TIMING IS EVERYTHING: The “Right” Age to Marry and How to Know You’re Ready

When I ask struggling couples to share the reason for their difficulties, they often state their hypothesis that they married “too young” or “too old.”

The problem is that everyone has a different idea and definition of what is “too young” and “too old”, so what do they really mean and what is the ideal age at which to tie the knot?

If this is something you’re pondering, keep reading for the pros and cons of marrying both earlier and later in life and how to build a strong foundation in your marriage – at any age – and create a satisfying, lifelong partnership.

 

Marrying “Young”

Potential Advantages

>>  You have less baggage. When your partner is all you’ve known (or you haven’t dated a lot), you won’t have the opportunity to compare them to others and haven’t developed years of bad relational habits you’ll need to break in your new marriage.

>>  You may receive more family support and guidance.  If you are marrying at a relatively young age, people may assume you need more help and be willing to provide it.

>>  You can grow with your spouse. You don’t yet fully know yourself and can experiment and explore this in partnership with your new mate as your lives evolve.

>>  You’ll have a great story to tell. As the average age of marriage continues to increase, tales of marrying one’s high school or college sweetheart are becoming rare and precious.  Treasure your unique history.

young bride and groomPotential Disadvantages

>>  You are still changing. It’s difficult to predict how your needs, interests, and priorities will vary as you mature.  Sometimes, growth brings us closer to our partners and sometimes it pushes us apart.  This doesn’t alter the commitment you make, but it can influence the closeness you share as you age.

>>  You likely have fewer financial resources. This doesn’t have to doom your happiness (and in fact, many couples name the lean years of struggle as some of their happiest) but financial stress is real and can put pressure on both of you.

>  You are not yet established in your career. You may need more education or training to launch your career and this can take away from the investment required in the early years of marriage.

>>  You’ll get lots (read: too much) advice.  On the flip side of getting more support and guidance from parents, friends, and others, they may become a bit overbearing and even pushy when it comes to your marriage and the information they think you need to be successfully married.  Sometimes it can be helpful, but sometimes, this will become annoying and strain these relationships.  At worst, you’ll get some very bad advice, so mine is to keep what is helpful and mentally trash the rest.

 

For more thoughts on this topic, read this article:
How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Get Married?

 

Marrying “Old” (or at least “Older”)

Potential Advantages

>>  You have matured and likely understand more fully what will be required to create a good marriage. This includes the ability to sacrifice, be patient, listen, and apologize:  all things that typically come with age and experience.

>>  You have completed your education. As mentioned above, educational pursuits can demand time and effort, so it’s best to have fully achieved your educational goals before you marry.

middle aged couple getting married>>  You are clearer about what you want. Clarity aids in decision-making and helps you select a partner who is as ready as you are for the ultimate commitment.

>>  You have done much of your “changing”. This can mean a lot of things, but many people tend to feel as if they’ve squeezed as much as they can out of the single life in their 30’s and settled down into a version of themselves that stays relatively stable for the rest of their lives.

Potential Disadvantages

>>  You have much more baggage. I mentioned this as an advantage to marrying young and it is something you may not realize the power of until you’re married and working out your everyday lives together.  Hurtful or damaging experiences in the past have a way of appearing when you least expect it, and when they do, you’ll need to deal with them.

>>  You may compare your new mate to previous boyfriends/girlfriends.  Related to the above, you may have dated many people by the time you marry if you marry later in life.  Having more of these romantic experiences – good and bad – may make you more inclined to compare your spouse to previous lovers in ways that don’t always put them in the best light.

>>  You may be more set in your ways. If you haven’t married by your mid-20’s, you have no doubt developed some habits that may conflict with your new spouse’s preferred ways of thinking and behaving.  Like many things in marriage, they will need to be negotiated (and renegotiated).

>>  You have less time with your spouse.  Michael and I married in our mid-30’s and often express regret that we won’t have more time together because we met relatively late in life.  When we see couples celebrating their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries, it reminds us that this is a milestone we probably won’t get to experience.

 

Keep in mind that no one can see around every corner and be completely prepared for marriage and everything it will bring.  The above points are generalities; thus the reason for use of the word “potential” when speaking about the benefits and drawbacks of marrying at any age.  Your specific situation may be very different!

 

If you’re having “cold feet” about your wedding, check out my blog on
Cold Feet: Are They a Sign I’m Marrying the Wrong Person?

 

How to Know You’re Ready to Marry

Whether you put yourself in the “younger” or “older” category, here are some ways to be confident of your readiness to marry at any age.

You are no longer financially or emotionally reliant on your parents (or other family members).

The Bible refers to “leaving and cleaving” when we marry.  This doesn’t meant that you need to cut your family off or never see them again, but your new spouse – and marriage – needs to be the priority and you will need to maintain a united front with everyone outside your relationship.  Moving forward with your partner while continuing to rely on your family can be detrimental to your new marriage and prevent you from establishing healthy boundaries as a couple.

You know who you are and what you want (and what you don’t want).

Clarity about yourself, your values, your priorities, and what you won’t allow in your life increases the chances that you will choose someone in alignment with these goals and convictions. In contrast, the lack of this kind of clarity can result in a very poor choice of mate, with disastrous results.

black couple having picnic at beachYou can honestly say that your partner is your best friend.

Your connection must be based on much more than just attraction or chemistry in order to stand the test of time and everything life is going to throw at it.  The foundation of a great marriage is friendship, not passion.  If you plan to be married but continue to maintain “best friend” relationships outside your marriage – particularly with someone of the opposite sex – think again.

You are ready to make your new spouse THE priority (not a priority).

As I said above, everything apart from your spouse and your marriage — your career, your friends, your family, and yes – even your future children — should come a distant second. And I do mean everything.

You are ready and willing to be completely faithful (sexually and emotionally) to your spouse.

This speaks directly to your character. If you have doubts about this aspect of your relationship or have struggled with loyalty in the past, you may not be ready to walk down the aisle.

You care more about your marriage than your wedding.

It’s easy to get distracted by the chaos and excitement that surrounds wedding planning today and lose focus on laying a foundation for a successful marriage. Don’t neglect to seek some expert guidance before you marry.  (FYI: I offer a great Premarital Coaching Package)!

You know and understand your partner deeply and trust them completely.

This sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at how little some people know about one another before they make the ultimate commitment.  Of course, there’s no way to know absolutely everything about your fiance – and you’ll spend the rest of your lives learning more – but make sure you know them well.

Your love is built on something greater than the two of you.

I think of the quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” here. You should feel as if you and your partner share a mission or a cause that binds you together.  For Michael and me, it’s our faith, which anchors us when the waves get rough.

happy older copuleYou disagree and resolve conflicts respectfully and collaboratively.

Research has shown that happy and unhappy couples experience the same amount of conflict.  The important thing is learning to “fight fair” and resolve arguments in a way that doesn’t do damage to each other or your marriage.  And don’t think you have a great relationship if you’ve never had a fight because that’s NOT a good sign!  I’d go so far as to say that – if you haven’t had a conflict yet – you should wait to see how this plays out before you commit.

You have a shared vision of your future together (e.g., children, travels, financial goals, etc.).

Before you marry, you should agree on the basics.  These usually include where you’ll live (e.g., city, country, or suburb), how you’ll spend your time (e.g., in leisure or activity), your career goals (e.g., moving up the ladder or enjoying a relaxed work/life balance), and how many children you’d each like to have.  That doesn’t mean that your vision can’t or won’t change, but that you have a basic road map to start with.

The significant people in your life have met – and like – your partner (or at least don’t have any major reservations).

It’s surprising how often this is overlooked, particularly in the rosy glow of what feels like true and everlasting love. But moving forward without this will almost always come back and bite you on the back side.  Your closest friends and family members have your best interests at heart.  If they share concerns, take note of them and be willing to consider them carefully.

You can’t imagine a future without this person in it.

The adage, “Don’t marry someone you can live with; marry someone you can’t live without” is appropriate here.  If you find yourself dreaming and thinking of yourself in the plural (“yourselves”), that’s probably a clue.

senior couple at their wedding

Conclusion

Marrying “young” or “old” brings with it unique joys and challenges and there is no definitive right age to marry.  No one can be perfectly prepared for marriage.  The “right” age to marry is when we have matured and possess the skills, beliefs, and attitudes that will sustain a lifelong partnership.  Whatever age we marry, we all have strong and weak places in our marriage.  The important thing is that we remember the commitment we made to our mates – however long ago – and stand firmly on it.

 

Are you wondering if you’re ready to tie the knot?
Check out my Premarital Coaching Package, which covers the top
sources of marital conflict and helps you answer that question.

 

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(This article was originally published on November 13, 2018 but has been updated for this release.)

 

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