Time after time patients tell me of their marital problems and I think to myself, if only they had waited to get married, then they probably wouldn't be sitting here right now. So often I hear, "He wasn't like this when I met him." Or, "I had no idea she was such a slob."
As a couples' therapist, I've come to realize that people rush to marriage and sometimes get married for all the wrong reasons or they do it way too early. Couples sometimes feel they have to get married because it fits a paradigm of how they see their life. They have expectations (fueled by societal pressure and also self imposed) that by a certain age they need to have achieved certain things, i.e. go to school and graduate by 22, settle into a career, meet someone, date, get married, have kids, work hard, and retire. These unspoken societal rules are then internalized and people put pressure on themselves. "I have to be married by 28." "I have to have kids by 32." These absolutes do not take into account the individual needs and uniqueness of circumstances. If people focused more on finding the career they would like and the person they can love until the end of time and less on trying to simply check off boxes on their to-do list or follow a certain template, then they might ultimately be much happier.
Here's my argument for why waiting is usually better:
- People can usually hold things together for a year and be on their best behavior. But this becomes more and more challenging as time goes on and as people face various life issues over the course of a year. At this point mental health issues that may be hidden could likely surface.
- Addiction issues will usually emerge within that time frame too. People can cover up behavior and even debt but it becomes all the more difficult past one year. I have known people who only learned of their spouse's drug, alcohol, or gambling problem a year into their relationship.
- You can learn their lifestyle much better after some time has passed. For example, are they a night owl or do they go to bed early? Are they neat and organized, or a total mess? Do they pay bills on time or do they let them slide and then get charged interest?
- How do they handle the holidays and seeing their family? The holiday season can bring up all sorts of deep rooted issues and this can place enormous stress on a relationship. Over the course of a year you'll get to experience all the holidays and see how they are handled.
- How do they handle the different seasons? Some people's moods are hugely influenced by the season and that can also impact the relationship. For example, in the Northeast particularly, Winters can be long, dark, and cold. This for many leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and can leave someone in a deep, dark depression for the winter months. Similarly, summers can be tough on people and the heat can lead to irritability. These are real mental health concerns that should be known and dealt with by couples.
- Waiting at least a year allows you to truly become friends, nurture your relationship, and cultivate a strong bond without pressure. Rushing into marriage doesn't!
- Finally, waiting at least a year allows you to work on yourself, develop your career, and be happy all on your own.