How Old Should You Be to Marry?
By Jake and Melissa Kircher
February 29, 2012
At the small Christian college we both attended, students were there for more than an education—they were also looking for a soul mate. It was game on from day one: four years for everyone to try and snag a Christian husband or wife. While most college students party, travel and generally seek to postpone adulthood, this place was different. Sure, there were parties, hooking up, drinking and so forth. But the atmosphere was very much about getting a “ring by spring.”
We can’t lie, we were one of the multitudes who became engaged senior year and married shortly after graduation. We were 22 years old. In the tiny Christian bubble where we’d spent the last four years, marriage right after college was like reaching Mecca. But many people outside of that sphere thought we were two fools only months away from divorce court.
Does age really matter when it comes to the success or failure of a marriage? Apparently, 50 percent of the young couples that meet and marry at our alma mater still end up divorced. If it’s true, it’s a dismal statistic to be sure. But is age the deciding factor here? We know couples who married in their late 30s and were divorced within a year. We also know couples who married at 18 years old and are still going strong.Is there a right age to get married?
Is Age the Right Question?
There’s no doubt about it: people are getting married later in life. Today, the average age of marriage for women is 26. For men, it’s 28—an almost six-year increase over the last 50 years. It used to be that a single man or woman in their late 20s or early 30s was criticized for their unwed state. We called them spinsters and bachelors. They were pitied and prodded and fixed up.
Not so much today. Today, being single is a symbol of freedom, and those who do marry young are often looked down upon. But couples who wait to marry until later in life seem to get divorced just as much as couples who marry earlier.
Dr. Robert Epstein, a Harvard-educated psychologist and best-selling author, says: “Age is not a good predictor of the success of a marriage. In fact, the divorce rate for males who marry in their late teens is actually lower than males who marry in their 20s.”
So if age isn't a good predictor of the success or failure of a marriage—does it matter at all? Is there a right "age" to get married?
Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at Clark University and the leading researcher in studies of persons ages 18 to 25 says: “I’ve come to appreciate [that] there is huge variability involved. It’s not just about meeting the right person, but it’s also about their personal maturity. I’ve met some people at 19 who matured faster than others their age and wanted to settle down and get married. On the other hand, I didn’t get married until I was 36, and that was right for me.”
How can someone know if he or she is mature enough for marriage? There's no simple formula, but perhaps it would be more helpful to first explore what doesn't define maturity.
False: "You’re Mature When Life is On Track"
One of the biggest modern myths about marriage is that you aren’t mature enough to get married until you have your life all put together. For many people, marriage is out of the question until they have a degree, a career (not just a job), own a home, have paid off the majority of their debt and “are right with God” (whatever that means). It’s a wonder we’re not all in retirement homes by the time we get to the altar.
Having this stuff in order isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s great. Who wouldn’t want all that sorted out? The problem is that all these things take time. They are a process, a journey. By waiting to get hitched until all the ducks are in a row, an individual risks missing out on a great agent of maturity: marriage.
Marriage often feels difficult at the beginning. It is a period of deconstruction.Think of marriage as a “foundation.” But in order to lay the foundation, one has to smooth the land, make it a place to build things. A newly married couple is being remodeled into a unique team. As they do this, they will be challenged again and again to listen, empathize, compromise and submit to each other. This breeds maturity.
Marriage isn’t the only way to mature, of course. Certainly being single doesn’t mean missing out on maturity, and some are called to a life of such independent growth. But the maturity that comes with marriage can aid in tackling life’s great challenges like calling, career, financial decisions and spiritual walk. Plus, there's certainly something to be said for going through those challenges with the person you love by your side. Having the mindset that everything in life has to be in order before getting married can mean missing out on the fact that marriage is often crucial in helping people grow up.
False: "You’re Mature When You Feel Ready To Commit"
It’s been said a thousand times that commitment isn’t a feeling, but a choice. People say this a lot because it’s true. How many times do we have to hear jilted friends tell us their boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with them because they didn’t “feel ready for commitment”?
No one feels ready for commitment. Waiting around for the commitment urge to hit is like hoping someday you’ll really want a root canal. Yes, commitment is like a root canal. It’s intrusive and painful but leads to something strong and lasting.
Most people within their first year of marriage honestly find themselves thinking, “What did I get myself into?" But they don’t realize this is normal. Both spouses promised "for better or worse"—this means actually sticking it out when things get dicey.
Commitment is a choice at any age, and no matter how old you are when you get married, it will bring challenges. Couples will have a lot of learning and growing to do as they figure out who they are and what they want out of life. But if they truly commit, it is possible to do all those things together.
Marriage is a beautifully difficult partnership where two people challenge, refine and support each other. Often, the maturity and commitment needed to make a marriage last is learned along the way. That is not to say to make this decision without serious consideration, but the right things need to be considered. Age is an important factor, but it’s just one factor.
The age at which you get married will not make or break your marriage. Whether you’re 18 or 80, marriage will be all at once the hardest thing you’ll ever do and the most rewarding.