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The Dark Truth About Young Marriages

thing offhand if you’re in it for the long haul.”

Even though the threat of divorce is often an empty one in young marriages – only 3 percent of respondents who have been married for three months or less reported that they’ve ever regretted marrying their spouse – regret does increase after the first year, climbing to 19 percent of respondents who have been married for 1 to 2 years, then 29 percent of respondents who have been married for five years or more.

“At the beginning, everything is hunky dory, but then you move in together and you just keep butting heads over the same thing,” says Amanda, 28. “They’re stupid things like who’s taking out the trash or walking the dog, but somehow they stick with you and snowball over time into these bigger resentments.” Over the two years she’s been married, Amanda said she and her husband have struggled more and more with communication – to the point where she wonders if their conflicts will ever be resolved. She’s regretted her marriage at times, but hasn’t seriously considered divorce because she and her husband have a young child.

Photo credit: Katie Buckleitner | Getty
Photo credit: Katie Buckleitner | Getty

The most black-and-white source of conflict for twentysomething couples was infidelity: a majority of survey respondents say that if they found out their spouse was cheating on them, they would be extremely (45 percent) or somewhat (28 percent) likely to ask for a divorce. Women are more concerned about a spouse cheating on them than men are, and while relatively few respondents admitted that they have cheated on their spouse since getting married (5 percent), men were substantially likelier than women to say they’ve considered cheating (29 percent vs. 15 percent). Tim, 26, says he’s fantasized about sleeping with other women, but would never act on it. “Sometimes I’ll be at a bar with friends or out of town on a business trip and I’ll think, Maybe I wouldn’t get caught,” he says. “Really though it’s not about getting caught, it’s about betraying the trust I’ve built up with my wife. So I try to avoid situations where I would be tempted.”

Money and division of chores were the issues that were most likely to spark conflict: 46 percent of respondents reported that they fight with their spouse about money either often or sometimes, and 43 percent said the same about division of chores. Debt – something a majority of young millennials are saddled with after college – also came up frequently as a source of stress. “It’s hard to figure out how to manage that jointly, since it’s something we accrued separately but now we have to deal with it together,” says Emily, 24, who has been married for just over a year. Despite these stresses, she’s never regretted her marriage or thought about cheating.

Elizabeth, also 24, says that external pressures like family health problems have driven most of the conflicts with her husband in their two-year marriage. “I don’t think I quite grasped before I got married that staying married is a choice too,” she says. “There are times when I will cry because of something he does – he’s really impulsive, and that’s hard – and I think, ‘Something has to change because this isn’t working for me.’” She and her husband have talked about divorce and separation several times. In those conversations, she said, open communication has helped defuse the conflict. “I realized early on that I have to put it all out on the table, because I really can’t expect him to read my mind.” Ultimately, she thinks their marriage will last because of the communication skills she’s developed.

Photo credit: Katie Buckleitner | Getty
Photo credit: Katie Buckleitner | Getty

Of course, this strategy for conflict resolution don’t work for all couples. Demi, 26, recently separated from her husband of two years when it was clear that the marriage just wasn’t working. “Ultimately I think it was a personality mismatch,” she says. “We just didn’t want to do the same things, and we were always fighting. Finally I figured we should see if it’s better for us to just stay friends.” She’s cautiously optimistic that this new arrangement will work for her husband and their young daughter, but will reassess the possibility of divorce in a few months. “I don’t regret getting married young, but I also think that when you have all of this time ahead of you, it’s really not worth it to stay in a relationship that’s not healthy,” she says.

But Demi’s experience was, for the most part, an outlier among survey respondents. Despite the challenges of marriage, several respondents said that they’re particularly glad they married young, because they’re able to navigate this tumultuous period in their lives with their spouse by their side. “I understand why it might not seem so appealing to people, to be married in your 20s, because you do have a lot of commitments and challenges and it’s a time when there’s lots of change in your life,” says Jeff, 27. “I actually like that, though, because dating without a specific goal always seemed pointless to me. When you’re married, you get to work through those challenges together, and I feel like we’re achieving more in life that way.”

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