While some marriages last a lifetime, others end up being learning experiences. They end, often with heartbreak, but they make us stronger and smarter as we move into the future. This is especially true for marriages by someone who is a little too young. Riding off into the sunset with your high school or college sweetheart can seem amazing, but some people get married before they're ready and end up divorced before many of their friends have even settled down. They have their whole life to find love again—and they’re wiser for it. That’s why we turned to real people who had divorced young, to see what they wish they’d known before saying "I do."
Though they all bring their individual experiences and histories to their advice, there are also some clear themes that run through a lot of the shared histories. They wish they were less naive, had put in more thought, or had a better idea of what was to come. So here’s what real people who divorced young wish they had known before they got married, because chemistry doesn't always mean a long-term connection.
Really Think It Through
“I never thought I’d end up not knowing who this person is. I thought I knew when I married them, but when I look back I feel like an idiot, because there was so much I didn’t give attention to, and I think I did that on purpose, like I didn't want to see it. I wish someone had told me to really look at it, rather than spend seven years with someone I didn’t really know.” —Kait, 31
“The first year with someone isn’t how it will always be. I needed more time to really understand what this relationship would look like—infatuation isn’t the right or best reason to get married.” —Melissa, 28
For some people who married young, part of the issue seemed to be not looking into the future. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine the rest of your life when you’re still young. And it’s hard to imagine a relationship going wrong if you’ve never had a relationship go wrong before. But one common theme was not really giving the decision the gravity it deserved, because they were too busy being in love—or at least, what felt like love at the time.
Look for Compatibility That Will Last You Through the Long Hall
“Opposites might attract, but then they repel.” —Meghan, 37
“If it’s not working before your marriage, don’t think it’s going to change. Decide if this (how it is now) is really something you want to devote your life to, don’t think there’s a better version of this coming because there isn’t.” —Liz, 29
“If you make yourself a doormat from the beginning, you’ll always be a doormat. When we met I did everything to make myself what they wanted and make their life easy, and that’s exactly how they treated me once we were married.” —Rose, 33
What makes a healthy relationship isn’t always clear. Some of the women found that they thought that a fiery relationship was a sign of passion, when really it just meant that they fought too much in the long run. Other women said that they put up with bad behavior—or even encouraged it—because they were trying to create a happy relationship or get to a good place, without really understanding that’s how the relationship would continue to look. A spark is great, chemistry is important, but it’s not enough to make a relationship work. And twisting yourself into knots to be someone else’s version of perfect just isn’t sustainable.
Marriage Is Work
“I was 24 when I got divorced the first time. I think that people should be educated when they’re much younger on what marriage is. Most people are taught to think there’s a Prince Charming and a picket fence—it’s a lie. I wish people were taught about conflicts, rather than taught that it’s supposed to be easy. It’s hard to look far into the future of life when you’re young, I thought it would always be what it was in that moment of youth—I wish someone had told me to look forward.” —Norris, 67
“It wasn’t going to fix everything. Everybody talked about it like the rest of my life would be all set for good. I thought I had won something, and it was all good from then out, but life keeps happening, and I didn’t feel prepared for that.” —Sarah, 33
One of the most worrying things that a lot of women felt in common was this idea that they were naive about what being married really was. Now, part of this is down to age and inexperience; how can you imagine what a long term relationship will be like if you’ve never been in one? But part of it is on us, as a society. There was this idea that marriage really was a happily ever after' that it meant everything should be perfect—so when your marriage isn’t perfect, because no relationship is, you don’t know what to do or assume something is really wrong. Marriage can be incredible and nurturing and supportive, but even the best marriages are work. And being married doesn’t turn the rest of your life into a fairytale—any relationship will buckle under those exceptions.