves more mouths to feed, clothe and school in the single income household. Now deduct 10% of their income for tithes paid directly to the LDS church and you've got one heavily burdened income if the salary is average or insufficient. Though I lack a degree, I've been fortunate to keep an income that at least provides the basics and is about equal to the national male median income. But with 3 kids, we certainly don't have a lot of surplus, and have occasionally had to use credit cards to supplement wants and necessities. Outside of that personal experience, it's not hard to observe how strapped LDS families in our neighborhood are when kids wear hand-me-downs, get reduced or free meals at school, medicare, or other government or church assistance. Though some of this could be the bad economy that is affecting most everyone to some degree.
It is pretty well established by social studies regarding relationships that the older a couple is when they get married, the longer that marriage is likely to last. Most married folk also know from personal experience, and are supported by social studies, that the main topics burdening relationships surround finances, emotional well being, mental stimulation or the lack thereof, sexuality, and the compatibility of all the above. Personal experience and observation has demonstrated that Mormonism begins to handicap relationships and marriage before the knot is even tied, repressing sexuality and natural urges, encouraging marriage for males right off the mission at 21, and females right out of high school, and also encouraging babies at a time when a couple is most challenged to do so. Though Utah has secured the claim of having the longest lasting first marriages, a long marriage does not necessarily equate to a happy marriage, and the social and religious consequences for divorce in Utah likely help those numbers(e). Moreover, the handicaps mentioned previously proved to be a detriment to marital and familial bliss in my own marriage, and I know we are not alone in experiencing those handicaps. Once we shed the LDS religion and allowed ourselves the freedom of thought, expression and 10% increase in available income, things gradually got better for us. We both initiate intimacy now and experience fulfillment in that department. We are again pursuing other life goals as a team, compromising where necessary and encouraging each other in a much more open atmosphere. While our marriage is definitely not perfect, it is working for us on a much higher plane than we experienced and were equipped to as Mormons.