The love diaries: Is there a ‘perfect’ age to marry to avoid divorce?
From the team at Capsule.
Is there such thing as a “perfect” age to marry? Can marrying young increase your chances of divorcing? Can you leave it too late? Or, are there actually much bigger factors at play than merely age? We talked to a woman who is getting married for the second time and is keen for answers – plus, we crunch the numbers and get advice from a divorce coach and a relationship therapist.
Welcome to our series, The Love Diaries – a space for you to share your experiences, advice, fairy-tale endings, setbacks and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences with love – from the woman who cheated on her husband with a work colleague, one woman’s temptation now the love of her life is finally single (although she’s not), and the woman who forced her husband to choose between her and his girlfriend.
Rachel was 23 the first time she got married. She’d met her husband on the dance floor of her favourite pub – he was tall, funny, four years older than her and, in her opinion, absolute perfection. But while they were madly in love – and had been for three years before tying the knot – their marriage just wasn’t meant to be.
Rachel was 31 when they divorced. Now, at 42 she’s about to walk down the aisle again, and this time, with just as much optimism as she had at 23.
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“God, what I know now that I didn’t at 23!” she says. “We both were different people when we met, to who we ended up by the time we were in our thirties. So many people said we were marrying too young and I didn’t want to hear it, but yes, we were too young. We didn’t know who we were yet.”
Her first marriage may not have worked out, but yes, Rachel is still full of optimism. Partly because she knows herself so much better now – what she wants and what she doesn’t, and how to actually ask for what she wants – but also, she figures the numbers are in her favour.
“Twenty-three was too young, so surely 42 has a better chance?” she asks. “From what I’ve read, you have a better chance if you marry a bit later on. I hope that’s true!”
So, is it?
We decided to take this one to the experts and find out if age really does make a difference to your likelihood of having a successful marriage. And if so, is there a perfect age to marry?
Ok, so for a long time, it did seem to be the case that if you married a bit later in life, your marriage stood a better chance at going the long haul.
But then, in 2015, a study done by Nick Wolfinger – a sociologist at the University of Utah – came to a different conclusion. He analyzed data from 2006-2010 and the 2011-2013 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted in the US. His findings were that yes, couples who married very young were more likely to divorce – but, rather than your odds of divorce going down the later you waited to marry, there seemed to be a Goldilocks age. Either side of this magic age, divorce rates increased.
That age bracket? Twenty-eight to 32.
“The odds of divorce decline as you age from your teenage years through your late twenties and early thirties,” he wrote. “Thereafter, the chances of divorce go up again as you move into your late thirties and early forties.” For each year after about 32, the chance of divorce goes up about 5% says the study.
So… should Rachel be worried again?
Not quite. Because the data doesn’t entirely stack up. For a start, up until the pandemic, divorce rates seemed to be slowing down. In 2018, University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, analysed the US divorce rate, noting that it dropped by 18% between 2008 and 2016.
At first, he theorised that a drop could be due to an ageing population – older people are less likely to divorce, so maybe they were tipping the scales? Or, was it that less people were marrying in the first place?
The data seemed to suggest something else was going on. He calculated the divorce rate as a ratio of divorces to the total number of married women – and found the rate of decline wasn’t a reflection of a decline in marriages, rather, it was evidence that marriages today have a greater chance of lasting than marriages did 10 years ago.
He found that it was Boomers who are continuing to divorce at unusually high rates (even when they reach their 60s and 70s). It seems those in Generation X and Millennials, are actually just less likely to divorce, full stop.
His conclusion was that younger generations are getting married later in life, and those who do marry are now more likely have a higher level of education, and be better off, financially.
“One of the reasons for the decline is that the married population is getting older and more highly educated,” Cohen said. Fewer people are getting married, and those who do are the sort of people who are least likely to get divorced, he said. “Marriage is more and more an achievement of status, rather than something that people do regardless of how they’re doing.”
Back here in NZ, Divorce Coach Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes, says things are slightly different to the US. For a start, in the years since these studies, divorce rates have increased in the US – partly due, she says, to the changing of laws that has made it easier to divorce.
“Now, in the US, researchers estimate that 40 – 50% of all first marriages will end in divorce or permanent separation,” she says. “They also estimate that 60 – 65% of second marriages will end in divorce.”
But here in NZ, we’re seeing something a bit different happening – divorce rates are at an all time low. Although, again, these figures may be deceptive.
“The divorce rate in New Zealand is currently the lowest since 1979,” tells Bridgette. “But this does not represent the current divorce rate. We know that repeated lockdowns have the time for Family Court and other cases to be heard. Also, people are choosing to instead live in a de-facto relationship rather than making a legal commitment. The Relationship Property Act does apply for de-facto relationships after three years.”
So what does Bridgette make of this idea that there might be a “perfect age” to marry?
“It’s an interesting question, but the short answer is that there is no perfect age for anyone to get married,” she says. “Instead it people should consider and ask themselves the question ‘do I feel ready to enter what could be a long term relationship?’ Am I ready to make a commitment to be with this one person and see where it goes?
“Rather than a perfect age, consideration needs to be given to: am I old enough or mature enough to understand the complexities of being in a long term relationship?”
She does concede that problems can arise for those who marry in their 20s, as they can run the risk of feeling they no longer have anything in common with their partner a few years later.
“It is also common knowledge that most people’s brains do not mature until they are in their mid-20s or nearing 30, so you could say, they really are still learning about themselves and the world they will live in. But, of course, there are many people who get married at 30 who aren’t any more emotionally mature. A person who has developed a greater sense of self will be more likely to have a close and lasting marriage, however achieving that level maturity doesn’t necessarily match with one’s age.”
Bridgette says it’s crucial to know as much about your partner as possible before walking down the aisle, to ensure their beliefs and interests are aligned with yours.
“I have a long list of questions (50+) I recommend people asking each other before committing to a relationship. They can be fun to do and allow people to get to really know each other.”
Some questions Bridgette suggests asking are:
Which is most important for you; to be happy or to be successful?
Would you take on the responsibility of taking care of your parents when they retire?
Are you open to getting married and when do you want this to happen?
Are you open to signing a pre-nup before marriage?
In what ways do you expect marriage to change our relationship?
Would you rather live in a small or big city/are you open to relocating to another region/country?
What do you do as a girlfriend/boyfriend that you wouldn’t do as a wife/husband?
Do you want to have kids and when?
How do you feel about adopting a child?
What do you regard as infidelity and how would you deal with it?
How much do you want to maintain your individuality while cohabiting?
Do you like to take control or have someone take control?”
So, what happens if your answers don’t line up? It still doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, says Bridgette. What is crucial is knowing whether you are both willing and open to compromise on those areas of life that you don’t see eye-to-eye on.
And, if you’ve read the data that you’re more likely to stay married if you wait a bit longer in life, Bridgette warns not to wait too long.
“If someone is waiting for the perfect partner to come along, invariably it will most likely not happen as there are so many emotional factors at play. What is important is to create the space in your life to invite a partner in, and to get to know yourself on a deeper level.
“When it comes to people who marry for the first time in their late 30’s and into their 40’s, they are less likely to want to make adjustments and generally will not be as flexible as people who have married younger. They may find it harder to see the other person’s viewpoint in a relationship or be less willing to compromise. What is vital for any long term relationship to flourish is being able to balance the feeling of security and intimacy with independence.
I suggest really taking the time to get to know the other person while continually communicating your expectations and finally, being in charge of creating your own happiness.”
A THERAPIST WEIGHS IN
Relationship therapist Serafin Upton says she doesn’t believe the age you marry has any real impact on the success, or failure of your marriage.
In fact, in her practice, she hasn’t seen the act of getting married having any real impact on a relationship’s success or failure.
“From having seen hundreds [maybe thousands now] of couples, I would not say that marriage changes anything,” she says.
“Children change a relationship, marriage doesn’t.”
In saying that, she’s still very much believes in the institution of marriage (and in having a family!).
“I think marriage is a sacred commitment and truly special for a couple but I just wouldn’t say there is any ‘right’ time to get married,” she says.
But she doesn’t entirely rule out timelines and ages as having an affect on the likelihood of a couple having a successful relationship.
“The advice I give out goes like this,” she says:
#1: “If you met your partner really young [say when you were a teenager or in your early twenties], wait until you’re at least 32 years old until you marry them – this is because we do our biggest period of growth in our 20s. We change so much, more than at any other time in our lives. If you want to ensure your partner is definitely the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, wait until you get past 30 – we have huge epiphanies at 30.”
#2: “Don’t move in with someone until you’ve been with them for at least one year.”
#3: “Wait at least 2 years of being with someone before marrying them.”
#4: “Go to therapy before having kids!!! Kids change a relationship forever.”
Reading this advice, Rachel – who is due to get married next month – says she feels even more positive.
“With my first husband, we moved in together within six weeks of meeting,” she says. “This time around we waited 18 months. We’ll have been together for four years next month – and – we started therapy our first year together. Not because there were problems, but to know how to tackle any if they come up. And we both have kids from our last marriages, so any change has already happened!”