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Effects of divorcing in your 20s

Effects of divorcing in your 20s

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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has the lowest median age for marriage in the nation, yet also higher divorce rates than the national average, according to recent statistics.

Paul Peterson, a clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in marital issues and abuse, said that mistrust in future relationships is a common trend he notices among his younger divorced clients, but not as much with his older ones. They typically deal with separate issues.

“Older people I see get divorced is that they have spent years hurting and they finally made the decision. I call them the broken souls. They stayed so long hurting that they lost themselves,” Peterson said. “They, I find, are more likely to jump into something quickly because they feel a love or a connection to someone so quickly that they are not used to those feelings.”

In asking why individuals marry so young in Utah, Peterson said that Utah’s prominent LDS culture plays significantly into a young single adult’s decision to marry younger. Higher divorce rates among young adults also stem from recent cultural trends.

“In 2014, the word of the year was 'selfie.' Some experts have defined this new and upcoming generation the 'me generation,' " Peterson said. “They need to be entertained. They are aggressively into games, phones, television and many other means to satisfy their need to be entertained. This creates a huge selfishness. Selfishness does not work. If you look at the most successful relationships, it is selflessness that is one of the main keys to success.”

However, Peterson said there are scientific explanations behind why some who marry young struggle to remain in their first marriage later in life. Research has shown that the frontal lobe (which is the reasoning part of the brain) is not fully formulated until around 23-25. Technically, these young single adults are also not completely functioning on a fully reasoning brain, Peterson said.

One young divorcee, Mikaela, who got married when she was 18, said that following her divorce she was socially stigmatized and isolated.


I realize that the marriage and divorce changed me. I grew up essentially. I now know that I am the one to get myself in and out of bad situations. I'm very much an independent person, now more so than my peers who can still occasionally call their parents for rent money.

–A 24-year-old divorcee


“I got a lot of negative feedback from people I knew except for my parents; they seemed content with my choice,” she said. “My relationship with my ex affected me the most, but the divorce process cemented the fact, that ultimately, my marriage had isolated me from people — and that it had been a bad relationship.”

Alex, a 23-year-old divorcee, commented similarly, but the reactions she received from others were more affirming.

“People's reactions have really been all over the board. Depending on my level of comfort with the person, there is sometimes crying involved,” she said. “But I'd say the most common response is a congratulations, which has surprised me. Many people have congratulated me for having the courage to leave a relationship that only brought sorrow.”

Dealing with the long-term effects of divorcing young is then the next step following the initial aftermath. And while painful to reflect on her previous marriage, Alex said, appropriate reflection is also the thing that has brought the most healing.

“It is more the relationship with Ben that has affected me, not so much the process of divorcing,” Alex said. “A large portion of my healing/understanding has come from sorting through my relationship with Ben — pulling out defining bad experiences, defining good ones, what I want to improve on, what I felt I offered to the relationship, and who I actually am. For over two years, I heard damaging and hurtful comments made about me as a woman.”

Growing up fast was something a 24-year-old divorcee, at times, wishes she hadn't had to learn so painfully and fast, but she said it has also made her more independent than her peers.

“I realize that the marriage and divorce changed me. I grew up essentially. I now know that I am the one to get myself in and out of bad situations,” she said. “I’m very much an independent person, now more so than my peers who can still occasionally call their parents for rent money. When you’re married, you’re expected to be self-sufficient, and when you're suddenly not married, that didn't change for me.”

Ultimately though, it's knowing what your wants, needs and your love languages are that are the keys to having a healthy relationship. Needs, Peterson said, are non-negotiable. When looking for someone, that individual really has to match those needs. Don’t set up impossible requirements, but there is a difference between wants and needs, and knowing what those are, for you as a person, is crucial, Peterson said.

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