The Difficulties of Divorcing in Your 20s


  • Lack of emotional maturity puts teen marriage, marriage in your 20s at risk.
  • Trends in modern relationships discourage marrying young.
  • Marriage and divorce data doesn't account for the emotional complexities of the experience.

"The emotional impact of a divorce is felt, regardless of the age."

Young love can create a picture perfect scenario that lends itself to a storybook style ‘happily ever after’, but remembering this being only a scenario can be challenging. The reality is even more challenging than that. Young couples can face very real challenges in their relationship, as it transitions into marriage. Some couples find these challenges too difficult, which leads to divorce at very young ages.

Recent trends in relationships

In recent years, divorcing in your 20s has been an ongoing conversation that has highlighted the benefits of waiting to get married until you have “experienced the world” or have experienced dating multiple partners. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that people in their 20s are redefining dating by engaging in “stayover relationships” where they spend three or more nights together each week while maintaining the option of going to their homes.

Given the typical age for college is in their 20s, people engaging in these relationships find their experiencing all of the benefits of a relationship on their own terms. It also is for those who are avoiding cohabitation out of preference, commitment, or religious reasons.

The idea of “stayover relationships” stems from the idea that if you are living together with someone, it becomes harder and harder to break up with them. Definitive future plans are not necessarily in place, so engaging in the benefits of dating someone without the stress of commitment seems attractive for couples in their 20s.

Married young

However, while many couples experience that freedom and travel, date and explore various aspects of the world before settling down, that isn’t the case for every couple. Some couples find themselves marrying their high school or college sweethearts and settle down in their teens and 20s.

Despite their enthusiasm to get married, much of the youthful disposition is challenged when adjusting to marriage, and many couples cannot handle that level of change. Only 10 percent of women and six percent of men in America below the age of 24 are married, according to the United States Department of Commerce.

According to the Institute for Family Studies, a couple that marries at age 25 is over 50 percent less likely to get divorced than a couple who marries at age 20.  The institute cites the lack of coping skills, maturity, and social support to make the marriage work. The inclination of coming to a happy resolution hasn’t quite been socially developed, allowing the inclination to ‘be right’ to take hold of any disagreement.

Due to the social conversation of waiting to get married until later, there’s no noticeable difference in social disapproval of marriage in your mid-20s than there is if you got married in your teens, according to the institute. However, the risk of divorce declines in your 20s, in comparison to that of your teens, and continues to decline into your 30s.

The economic stability of having an established job coupled with being in a long-term relationship with someone you’ve grown to know and develop feelings for over the course of several years, allows for the solid ground that makes marriage less of a risk and more of a commitment.

Generational gap and cohabitation

There is a generational gap involved in these statistics. According to Business Insider, there were a higher number of people in their 20s who saw their marriage end in 1960 and in 1980 than in 2013.

However, more people were in their second or third marriage by their late 20s in 1960 and in 1980 than in 2013. Those contradictory points illustrate the generational complexities of social norms within relationships during those decades.

Speaking of social norms, cohabitation is continuing to gain steam as a trend in relationships that is impacting the number of marriages and divorces experienced by people in their 20s. U.S. researchers found that the likelihood that a marriage would last for 10 or more years declined by six percent if the couple had lived together beforehand, according to Maclean’s.

Emotional complexities

These statistics speak to the unpredictability of relationships. As much as we would like to study the numbers and monitor the newest trends within dating, marriage, and divorce in our 20s, the studies are not fool-proof. Studies cannot measure heartbreak to the extent of which they are felt. The emotional impact of a divorce is felt, regardless of the age. However, the emotional maturity of youth will have to develop rapidly in order to process the complex emotions of a divorce.

One of the major components that marriage teaches you is how to be independent while being with someone, and when you are divorced at that young age, that level of independence is heightened. In addition, the youthful carelessness before divorce is replaced with a cautious attitude that can create a hesitation to commitment to new people in your life.

It also creates the need to lean on those that are important in your life. The established friendships are safety nets in a future of uncertainty that can surface during a divorce. In our younger years, we rely on our friends for our own social development, but during a divorce at a young age, they reel us in from our unpredictable reality.

There are many resources to cope with divorce at a young age, because like many difficulties we face in this world, there are others who have faced them and conquered them before you. You are not alone in this. Vice, The Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and Thought Catalog have all written pieces on the difficulties of the experience and how to move forward.

While they may have their own thoughts on the experience, it doesn’t discount your experience, feelings, or relationship. The main purpose is to give perspective and make sure that you know that this isn’t the end. Life is long, and in your 20s, there still is so much of it left to live, even after a divorce.

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