Marrying Young

Let’s look at the pros and cons of marrying young. First off, what is young? Let’s say young is between legal age, say 18 to 25. You might adjust the numbers in your own mind, but I think you get my meaning. Now let’s consider the ‘pros’ to getting married young. I would say, if you know you’ve met your ‘soulmate’ and you want to tie the knot, that’s understandable. Of course you’d have to realize that you’re taking a risk but that’s true of marriage anyway. Economically, it should be easier to have two incomes coming in, so you’ve got that covered. And quite frankly, some people just plain belong together and know it at the moment they meet.

Yet this kind of romantic spark could happen when there are too many interferences, like certain forms of immaturity or even inexperience, making it difficult to sustain a marriage at that particular time. I met a woman once who married and divorced two husbands, had a bunch of kids with both, and ended up getting back together with her high school sweetheart, got married, and now is living happily ever after in her 60’s with him. I met him, and I saw and felt the degree of love between them. For whatever personal reasons existed at the time, they were not able or willing to marry young. This would be an example of experiencing the early chemistry but for some reason or another being unable to consummate the relationship as a marriage at that early time.

From what I am observing about the common love-life, it is much harder these days to get married early and make it work. I think this is so in part because of the greater demands on young people to develop themselves academically and otherwise before settling down. There may also be a few socioeconomic factors at work like whether or not you are expected to go to work after high school or into college or university. Expectations of your family of origin, culture, and/or your own ambitions, all of these may determine how available you’ll be for marriage. If you marry before you are ready to make a love commitment there will be hardship in your love-life. Usually what happens is, after the ‘honeymoon’ is over and the reality of living together and working on the relationship together emerges, sustaining the marriage becomes a challenge. When you are immature and married it may seem easier to choose limited solutions to marital problems instead of really working on the relationship (surviving disagreements, arguments, etc. without destroying the relationship).

This kind of ‘work’ will be extra difficult when you don’t have a lot of practice communicating your needs and feelings, and hardly know who you are as a person. If you see yourself as still a child deep down inside, the parent-child thing will probably invade your marital relationship. That’s where you turn your spouse into a parent and rebel against him or her. When your marriage starts feeling like the family of origin relationships you tried to leave home to get away from. Of course, this means you are still trying to deal with family of origin stuff and you haven’t gotten past it yet. This could show up in the reverse, where you end up hiding your own immaturity behind parenting a needy dependent spouse who often acts like a deprived child. Either way, the marriage will be troubled by these ‘roles’ that keep both of you stuck in your respective pasts.

Marrying young could also involve a public or private motivation to get out of the family of origin home away from one’s parents. What usually happens for a young woman is, your parents are super controlling and want to know that your ‘dignity’ is being preserved as they manage your shuttle from their home to a husband’s home as a wife. You don’t get any free time out of this arrangement. Just a distorted sense of security but no maturing independence. These situations usually involve an extended family arrangement for support and reinforcement of this so-called secure lifestyle. Your parents and/or your spouse’s parents will be a significant part of your lives, still acting like parents to some extent, involved in your affairs. Having your extended family annexed to your marriage is one of those dubious advantages you’ll probably have to look forward to if you marry young.

Control in the family of origin can be fierce. For many young women, they can get married but that doesn’t mean they are separating from their family of origin any time soon. Basically, this means a limited emotional availability to ‘cleve,’ as the bible authors suggest, to a husband. As a psychologist, I would suggest that you come up with a better plan to leave your family of origin than marriage. For the simple fact that marriage should be exclusively reserved for love. When other objectives are mixed in (like separating from controlling parents) there may be trouble down the line. Think about it, the delayed emotional separation is going to come sooner or later. Keeping the need for a separation from your family of origin’s control pure and simple will yield the best results. Sure your family will be anxious, maybe angry, sad, or worried, but in most cases they will eventually get over it and you’ll be able to relate to them as an emancipated single adult at some point in the future. You won’t have to deal with the fact that you’ve married somebody to leave home, then deal with it again once you’ve left.

A slight variation on this theme can occur with young men who get it into their heads they are going to display some form of male maturity by taking a wife and perhaps having a baby. Again, this form of solving the problem of personal doubt about one’ s male maturity is not the best way to proceed. Figuring out one’s male identity on a psychological level is the simplest and best way to work on this. If you’re dependent upon a marriage to display or prove your masculinity, you’re mixing the objectives of love and identity, and there is bound to be trouble at some point in the future. You simply can’t depend upon a marriage to settle these personal psychological issues for yourself.

Here’s one more variation, some young adults marry with the underlying motivation to get the love they didn’t get in childhood. The idea here is, the marriage will provide what wasn’t given in the family of origin. Problem with this reasoning is, a marriage can’t make up for a disappointed family of origin experience. In all my years of practice I have never encountered a case where it has. What customarily happens is, the marital relationship gets stressed by the additional demands for a form of love that cannot be satisfied in that relationship. According to my calculations, we all have one chronological childhood. When that expires, we have to move onto our adulthood which is governed by a different set of love-life rules. This realization that childhood is over usually produces a feeling of grief. That is fundamentally therapeutic because if allowed to occur it will eventually help you let go of your early disappointment and settle into living within the available satisfactions of adulthood.

Just as a footnote, when I used to do a fair amount of marital therapy, semi-conscious transformations of the marital relationship into parent-child roles and the frustration and control that produced was by far the most common underlying issue creating the need for treatment. With all of this in mind, I’d say that there is a good case for pursuing some emotional independence before marriage. If you consider the fact that maturity and commitment are strongly related, and the ability to parent is going to be linked to maturity as well, some independence before marriage is a must. What this essentially means is, to make the shift from somebody taking care of you, to you taking care of yourself, is going to be important in a marriage.

Unless you’re expecting your wife or husband to dote on you hand and foot (doubtful these days), you’re going to find there are times during a marriage when you’ll need to take care of yourself. Get good at it. Because the next level from there is learning how to mix in the right amount and kind of taking care of others. What I mean is learning how to give the people you love precisely what they need, and not what they don’t. Remember, that’s a lot different than giving them exactly what they want. It’s good to get a little practice in before you marry because the health and endurance of your marriage will dependent upon it at any age you tie the knot. Dr. T. Jordan








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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

1 Comment

  1. Two of Us Dating Service on June 23, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Fascinating article! I especially enjoyed your discussion about young couples making the commitment before establishing themselves in a career or as a secure adult. It is very difficult to nurture and understand the mechanics of a relationship when they don’t even understand themselves. I’m very interested in this subject. THanks!

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