Getting married young has its challenges, so here are 10 of them.
By Michelle Horton
Last updated on Sep 06, 2023
Photo: Ivan Pantic, kitzcorner | Canva
I got married super young — 22 years young, in fact. I know it sounds crazy, even to me, and I’m the one who did it. It has taken me a while to stop feeling embarrassed or defensive about our decision and to stop taking the stereotypes personally. (We were unexpectedly pregnant and wanted to make it work.)
Maybe it’s because people our age are finally starting to get hitched. Maybe it’s because we’ve “proven ourselves” over the last six years of matrimony, or maybe it’s the surprising perks we’ve discovered from marrying young.
Whatever the reason, we’ve ultimately transitioned from “They don’t know us! We’ll prove them all wrong!” to “Wowza… Can you believe we got married so crazy young and we’re still standing? Up top!”
That’s not to say that as a young couple, we haven’t experienced real, unique challenges from getting married young in our earliest moments of adulthood. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous, especially considering all life situations have perks and drawbacks.
Turns out, legally committing yourself to someone in your early 20s has some mountainous obstacles to navigate around, too. For the sake of full disclosure, let’s talk about the hard parts of getting married young.
10 major challenges of getting married young that almost ended us:
1. Growing up and growing apart
I refuse to label “growing apart” as a young marriage problem. That’s a life problem. We’ll continue to grow and evolve past our 30th birthday, so that’s a challenge all couples navigate. That being said, we grew up a lot during our early 20-something years. (Our brains are still developing, for crying out loud!)
But the real issue is that we can’t fully comprehend how much we can possibly change. Now that I’m 28, I can look back on the last decade and see the drastic shifts in maturity and personality. My husband and I have changed in ways I couldn’t have fathomed at 22, which makes me realize how much more we can change in the future.
2. Less relationship experience
I didn’t marry my first and only boyfriend, but I know plenty of young wives who did. Now, I know some young couples don’t want to hear this, but it’s easier to spot an unhealthy relationship when you’ve been through one (or a few). And no one wants to be the Test Girl for a guy who has no idea how to be in an adult relationship. (Get those mistakes out with past girlfriends, thank you.)
Relationships are learning experiences, and less experience means less learning. That’s not to say you can’t learn together — you absolutely can — but it can be a challenge.
3. Misunderstanding of marriage
I had no idea what marriage really meant when I said, “I do.” Does anyone? I heard marriage would be “hard work,” but what does that mean? Would it be physically laborious? Would I have to clock hours?
I see engagement photos and “let’s get this party started #forever” wedding albums pop up on my feed, and I wonder if they really understand what they’re signing up for. It’s not a party. There’s no Happily Ever After.
Maybe the best way to understand marriage vows is to live through them. Still, the concept of “forever” is hard for any 21-year-old to grasp.
4. Financial stress
Take two people who barely know how to manage their own money, let alone have any real-world experience with adult financial obligations, and mix. You’ve been warned.
5. Sacrifice and compromise
Casey Mullins perfectly illustrated this challenge in her piece “I Was A Teen Bride And Blamed My Husband For My Failed Career.” In fact, this is one of the biggest obstacles that young couples don’t know to look out for. It might sound perfectly lovely to graduate college and start adulthood in marriage — in many ways, it is — but marriage inherently requires sacrifice and compromise “for the greater good.”
You’re now part of a partnership and all of your decisions affect another person, too. So when two people are trying to launch careers and develop on their own, who gets to follow their dreams, and who holds down the fort? Whose job gets priority when it comes to relocating finishing a degree or punching in long hours? It can be a tricky dance, and often there are toes that get stepped on and feelings that get hurt along the way.
6. Discouraging statistics
Every young couple is faced with the looming doom predicted by divorce statistics. The reasons why young marriages dissolve are as individual and nuanced as people themselves, and yet I’d argue that the statistics alone provide some serious mental roadblocks.
Think about it: If people constantly tell you that you’re going to fail, how long until you start to believe them? When marriage gets tough, which it always does, no matter your age, the weight of statistics and negativity might encourage young couples to throw in the towel. “We never had a shot to begin with,” they might think. “Who were we kidding?!”
7. All the responsibilities, all at once
I disagree with the idea that your 20s should be spent being “young and carefree.” Responsibilities are important. They teach us lessons, thicken our skin, and prepare us for life in a way that a decade of boozy brunches and couch surfing simply can’t. That being said, I’ve often said that the hardest part of being an “early mama” wasn’t being a young wife or young mother or young employee — it was doing all of it at the same time.
Of course, not every young bride becomes a young mom, but it’s pretty common. I barely knew how to be a fully functioning adult, let alone a good wife or good mother. Figuring out my individual roles while buried under responsibilities and expectations was and is hard. Not impossible, but I imagine it would’ve been better to ease into each role, one at a time.
8. Lack of support
Sometimes our friends don’t “get” us. They stop inviting us to parties or events, assuming we’re too grown-up for those shenanigans. Or we might see not-so-cryptic Facebook posts from former high school classmates like, “Ugh! It should be illegal to get married under.”
Even our families might be passive-aggressive about our young romance, threatening to boycott the wedding. Young engagements are often met with more raised eyebrows and behind-the-back snickering than true support, which can be emotionally taxing.
9. Lack of identity
It’s easy to lose ourselves in the identity of “wife” or “mom” if it’s the only adult identity we know. It’s absolutely possible to “find yourself” within the context of marriage and motherhood, but it takes conscious effort.
To develop and retain our own identity, we can’t leave our happiness or self-worth hinging on another person or situation. We can’t define ourselves by our roles and responsibilities, no matter how consuming or important. We have to be our own while belonging to another, which is easier said than done.
10. Lack of perspective
I would never say that young 20-somethings are incapable of maturity, intelligence, or commitment, but we do naturally lack perspective. When it’s our first season of adulthood, the leaves fall off trees and we wonder if they’ll ever grow back. Will things get better? Can we get through this?
These are tough questions when you don’t have past hurdles or struggles to look back and learn from, and when you don’t have any married friends to coach you through. We simply don’t know how hard times can make us stronger, or how bad times can eventually get better, because we haven’t lived through them yet. Luckily, perspective comes with time and experience. It always does.
If you’re thinking that these reasons contradict the reasons I love being a young bride, then you’d be right. But that’s life! Highs and lows, gives and takes, perks and drawbacks, and wild inconsistencies. Some days my marriage feels perfect, and other days it feels like it might crumble under my feet.
No one can tell you the “right” age to get married, because no one knows how marrying young (and, in my case, young motherhood) can affect us. My marriage has been the source of struggle and pain, as well as insight and awareness.
But all of that growth has allowed me to blossom into something new, something stronger, something better. And I’m grateful to share all of those hard and wonderful moments with the same person by my side.
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Michelle Horton is a freelance writer and social media specialist who founded the website Early Mama. She writes about advocacy, motherhood, and relationships.