Marriage. For some, it’s a dream from a young age. For others, it’s one of the inevitable things you do in life. But, for those of us who tie the knot in our 20’s, it can be difficult for the marriage to survive, for a number of reasons.
Luckily, I’ve compiled this complete guide to help you survive marriage in your 20s (and beyond).
- Part 1: How to Know You’re Ready for Marriage
- What is Premarital Counseling?
- When Should We Start Counseling?
- Experience is the Teacher
- Part 2: How to Survive Marriage in Your Early 20s
- The Decision
- Facing The Backlash
- The Aftermath
- Part 3: 4 Ways to Make Finance in Marriage Stress-Free
- Stress Less About Having Less Before Marriage
- Worry Less About Your Partner’s Financial Mess Before Marriage
- Stress Less About Contributing Less or Who Has Financial Dominance
- Worry Less About the Oneness of Accounts
Part 1: How to Know You’re Ready for Marriage
Love is in the air!
Or maybe it’s just capitalism. Nonetheless, there are red and pink hearts galore in our local Targets marking the coming of Valentine’s Day.
It’s a time to cherish the significant people in our lives with refined sugary sweets or diamonds worth our miserly, millennial life savings. It’s also a holiday that sparks an array of emotions from loneliness to arousal, bitterness to indifference.
Yet, we can agree on one thing. Be it romantic or cliche, at least one brave soul will be proposing. There will probably be more than one soul, considering 41% of already married 25 to 34-year-olds would have liked a Valentine’s Day proposal.
So, you — the soul out there fretting over the tear-jerking lines you’re going to say and the heart-sweeping romantic mood you’re going to set — I’d like to throw a wrench in your proposal plan. Think of it more like food for your probably already anxious thoughts.
Have you attended premarital counseling?
I know. You’re not even engaged yet! What do I know? How dare I assume your relationship needs…help?
It probably doesn’t. Your marriage may well survive without it. It’s perhaps all rainbows and sunshine, but happiness isn’t the point. What I’m asking you is, are you ready to stick by all that you plan on promising to your significant other? You’re already saying you are with that ring.
Let’s talk for a bit.
What is premarital counseling?
Premarital counseling is counseling or guidance received before legally binding in matrimony. It’s an opportunity to prepare for some of the intricacies of joining lives together in finances, parenting, sex, and values. Think of it as an excellent jumpstart, and a tool to help your marriage survive everything that’s coming its way.
Preparedness never hurt anybody and studies show an increase in marital satisfaction amongst couples that partook in premarital counseling; so, why not?
Premarital counseling tends to be more prevalent in religious circles where it may be a requirement before a church leader officiates the wedding. Within those circles, a pastoral team or leader will usually facilitate the counseling session.
But, it’s for every and anyone willing and 44% of couples are willing. There are licensed professionals in marriage and family therapy that conduct premarital counseling. A Google search should land you on some local therapist. Even more convenient and financially feasible are online counseling platforms like ReGain. From there, it’s a matter of finding one that is accredited by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and, most importantly, find one comfortable for you.
So, when should we start counseling?
Traditionally, it’s a step taken very near to the marriage date, maybe a few weeks before the wedding. That means you’ve already popped the question. You’ve changed your Facebook status to “Engaged,” announcing your love to the world, and soon, you’ll be rattling away those vows.
You can reap the benefits of premarital counseling even a day shy of the wedding date. But, here’s what I think — the basis of my argument.
Get premarital counseling before popping the question.
Get premarital counseling before using your ninja skills to get the ring size and buy the ring.
Like Valentine’s Day, the topic of marriage is one that stirs up an array of feelings and opinions. I’ve been married six years and here’s what I’ve concluded.
Marriage is hoopla. It’s also profoundly sacred. I think my conclusion covers the extremes in the spectrum of feelings and opinions on marriage, so I’ll elaborate from my vantage point.
Marriage is hoopla when it misses the point of our innate human purpose to be in relationship. We live to be loved unconditionally and selflessly and we live to love unconditionally and selflessly.
Can we love and be loved unconditionally and selflessly without marriage? Absolutely! I’d argue that doing so gives a unique opportunity to experience this on a grander scale. Therefore, the belief that marriage is one of life’s ultimate purposes is…hoopla.
Then, there’s the historical context of marriage. Its contractual nature exudes undertones of enslavement when it represents the ownership of another human, specifically a woman. Although that has shifted in our present day, the current perspective now enslaves us to expectations when marriage stands as a status symbol and a measure of success and stability.
Despite all of that, we want it. I think about how part of our Nation rejoiced when same-sex marriage was finally given the legal recognition it deserved. It’s a right fervently fought for, a right to be honored and revered. Rightfully so. My marriage has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
When we strip away the grandeur of weddings and proposals, marriage is sacred because of the choice to publicly declare unconditional and selfless love for another. That public declaration to your family, friends, strangers, and even the IRS, is also a choice to be held accountable for the vow you make. That choice to be accountable is a testament to the commitment to your promise.
The first time you make that public declaration isn’t at the alter. It’s when you ask, “Will you marry me?” The simple question bears the weight of your intent to commit and be accountable for loving unconditionally and selflessly.
So, are you ready? Do you have the foundations for loving someone with terrible credit, or that doesn’t want kids, or desires an open marriage, or is a Republican (or Democrat)? Are you ready to love them flaws and all and desire nothing but the best for them no matter what they do? If you’re on one knee proposing, the answer is yes. If you’ve said “Yes,” the answer is yes.
But, for some like me, we need some of the romantic glitter to fade away so we can answer such questions through clear lenses that will help our marriage survive. That’s when premarital counseling comes into play.
Experience is the teacher.
As you can imagine, I’m an advocate for premarital counseling before engagement because I’ve experienced it. Before I share my experience with premarital counseling or pre-engagement counseling, let me set up some context.
My husband and I dated throughout college. During that time, marriage wasn’t a topic of discussion. We were strictly living in the moment of our bliss together…until Jesus got a hold of us in our junior year. From my little observation, junior year tends to throw people in an existential crisis, which is what we experienced. In the midst of it, we found solid ground on God.
In finding God, we found religious rules that we were not abiding by, like sex only in the confines of marriage. Before I eventually learned that it’s an unsupported rule, we tried and failed so hard to abide by it. “Not living in sin” became one of the motivations for us getting married as soon as possible. Thus, marriage was heavy on the brain senior year and after that.
Being part of a church, it made sense for us to take part in the premarital counseling they offered since the eight-week course was for engaged and non-engaged couples. So, partaking in pre-engagement counseling was not an intentional, conscientious decision. We stumbled upon the concept all because my husband postponed his proposal to confess that he cheated. Yeah.
Although it wasn’t the noblest way to find ourselves in premarriage counseling, I am forever grateful that we did.
Now that I set the stage, here are the main takeaways from my experience.
- Pre-engagement counseling evaluates the motives for marriage. In our case, it was evading punishment for something we incorrectly believed we were doing wrong. For others, it could be the pressure of pushing Thirty (shout-out to my 90s babies that have already crossed over!). In any case, does the motive align with the promise you plan on making?
- Pre-engagement counseling provides a channel for thoroughly evaluating the relationship. One of the most profound lessons for us both was when the counselors instructed us to turn to each other, look into each other’s eyes, and say, “I will fail you.” As I mentioned, we were focused on the present, living in bliss. Although I believe that’s how we should live our lives to some extent, such a relationship remains on the surface level. Childhood traumas tend to stay hidden. Fears and expectations are not discussed in depths. Red flags are not as pronounced.
- Pre-engagement counseling is an opportunity to learn from others. We had the chance to attend a group counseling session with different facilitators each week. It was an opportunity I cherish until this day because of hearing experiences from people in our similar position as well as from people that have years of marriage under their belt. This was monumental for us, considering we’ve never been married before, nor did we have any exemplary marriages to look to in our families.
Six years and two toddlers later, I’m forever grateful for the foundations set in our premarital counseling. The lessons we learned gave us the tools to navigate the challenges we faced along the way as we continue learning how to love each other unconditionally and selflessly.
That’s nice and all but isn’t it a bit presumptuous?
Could we have learned all the lessons above attending premarital counseling after being engaged? Yes, I imagine so, considering there were no major red flags that deterred our plans to get married.
However, I think about myself from six years ago. If he had proposed, I would have accepted the ring with no hesitation. I would have said yes and committed to something in which my understanding of it was very superficial.
If we did come across red flags in the relationship, I would have been less inclined to take them seriously. Who wants to change a Facebook status from “Engaged” to “Single” and delete all those manicured hand pictures sporting the ring?
It may seem presumptuous — scary even — to suggest premarital counseling in a relationship in which no one has formally agreed to get married. But that’s the point.
Know your intentions before asking, “Will you marry me?”
If you want your marriage to survive, know what you agree to before saying, “Yes.”
Part 2: How to Survive Marriage in Your Early 20s
My husband and I married at 22 and 23 years old respectively — a little over a year after graduating college. That’s considered too young by many standards, and a lot of people assumed our marriage wouldn’t survive because of this.
First, we fall below the median age of marriage for males and females, 29 and 27, respectively. Second, we also come short of the ideal age range for marriage, which is 28 to 32; this puts us at a higher risk of divorcing.
The prospect of marrying young, before the age of 25, is gloomy when statistics are less than favorable and societal prejudice loom large. I know the feeling all too well. Yet, six years later, I see marrying young as the most joyful decisions I’ve made in my life.
So, it’s no surprise that I’m a biased advocate for young marriages. I hope to replace some of the doubt, judgment, and discouragement with support and guidance. Here’s my attempt at doing so.
As mentioned above, start with pre-engagement counseling. I’m a staunch advocate of pre-engagement counseling or premarital counseling before engagement. It’s where you can receive external input and guidance in assessing your decision to marry. In summary, it’s an all-around wise place to start if marriage is the direction you are heading.
In the meantime, here are some questions to consider:
What is marriage?
As defined by the Merriam-Websters dictionary, marriage is “the state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.”
Why is that important to know? As you plan to embark on the marital journey, critically reflecting on the meaning of marriage in its most basic sense is a helpful first step.
For instance, why do you need legal, contractual recognition of your relationship? Is it for validity from the outside world? Or is it for accountability for your commitment to partnering with your significant other?
Marriage is a societal norm, an expectation even. Rather than move on autopilot to follow the norm or meet the expectation, take a moment and determine if the definition of marriage matches your values.
How long do you want to be married?
Is marriage your lifelong commitment or your short term goal? The question may seem straight-forward with one correct answer at first glance. However, our motives for wanting marriage are the indicators for our response. Your reason for wanting to get married determines whether your marriage will survive, and for how long.
Which leads to the next question…
Why do you want marriage?
- Is it because it’s the next logical step in the romantic relationship?
- Is it to start a family?
- Are you attempting to avoid the stigma of having a child out of wedlock?
- Is it for legal reasons?
- Maybe is it to ease external pressure to prove success and stability by a certain age?
- Is it to meet a religious requirement?
- Is it to be happy?
- Or is it to not be lonely?
- Is it for financial security?
- Is it to love someone else, or have someone love you?
Whatever your motive or expectations for marriage are, think about what the union means if it falls short of your expectations. Or what happens after if it does meet your expectations. A good pre-engagement counseling session would delve into such a question. Solidifying your decision before announcing an engagement is well worth it.
After you’ve come to unwavering peace with your decision to marry, the backlash from family and friends may soon follow. Here are some arguments I’ve heard:
- “You haven’t experienced enough people to know they are the one.”
- “I think you should travel instead.”
- “You should focus on your career.”
- “Maybe you should focus on your education.”
- “You don’t have enough money.”
- “You’re probably pregnant.”
- “You just want to have sex.”
- “Your marriage won’t survive long.”
How does one respond? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
The scrutiny of your decision to marry young is mostly a question of your maturity. One sure way of disproving your maturity is by refusing to listen. Listening doesn’t mean do as they say. Listening means actively attempting to understand where they are coming from and heading advice you know comes from a place of love.
It may not seem like it, but most of the opposers to your decision care about you. They want your marriage to survive, and thrive. Their opposition is sometimes a way of desiring the best for you — however misguided at times.
When I think about the arguments against marrying young, I can sum them up in three general concerns.
The fear of making a lifelong decision too young: It’s a valid concern. Yes, our brains are still developing and yes, there’s so much about ourselves we don’t know yet. However, brain development thrives in the context of relationships. Think of a young child that learns how to communicate from their relational interaction with their caregivers. Marriage is a relationship in which we can grow and discover all that it means to be human. It doesn’t have to interfere with the learning process.
Also, there are plenty of long-term, life-altering decisions young people make that meet far less resistance. One significant example is the decision to accept substantial student loans at the age of 17 or 18. Any decision we make, especially in our youth, has a life-altering impact. Rather than avoid or defer the choice, choose to gain knowledge and inform yourself before you decide. That should apply to student loans and marriage.
The fear of missing out: There’s the fear of missing out on other potential partners. There’s the fear of missing out on financial success. There’s the fear of missing out on life experiences. Such concerns are a good reminder that they come from a place of care and desire to want the best for you. However, projecting such fears on your life can indicate a lack of awareness of what you value in life.
If you do value traveling, higher education, financial success, or even exploring other romantic partners, marriage does not have to stand in the way of that. It starts with addressing each of your values before agreeing to marriage. That leaves the door open for exploring all that’s important to you.
However, what could cause you to miss out on such experiences — temporarily at least — is having children. I believe that’s the root of most of the fears expressed by the naysayers. The assumption is marrying young means children will follow immediately after. But, the reality is marrying young does not mean dropping contraceptive methods.
Marriage and starting a family do not have to be the same; they are two separate decisions. A married couple can choose never to have children and a married couple can want to have a child within their first year of marriage. Either way, it’s a separate decision best discussed before the proposal and made after being well-informed.
The fear of deciding for the wrong reason: I love this particular passage from Deepak Chopra’s book The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life:
If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.
The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.
In my outline of potential reasons for marriage, my goal was to stir clear of defining a “right” reason. Even though I do have my opinion on what is the “right” reason, it doesn’t matter.
Here is what matters.
a.) No one impedes the right for you to choose marriage.
b.) Your decision to marry is made in truth and trust. This means you are wholly aware and honest with your true motives for your choice. This also means you’ve decided upon trusting in the full disclosure given to you by your significant other and the counsel you’ve received.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the alter! Here are some things to consider moving forward to help ensure your marriage can survive.
Prepare to deal with parents In-Laws.
Now, I’ll note here that the backlash you receive may primarily be from your parents or the guardians you credit for raising you. They are the people most invested in your well being. For this reason, moving forward with marrying young can be particularly tense. You’re pitted against the duty to honor your parents and the duty to your heart (a line courtesy of Mulan from Mulan II, please watch!).
My mother-in-law, the only family my husband has, did not attend her only child’s wedding. It caused unnecessary heartache during a celebratory occasion.
Although it was annoying to hear well-meaning people tell me she’d come around once children came along — that is precisely what happened. However, despite a lack of an official apology, even after six years, we’ve forgiven her. Ultimately, forgiveness, though not easy, is the best route to go.
Get help when needed.
No marriage is an island and it’s why many don’t survive.
That’s not how the saying goes, but I found this to be very true. Maintaining a balance between managing conflicts within the relationship and seeking external input is vital. Surround yourselves with people that are rooting for your love and can give sound counsel when needed. There’s so much to learn about this new relational dynamic that you’ll be experiencing for the first time.
Have a hell of a good time!
There’s a proverb in the Bible I look to when I think of marrying young:
Rejoice [and be statisfied] in the wife of your youth — Prov. 5:18
You can fill in “wife” with whatever noun applies to your marriage, but the message remains. Enjoy the hell out of the person you choose to marry. Hang out together. Netflix and chill (do LOTS fo chilling). Enjoy each other. Be young, wild, and free…together.
Part 3: 4 Ways to Make Finance in Marriage Stress-Free
Finance is always going to be an issue that every marriage will have to overcome to survive. Financial planning in your 20s is hard enough without the consideration of marriage.
Money + Personal Relationship = Stress (Sometimes)
Take, for example, that one cousin who asked you for $50 to cover their phone bill, promising they’d pay you back when their next paycheck comes through.
You casually respond…
“Yeah, sure. Don’t worry about it…”
Which really meant…
“Okay, don’t feel bad for asking, but I still want my money back come next paycheck.”
Six years worth of paychecks later and a family reunion in between, that $50 was never seen again. Meanwhile, despite the bitterness brewing because of their lack of consideration, you’ve never brought it up in an attempt to preserve their dignity.
Also, you don’t want to have to pull a Rihanna. “B**** betta have my money!”
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, it’s no wonder that a study by SunTrust Bank revealed 35% of romantic relationships noted finances as the primary cause of stress within the relationship. Let’s not forget the slew of marital finance horror stories we hear (think Tyler Perry’s A Fall from Grace).
If you’re considering marriage, what does that mean for your blooming love? Are you doomed to squabbles about bills and excessive Amazon purchases? Definitely not. What it does mean is, as superficial as green paper and plastic cards may seem, they matter in a relationship — especially a legally binding one.
Money holds significance not because of surface issues like how one spends it but rather our personal value system for what it represents — security, stability, independence, power. Those values are tightly integrated with our worldview and even our identities. Hence, it gets personal. So, when considering marriage, avoid taking the topic of finance too lightly or worst, avoiding it entirely.
Here’s where I’ll make another plug for pre-engagement counseling. In pre-engagement counseling, you’ll address this hot-topic of money before committing to blend your financial belief systems. It’s one step you can take to bring some ease about the subject of money in marriage.
In addition to laying out your financial DNA in counseling, here are four ways to shift your perspective and transition from single money to married money with ease.
Stress less about having less before marriage
A burning question that plagues young lovers looking to marry is how much wealth should one accumulate before walking down the aisle? Let’s whip out our mental calculators and estimate.
- The average cost of an engagement ring is over $7,000
- A wedding on average costs $38,000.
- The average cost of a honeymoon is nearly $5000.
So far, we’re at $50,000 for the expected costs. Now let’s tack on typical auxiliary expenses post marriage.
- The average home price of $300,000 suggests a $60,000 down payment.
- The average cost for raising one child for one year is $14,000.
I have one more number to throw your way.
- If in your Twenties, CNBC suggests saving 25% of your gross annual pay before marriage.
Yeesh, marriage sounds expensive!
For this glaring reason, and as the trends indicate, delaying marriage appeals as the wiser choice. Even more so, when there are more pressing matters like paying for the debt that comes with continuing higher education to lock in a successful career needed to keep up with increased cost of living.
My husband and I were not one of the wise ones. Impatient is the right word. I had over $50,000 of student debt that I struggled to pay with my entry-level salary. I barely had credit, and I lived in half of a garage converted into a tiny studio apartment. My husband was living with his mother in a one-bedroom apartment. We purchased our wedding bands on Overstock.com. I bought my wedding dress at a thrift store. Our honeymoon was one week off of work spent frequenting Ikea.
Six years later, our marriage has managed too survive and are doing okay.
Yet, in our “rush” to get married, I learned something I hope will alleviate some of the pressure many feel to have it all together before marriage:
You don’t need a lot for marriage.
The only cost that is required is a stately fee for the marriage license, which is typically less than $100. Anything else beyond that should be because of the lifestyle you personally desire for you and your partner and not because of external pressures for what your financial status should be.
If you choose to start small, here’s an added lesson from my rush into marriage:
Embrace the humble beginnings.
One of the most memorable moments of my first year of marriage was when the transmission of my 2001 Civic went kaput. We just came from the heels of spending a whopping $3,000 on a wedding. We also spent our monetary gifts on furnishing our tiny apartment during our honeymoon at Ikea. All that was left was a $120 belated gift card from my husband’s co-workers. That gift card was all we had to hold us over with bills, food, and train fares for two weeks until the next paycheck.
I look back on that time with fondness. Financial struggles can be an opportunity to forge deep bonds, especially when you can look back and see how far you’ve come. You can appreciate how having the basics — food, shelter, clothing — puts you far ahead of the game.
Stress less about your partner’s financial mess before marriage
We’re all young and dumb at some point. Top that off with lack of guidance on economic principals like what a credit score is, and many of us have been left to learn lessons on finance the hard way.
When it comes to marriage, there’s a concern that a partner’s skeleton in their financial closet can come back to haunt the other after tieing the knot. Rest assured, it does not. The debt incurred before marriage will remain the sole responsibility of the partner in debt.
However, let’s not stop there. Here are some points to consider when it comes to dealing with debt and financial mishaps pre-marriage.
- Lay it ALL out. Use pre-engagement counseling to flesh out ALL financial skeletons such as bankruptcy, wage garnishment, or gambling.
- Understand the root cause: A $10,000 credit card debt due to purchases of Gucci belts can reveal fundamental belief systems about money. Dive into the motives behind financial decisions that lead to poor credit. It’s an excellent way to determine if you both are on the same page.
Stress less about contributing less or who has financial dominance
A dynamic that can come with marriage is the financial power play. The partner deemed as the sole breadwinner or the one earning the most is perceived to have the most say in the finances. In turn, the partner contributing less may feel less inclined to have an input.
There’s an underlying “what’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine” mentality that can breed tension, and your marriage may not survive under it. However, the very definition of marriage contradicts this notion. Marriage, after all, is a union.
Instead, view finances in marriage as the partnership that it is. One practical way of emphasizing financial partnership is by taking turns budgeting and analyzing the funds. This allows both of you to have a big-picture understanding of the finances and give input.
Stress less about the oneness of accounts
You’re marriage won’t survive if you can’t talk about the big marital finances question:
To join accounts or not to join accounts?
That is the question. One answer is joining accounts is the only option when committing to a union like marriage. The other answer is financial independence matters too, and separate accounts are needed. No matter where you stand on the issue, here are a few points to keep in mind when discussing this topic.
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. My husband and I came into marriage siding with the first answer; we would certainly have a joint account. As time passed, we’ve gotten separate credit cards and investment portfolios. The lesson here is the decision to join or not join accounts can shift depending on your financial situation. For instance, we decide to finance a car or open a credit card under one name after evaluating the impact of the new account on our credit reports.
- Manage finances in truth and trust. No matter which route you take in joining or not joining accounts, manage the finances in truth and trust. If there’s a need to keep expenses secret or an account hidden, then there’s no trust. If there’s a fear that financial autonomy will be taken away, then there’s no trust. One way in which my husband and I have kept our finances open despite having some separate accounts is by linking everything to a financial management application like Mint. That way, we both have a glimpse of everything in one place.
Money + Marriage – Pressure + Preparation x Truth&Trust = Less Stress. Less Stress = Higher chance the marriage will survive.
Money in marriage does not have to be an area of contention. Instead, let it be an opportunity to grow together. Grow in learning about what you both value, and in trusting each other. Grow in becoming one in your finances.