In July 2011, as my husband and I stood at the altar to vow “for better or worse,” I knew there were going to be challenges ahead. By August, when the honeymoon quite literally ended and I spent my Saturday nights making grocery shopping budgets, it really sunk in there were going to be a host of unique struggles associated with getting married young — just 20 and 21 years old in our case.
For us, the transition into marriage wasn’t particularly smooth. I went from rooming with two friends and having my parents’ financial support. My husband went from a community living arrangement, where, depending on the night, he either didn’t have to cook or had to make food for 49 other guys. Next thing we knew, we were sharing a one-bedroom apartment while going to school full time and trying to support ourselves.
Since then, we’ve been pushed, pulled and twisted around in ways I couldn’t have anticipated during that hot July day nearly five years ago. Some situations have been unique to our relationship. But other hurdles, I’ve learned, are par for the course when you get married young.
There’s no way around it: By getting married young, you have fewer years of life experience. That means fewer experiences to draw from in times of crisis. It can also mean less emotional maturity, although one psychologist I spoke with in an interview said that varies — a 20-year-old who’s supported herself for years is likely more equipped for a successful marriage than a 25-year-old who lives at home.
For just about everyone, the early 20s are a time of great upheaval. That is especially true if you add a new marriage to the mix. Along with starting a career and figuring out what it means to be independent, these pivotal years can usher in completely new interests, new passions and new goals in life. So, when two people are undergoing those big changes during the early years of a marriage, it can be difficult — especially if much of your relationships is hinged on an interest that’s no longer shared.
Any successful relationship requires compromise. When you’re married in your early 20s — a time often marked by bold moves — that means considering another person before acting. The key is to look at those would-be sacrifices in a more optimistic light. Otherwise, resentment can eat away at the foundation of the relationship.
By definition, getting married younger than average means most of your peers will still be living the single life. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a hurdle: I will attest that it is very possible to keep friendships alive when you are the first to get married! Still, it can be difficult when others don’t have to think twice before going out, while you have to consider another person.
Struggling over finances is in no way unique to young marriages: Money is the leading cause of stress for couples, according to a 2015 survey. But I’d wager to say that is especially true for those of us who have it in short supply — or, in order words, almost anyone in their early 20s. Set yourself up for success by having conversations about financial expectations upfront, preferably before tying the knot. A marriage with one big spender and one determined saver is bound to get complicated.
There’s no doubt that getting married young is difficult. But there is a silver lining: You will almost certainly learn more about yourself than you otherwise would. For us, that meant figuring out how to work as a team. While we surely still have a lot of learning to do, the progress we’ve made is clear each time we encounter a new hurdle and realize it’s a bit easier to get over than the last.
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