When I married my first husband at the age of twenty-two, I certainly didn’t think I was marring young. We had been together for six years, lived together for four and had even moved across the country as a couple. I felt grown. Capable. Confident.
And so sure that I was making the right decision.
And for the ten years we were married, I never questioned that decision. It was only after the marriage ended that I became aware of some of the repercussions of marrying young:
1 – Independence isn’t fully developed.
I felt independent because I was paying my own way and out from under parental control. But the reality is that I was still relying greatly on my boyfriend turned fiancé turned husband. I never had to make decisions completely by myself because I was never completely by myself.
When we’re young, independence can be confused with the ability to stay out without a curfew or to eat cereal for dinner for week straight. It’s only later that we realize that independence also means being willing to accept full and complete responsibility for your choices and being able to make major decisions based upon what is right for you, not because of what is the easiest.
2 – You can be blinded to changes in your partner.
I had a false confidence in my perception of my first husband. I thought that since I knew his mother’s maiden name, his childhood friends and even the location of his preschool, that I knew him. What I didn’t yet know was that the sixteen-year-old I fell in love with had morphed as we moved into our twenties.
We are all prone to confirmation bias, yet there is a surety that accompanies young marriages that doesn’t happen when we’re older. And when we see people as they were, not as they are, we can be opening ourselves up to some very rude awakenings.
3 – You’re afraid to change or grow because it may threaten the relationship.
Youth is characterized by growth and change. Yet, if you’re already in an established relationship, you may find yourself hesitant to explore your beliefs and interests because of the threat that personal transformations may have on your relationship.
This restraint can easily morph into resentment and a feeling of being “held back.” This dissatisfaction (and the fear it can trigger in the other partner) can become a major threat to the health of the relationship.
4 – The family of orientation and the family of procreation become muddled.
The family of orientation is the one you grew up in. When you quickly move from this family to the one of procreation (or choice), you often finalize your growing up within the second family.
This overlap means increases the chances that you respond to adult situations in a childlike way and that you carry your roles from childhood into your adult life without reflection and adjustment.
5 – Boundaries between self and the couple become blurry.
It was an eye-opening moment for me when I realized how many of my now-ex husband’s beliefs I had adopted. Assimilating his views wasn’t intentional; it was simply a matter of proximity and laziness. I simply found it easier to agree than to examine my own preferences.
When you’re together from a young age, “I” and “we” can become synonymous. I see a healthy relationship as an overlapping Venn diagram where each person has significant autonomy as well as the shared life of the partnership. In marrying young, the overlapping region often dominates the others.
6 – Ending the relationship is seen as overwhelmingly terrifying.
Before my divorce, I could not imagine life without my first husband. In fact, the thought of losing him (either to death or divorce) was enough to send me into a panicked mess. And that overwhelming fear was a contributing factor in my inability to initiate the difficult conversations or to see the reality of what was happening.
There is a balance between being willing to call it quits after the most minor of road bumps and being so afraid to leave that you’ll put up with anything. When you marry young, you can end up accepting or ignoring behaviors because of an overwhelming fear of being alone.
7 – You may feel a sense of being repressed or restricted.
I will never forget the strange sense of mania that possessed me during my divorce. I was a woman unleashed.
Many people that marry young have a feeling of being held back by their marriage or their spouse. They can feel frustrated or restless within the bounds of their marriage and they may look for ways to act out or push for more freedom.
8 – Both partners may obsess over what they missed out on.
The grass on the other side isn’t greener, but you don’t know that if you’ve never explored other pastures.
When you marry young and settle down at the time when others are stepping out, you can believe – either accurately or not – that you’ve missed out on important experiences and milestones of youth that others have enjoyed. These thoughts can be persuasive and even become all-consuming.
9 – Adulthood becomes synonymous with couple hood.
When my ex husband left, I realized that I had never dated men before. Only boys. It was a strange feeling, realizing that I had never been an adult without him. There was childhood…and then there was couple hood. Nothing in between.
Growing up doesn’t mean that you have to be married or even partnered. There is a benefit to learning how to adult before you learn how to be married.
10 – The false confidence of youth may leave some questions unexplored.
I knew everything when I was sixteen. Now, twenty-four years later, I feel like I know less than I did then.
The unchallenged certainty of youth means that you’re less likely to challenge your assumptions or consider alternate ideas. And as I’ve learned over the years, being sure often correlates with being wrong.
11 – Major decisions can be made with an “I’ll show them” attitude.
We all know that the best way to ensure that a teenagers will do something is to tell them not to do it. Many young marriages begin as a way of asserting independence over parental or community control. This is especially true for those who have grown up in very conservative or repressive environments.
It’s natural for teenagers to want to break free and to explore their own ideas and desires. Yet when those urges are combined with a serious vow, the consequences of the commitment may not be fully realized until later.
12 – There are fewer data points to analyze when evaluating a potential partner.
I hope to never be judged by the person I was in eighth grade. Yet I married a man larger based on who he was in high school. When you marry young, you have less information about your partner. You don’t yet know how they are at sustaining friendships over many years or how they handle being passed over for a promotion at work.
When relationships develop later in life, you have more information about how the person handles life’s challenges and you have more data points to connect to determine their character.
13 – The power of “firsts” can increase emotional intensity.
Do you remember your first kiss? How about your third? Or tenth? Firsts, based solely on their novelty, have inflated power and importance. When you marry young, you are naturally going to experience many of these first with your partner.
There is a beauty in sharing your life with the person with whom you shared many firsts, yet the added importance and power of memory can also make it more difficult to let go when it is necessary.
14 – Insecurities around career launching can lead to poor decisions.
In modern society, we often define ourselves and our worth at least partly through our careers. Marrying young means that you’ve entered into a commitment before your place in your career is fully realized.
There is often an insecurity that tags along like an insistent little brother while you’re navigating those formative adult years and trying to find your niche, not to mention your purpose. And insecurity often leads to poor decisions.
15 – A naive conviction in a “life script” can lead to marrying for the sake of marrying.
I often see young people more in love with the idea of being married than they are with their partner. At some point, they decided that they needed to be married by a certain age in order to fulfill their ideas about what adult life should like.
And so they say “I do” before they consider what comes afterwards. Marrying young often accompanies an idealism about how life will unfold. And when reality fails to follow the script, it can lead to some major doubts and uncertainty.
16 – The immature communication habits of youth may become ingrained.
When I was in middle school, many “conversations” with my boyfriends occurred through third parties, three-way calls or passed notes. Very little information was exchanged through direct one-to-one communication.
When marrying young, those inefficient and ineffective communication patterns can easily become habit and develop into the normal way of conveying information within the marriage. Considering how critical open and honest communication is for a relationship, this can develop into a major problem.
17 – Both partners are more likely to have an idealistic view about finding their soul mate.
The teenage fascination with the Twilight series offers a glimpse into the romanticized viewpoint of the teenage mind. The young are more likely to believe in a soul mate and may be more likely to view marital strife as an indication of choosing the wrong person instead of a sign of needing to learn how to work together.
Age brings with it an acceptance of imperfection and allows for more realistic expectations of self and others.
18 – The intensity of adolescent feelings can overwhelm rational thought.
There’s a reason that the characters in Romeo and Juliet are teenagers. Adults would rarely respond with such impulsive passion. Every teenager I’ve ever known (which, after seventeen years of teaching, is in the thousands), has believed that they are the first ones to ever feel so intently.
Especially when you’ve only felt the initial and overwhelming neurotransmitter cocktail of early love once, you can falsely attributive to your partner rather than your biology. Marrying young arises from an emotional response whereas sustaining a marriage requires more of a rational approach.
19 – There is a lack of peer-based marital support.
There is a marriage support group that meets every Friday morning at the Starbucks near my school. The youngest members look to be in their late twenties. When you marry young, you’re in a different world than that of your peers. And it’s difficult to get emotional and relationship support from people that can’t relate to your situation.
Marriages exist within a larger community. When that community consists of singles trying to hook up or bouncing from one path to another, it’s easy to feel like you’re stranded on a marital island with no one to turn to.
20 – Financial stressors are pretty much a given from the beginning.
I remember feeling rich the first time I earned more than minimum wage. That extra $.15 per hour meant that budgeting for the weekly grocery trip was just a little bit easier. Like most young people, money was a struggle from the very beginning. There was never enough coming in and it was challenging to prepare for the unexpected – yet inevitable – expenses.
Money stress is relationship stress. When marrying young, you are going to experience financial pressures from the beginning and you may not yet have the communication skills and experience to successfully navigate them. Don’t underestimate the emotional power that money has over us; fights about money are often about so much more.
21 – Your sense of self is intertwined with your partner.
This is probably the biggest repercussion of marrying young. It may be cliche, but it’s true – your twenties are all about figuring out who you are. And when you cannot see yourself without your partner, you never really get a chance to fully develop who YOU are apart from the relationship.
Ultimately, marrying young doesn’t doom a relationship any more than it guarantees a happily ever after. The age in which you enter into a relationship is only one of many factors that determines its longevity and success.
And if you use this post in an attempt to persuade some young ones to wait to marry, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. After all, they know everything. 🙂