It’s hard not to talk about reason early marriages in this day and age without eventually talking about divorce. Last I read, about half of all first marriages end in divorce, and the rates for marriages after the first are even higher. No one begins thinking, “Yeah… I’ll think I’ll give this married thing a go for a bit, and then after a few, I’ll do a nasty divorce and custody battle. That sounds like a good plan.”
So, what happens?
Lots of things I suppose. I want to focus on early marriages, that is marriages between young adults. As a person both in such a marriage and surrounded by others in or previously in such marriages, I think I’ve got something of use to share on the topic. The loose heading for all of this is “growing up,” and I’ve identified three subcategories:
Who Are You?
Early marriages are frequently preceded by short courtships, and the most important part of courtship and dating is finding out who the other person really is. Some of this knowledge cannot occur outside of marriage, but much can and should be learned before taking the plunge.
At the beginning of a relationship, a person can fake it – even if it’s not always intentional – putting forward a good but false impression. Such deception is exhausting, and eventually, time will reveal a person’s true identity. The deception doesn’t even have to be sinister; the person’s true self can be just as nice and well-adjusted as the false one. But the differences… and the revelation of those differences… can be enough to crush a marriage.
I get nervous when I hear of young couples who haven’t been together for at least a year getting married. They haven’t even experienced the full calendar cycle; how much can they really know about one another? It’s amazing how much you learn about another by watching them deal with holiday stress.
Things Are Gonna Change
Other times we know the differences and faults we are marrying. They might be big, and they might be small, but whatever they are we see them clearly. The deception of a new relationship has either ended or been poorly executed. We know what it is about our spouse-to-be that we just don’t like.
Fact: You can’t change your spouse. It’s not going to happen. You just can’t make another person change. Unfortunately, there is a certain youthful naiveté that denies or disbelieves this reality. It says, “I can change her,” or even, “Because he loves me, he will change.” While the former is never true and the latter might be true, one thing is always true: You should marry expecting your spouse to never change in the way you want them to. What I mean is don’t get married despite some quality or trait, thinking that it will go away on its own or with your intervention. I repeat: You can’t change your spouse.
Our third subcategory is really faced in all marriages to some degree. Even the most well-adjusted, realistic, and transparent couples will have to deal with it because it’s a natural part of the life-long process of aging and maturing.
Another Fact: No one magically turns into a fully matured adult upon their eighteenth birthday. You may become a legal adult, but you are nowhere near the person you will eventually become. I’d say it isn’t until our thirties that most of us develop the core of our adult identity. By then we have had enough time to distance ourselves from our youth and begin figuring out who we want to be.
So what happens when you marry before either of you discovers who you will eventually become as an adult? In some cases, the couple makes choices to “grow apart.” That is one or both spouses choose not to tie their adult identity to the other. That may be strong language, rubbing our sense of autonomy wrong, but it is a reality. Marriage is in part a commitment to grow with and in consideration of another person. It is a voluntary limit on one’s individual possibilities made in light of a relationship with another.
When you are young, in the process of separating yourself from your parent’s identity, and with so much growing to do, it can be very difficult to submit all of those changes to that marriage commitment. When either spouse chooses not to, the result is two people who one day discover they are no longer married to the person that thought they were.