I've been meaning to write more about my marriage.
Not because it's exceptional or wonderful or inspirational, but because it's been complicated and exhausting. It's required sacrifice and strength, and is filled with more deep-rooted love than I ever thought possible. It's been real, in a way that the fairytales never prepared me for — and yet it's taught me more about life than a boring Happily Ever After.
I'm writing this on the heels of Gemma's post, 7 Perks to Getting Married Young, which is surging with some well-deserved attention right now. Gemma has this uncanny way of writing things that I swear could've been formulated in my own brain, and that post is the perfect example. I so wholeheartedly agree with every word. If you're lucky enough (and diligent enough) to have a young marriage that works, it can be so beautiful.
But you can't know beauty without mucking through some ugly.
Being inspirational and encouraging doesn't mean we should ignore the challenges. Just as there are unique perks to getting married at a young age, there are unique obstacles. And that's not to say the challenges will define the rest of your life, or completely destroy your future. Sharing our challenges (in the same way we celebrate the benefits) shows that struggling is normal and, in some ways, important. We can emerge from the other side with a deeper understanding of ourselves and the human condition. No one lives an easy-breezy life and ends up an interesting person.
And no one experiences a long-lasting marriage without going through some extremely difficult times.
From my perspective, here are some of the biggest challenges to getting married at a young age (early 20s, give or take a few years). Feel free to add your own experiences in the comment section.
1. Growing together or growing apart?
We've said it time and time again: The 20-something years are an incredible time of growth and self-discovery. And not just from a lifestyle standpoint, but a biological one. Our brains are getting their finishing touches, our experiences are evolving, and our ideological identifications are often challenged.
And if two people can grow in the same direction, there's nothing more fulfilling than growing up together. To see the before and after progress — to look back with admiration and pride — builds respect and "remember-when" memories.
The real challenge comes from getting married before you really understand how much you and your partner will change. Here's the thing: Our 20s aren't the only time we grow. You can change just as much from 30 to 40 as you do from 20 to 30. The challenge of growing together rather than apart will always be there, no matter what age you get hitched.
But when you're 21 or 22, fresh out of college, at the starting line of adulthood, it's impossible to fully grasp what that change can look and feel like. It's easier to say, "I understand how much I can change (and therefore my partner can change) in a decade's time, and I'm signing on for whatever changes might come" when you've already settled into adulthood.
And so sometimes young couples grow apart, developing into different people with different priorities and values. (Sometimes older couples will do the same.) I know that I'm a very different person at 27 than I was at 22, but I also know that it's possible to find yourself and define yourself within a marriage. You just have to make sure that you're your own person, and that your happiness and self-worth isn't wrapped up in an identity of "wife".
2. Less relationship experience
I have a hard time making absolute assertions because I don't see the world in such black and white distinctions. Just because you haven't had a bunch of boyfriends (or any boyfriend) doesn't mean you can't figure out how to have a healthy relationship.
At the same time, it's easier to spot an unhealthy relationship when you've lived through one (or a few).
I also tend to see some immature behavior through the teen and early-20-something years — like snooping through phones, getting insanely jealous, speaking unkindly, tearing someone down just to make yourself feel better, etc.
I can only speak for myself, and I'm grateful to have had a few serious relationships before settling down — some unhealthy, others just silly. But I was only 20 years old when I got serious with Justin, and it was immediately different. Not because I was super mature, but because he made me a better version of myself. (How corny, I know!) So I believe when a young couple claims that they've found something real.
That being said, I'm grateful for the lessons I learned in past relationships and often wonder about the girls who marry their first and only boyfriend. (Was that you? Leave a comment below.)
3. Misunderstanding of marriage
"Marriage is hard work," I heard.
But what does that mean? It's not physically laborious or even "work" in the sense that we know it. And I often wonder if young 20-something girls — with their engagement-ring shots on Facebook and elaborate wedding plans — really understand what they're celebrating. When I hear young teens and 20-somethings saying things like, "let's get this party started," I think, Ooph; you're in for an awakening, my friend.
Marriage is endurance, service, and sacrifice (for BOTH people). Marriage is finding compassion when it's easier to explode in anger. Marriage is picking your battles and keeping the peace when it's easier to nag and whine. Marriage is barreling through the dark times and being grateful for the bright times. Marriage is a conscious effort, with conscious choices, to strengthen a relationship over time.
When I got married at 22, I didn't have any friends to give marriage advice for those beginning years. I vaguely understood what "forever" meant, but it's a tough concept to wrap your head around. And even though it's totally possible to "learn on the job," I was very unprepared for marriage. Marriage isn't a dead-end road to monotony and resentment, nor is it a flowery love story. Marriage has seasons with highs and lows, just like everything in life.
Marriage inherently requires a certain amount of sacrifice because there's a "greater good" to serve beyond your own needs and wants. But the 20-something years are also a time for self-discovery — for finishing school, establishing a career, and settling into a new adult identity.
How much are you willing to sacrifice? How much can we sacrifice before resentment builds? (That's not rhetorical — I'm actually wondering.) Are you willing to put your own dreams on hold to support your partner's? Are you prepared to continue developing as a woman without sacrificing your identity? Sacrifice is always hard, but it's especially hard when comparing your life to the typical 20-something. Where do we draw the line?
5. Discouraging statistics
Here's a little well-known fact: Getting married before the age of 25 drastically increases the likelihood of divorce. Is that because the decision-making part of our brain isn't fully developed until then? Is it because of the drastic changes that take place between 20 and 25 years old?
I've written before about the damaging effects of constant negativity — especially surrounding something as difficult and delicate as marriage. Marriage will always have hard moments, whether you're 21 or 31 or 41. But when someone is constantly told that they'll fail, it makes it easier to throw in the towel. ("We never had a shot to begin with," you might think.)
6. Lack of support
And a lot of that damaging negativity comes from family and friends, on top of societal statistics. Some angry parents will boycott a wedding altogether, refusing to come to the ceremony. Friends might ridicule and publicly embarrass you with (not-so-cryptic) Facebook posts like, "OMG everyone is engaged! It should be illegal to get married before 30 IMHO. #idiots #firstmarriage."
Marriage has its inherent challenges as it is, without the finger wagging and gossipy whispers.
7. Lack of perspective
I don't think it's right to make blanket statements about a 20-something's capacity for maturity, intelligence, and commitment. But I think it's fair to say that we naturally lack perspective. Leaves fall off trees and we wonder if they'll grow back, so to speak, simply because it's our first season of adulthood. The beginning struggles are amplified when we don't have past hurdles to look back on and know that things will, in fact, get better. That even the most trying situations can be overcome. That life's struggles have a way of making us stronger and smarter. That every single marriage has low points.
All that being said, I'm grateful for my marriage — especially the low points. If we make it out of the weeds (which is where we are right now, more on that soon), I'm positive that we'll emerge as better people. I'm learning about true compassion and tolerance, and he's learning about humility and gratitude. And, believe it or not, we love each other more than we ever have.
What do you think? What were some of the biggest challenges that came from your young marriage, and how did you overcome them?