On the occasions that I witnessed my parents fighting over things I didn't understand, I would walk up to my mom and make sure she and my daddy weren't going to divorce. I inquired this of her in a half-joking way because God doesn't believe in divorces, and we love and respect God. I just wanted to make sure that, even though they were disagreeing, they still loved each other. It's been a couple of years since they divorced. Because I didn't experience their situation firsthand, I can't blame either one of them for what happened, but what I can do is become stronger because of it. I can study their actions and come to conclusions to make my own marriage last. One thing I derived from their situation that will help my own marriage is to never give up. Taking the easy route only leads to more problems. Divorce may seem like the only thing left to do, but it's the lazy way to clean up a mess both people contributed to. A strong marriage is possible if both people keep enduring...and enduring is much more than trying.

Keeping a marriage together consists of things we learned as small children and must develop into strong characteristics as adults. Both people must listen with their ears and not their mouth. By understanding what one another experiences, a marriage can run more smoothly. Our mouths lead us into trouble, which is the reason why we should close them when someone else talks. Other things such as compromise and letting people have their "alone" time should exist in a marriage; it will exist in mine.

Both people must have what they want in life before depending upon each other. No one can fulfill another person's dreams. Thinking marriage will complete everything that one ever wanted is a big mistake; it creates a false hope that will lead to arguments and disappointment. I have a goal in life: I want to graduate from college with a major in journalism. By marrying someone before I begin this journey (before I start studying this subject), I might veer off my road and think that because I have my significant other by my side, I don't need anything else. Marriage comes with many beneficial and wonderful things, but if someone doesn't have what he or she already wants, marriage will not give it to them.

I plan on getting married and having at least four children. Children are a constant reminder of the love two people share. But before I have children, I will establish a strong and unbreakable marriage with someone I love, practicing the qualities and morals I believe must exist between two married people. -- Alexis Sebring, Carlsbad H.S.

Marriage is a difficult subject; divorce rates being as high as they are, the institution of marriage is a different animal than it has been in the past. When and if I ever get married, I would likely be in my late 20s, but this is highly dependent on partners and many other circumstances. The societal standard of marriage is that the husband should be older than the wife, but, in my opinion, as long as the age gap isn't too wide, I don't see a problem. Problems can sometimes arise with age gaps of 5, 10, 15 or even more years. Before I get married, I would like to become established with at least an education and a reasonably good career; you should get your life together and have some fun before thinking about getting married. Circumstances can change; you can meet an exceptional person, for example, but as a rule of thumb, get yourself together and have some fun before devoting your time and energy to one person.

In my limited experience, marital problems arise primarily when one or both people aren't satisfied or feel "penned in" by the marriage. While it could be a naïve suggestion, just try and have some fun before getting married. You might not get another chance. This is not to say that once you're married, you're dead, but, honestly, life probably won't be the same after marriage.

Between getting your "wild side" out before marriage and making concessions to your partner, there should be little reason a marriage should fall apart, aside from external pressures and circumstances. One of the bigger causes of divorce, aside from unhappiness, is financial security. Some people seem to feel that if they aren't living well enough, there's something wrong with their marriage.

Another important factor in marriage is children. Some couples shy away from kids completely while others go buck wild. That should be an individual choice and shouldn't be done out of social responsibility to procreate. A lot of parents aren't mature enough or prepared enough for kids. The presence of kids in a relationship should depend on circumstances. I say all this as the product of a happily married set of parents and am basing this all on observations and thoughts throughout my life. -- Grant Barba, La Jolla H.S.

Falling in love, getting married, having two kids, raising a family, and growing old with my husband...that's how I've always pictured my future. Oh, and add getting rich in there somewhere. I bet most teenagers picture their lives along those same lines. Adults nowadays probably consider that plan unrealistic or even idealistic. I mean, let's face reality: divorce rates are high and a lifetime of love for one person seems rare. Maybe I'm more hopeful than others because I've grown up in a happy family with two parents who love each other. I hope I can find something like they have someday. They seem to balance each other out, my mom being overly outgoing and high-strung and my dad always seeming calm and collected. I rarely see them fight and when they do their grudges never last more than an hour. If my mom is upset about something, my dad cares and tries to do everything in his power to sort out the problem. They understand each other, and even though I'm trying my best to explain it, I can't.

I can picture getting married around when my mom did, at 26 years old, to someone within a few years of my age. I think a key part in successful marriages is that each person establishes his or her own life first. I definitely want to finish college and have a stable career before I get married. I want to be able to focus on my spouse when I do decide to get married, instead of worrying about studying for a final exam or applying for important jobs. I've heard of a lot of marriages not working out because one member of the relationship refuses to put their spouse before other parts of their life, such as work. I don't want that to happen in my future relationship.

After I'm married, I want to spend time with my husband for a few years before I rush into having children. I want to have two children, but I know the time commitment that will take. I need to be prepared for that and realize the craziness that parenting brings. -- Bryanna Schwartz, Westview H.S.

My great-great-great-grandma, Annie McEntyre, saw the burning of Atlanta. After her father's death in the Civil War, Annie watched her mother go insane with grief. Her family's fortune in ruins (and her mother in an asylum), Annie escaped to Mississippi in 1865, where she decided -- at the age of 14 -- it was time to get married. Almost 150 years later, here I am. It is hard to imagine leading a life like Annie's, but even harder to imagine eventually getting married. I worry about tests, newspaper deadlines, and getting into college; marriage is a very distant possibility.

I don't think anyone can predict their future love life. When I was in preschool, I remember the other girls giggling and claiming that they were going to grow up and be princesses and, naturally, marry princes. I wanted to be an entomologist. Fourteen years later, those girls are far from royalty, but I am equally far from being an entomologist.

Annie told her family that her husband, William Norfleet, was a school teacher, but it seems that he was only a student. I do not know their financial status, but according to family legend, Annie spent several years traveling from Mississippi to Florida as a cabaret dancer. Marriage does not guarantee anything.

Those girls on the preschool playground saw marriage as an end, a happy solution to life. Flip through the "announcements" in the newspaper this Sunday, and happy couples will smile back. But judging by divorce rates, marriage is everything but the conclusion.

William Norfleet died at the age of 49. Annie, still young, never remarried. She raised several children and eventually immigrated to California from Arkansas during the Dust Bowl years. Annie died in 1955 at the age of 95.

One cannot predict the future. I cannot sit down and say, "I'll get married after college and have two kids: a boy and a girl." But I know that if Annie could find happiness through hard times...if she could support herself (despite the unorthodox methods), so can I, married or not. -- Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, Valhalla H.S.

When it comes to getting married, my basic opinion is, whatever happens, happens. I don't know where, to whom, and how I would want to get married (which might surprise some guys who think that every girl has a "My Dream Wedding" scrapbook stashed under her bed). I know for sure, however, that I'd like to get married young, preferably in my early 20s. Because I'm from a European family in which marrying young was the norm, my great-grandmother is only 87 and my other grandparents are in their 60s. Marrying young allows the elders of a family to participate in the child rearing; elders can dispense advice during the rocky times, too. As for the age of my spouse, I don't have a preference.

Marrying early brings up the question of college and how to deal with both commitments simultaneously. At the moment, with the career goal of becoming an architect, I'm looking at almost as much schooling as that of a doctor, topped off by a postcollege internship. Therefore, in terms of acquiring a degree before marriage, there is no ideal time.

I would, however, wait for an opportune time to have children. There is no question that I would want to have them eventually, but it would not be very convenient to ride a bicycle cross-campus in freezing weather with an extra 20 pounds attached to my stomach.

It was easier for my parents, who, by 21, had finished college and had my brother. Having a child so early can have one of two effects on a marriage: either it divides the stressed-out young parents or it brings them together. Fortunately, the latter was the case with my parents, who are still together after 20 years.

The child cannot be the only thing holding together a marriage, though. I think my marriage would also require a lot of compromise, support, and a certain degree of fun and spontaneity. I'd like our relationship to have an element of surprise in it because if I am going to spend an entire lifetime with one person, I should at least have fun while doing it. -- Jennie Matusova, La Jolla H.S.

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