Just 18 months after we said “I do”, my (now ex) husband and I decided to separate.
That might seem like a rapid decline, but making a commitment in front of 100 loved ones doesn’t actually protect from relationship breakdown (go figure).
I felt embarrassed and ashamed we’d failed “so soon”, but I also believed enduring years of unhappiness hoping things would improve wasn’t courageous — it was stupid.
Clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb agrees, saying staying in an unhappy marriage “is not a badge of honour”.
And guess what, I’m stronger having been through the unique challenges divorce in your 20s brings.
I spoke to Ms Cribb and two other young divorcees to get their take on feeling like a “quitter”, but ultimately coming out stronger than ever.
‘I’d had this big wedding and now it’s crumbling’
Lucy Anderson, 27, was “young and in love” when she married her beau of three years.
The Perth resident was 24 at the time, and they separated three years later.
She’s still going through the divorce process and says the relationship broke down largely due to “incompatibility” that became more apparent as she grew through her 20s.
“I was on cloud nine and [he] got down on bended knee as the sun was setting in Broome and I was so happy,” she says of the proposal.
“But I was young, and I think that really has been the resounding theme that came through for me.”
When Lucy began to feel things weren’t working, she and her husband saw a marriage counsellor and sought independent support.
It didn’t help that her friends were celebrating engagements and marriages at the same time.
Lucy says she was plagued by feelings of denial and failure.
“I’d entered this incredible relationship and had this big wedding and now it’s crumbling,” she says.
She was also worried people would judge her for separating so soon after the wedding.
“There is certainly an attitude to people in their 20s, that millennial culture: you’re not happy, you just move on to the next thing so quickly,” she says.
“People are really quick to say, ‘At least you didn’t have kids’, but I find that undervalues the relationship; it was still a committed long-term relationship.”
Not unusual for young divorcees to feel judged and dismissed
What Lucy experienced is common for young divorcees, Ms Cribb explains.
Because marriage is traditionally viewed as a “’til death do us part institution”, she says, “there is this stereotype that if you are divorcing young, you haven’t given it a good enough go — you’re a quitter”.
“It’s compounded by the general stereotype of millennials … a ‘me’ generation, a ‘right now’ generation.”
She says people can feel “ashamed or embarrassed”, or invalidated when others laugh it off and say things like, “Oh well, you have plenty of time.”
Things can emerge after a wedding that ‘changes the entire deal’
Thomas, 29, says his four-year marriage came to an end after he discovered his wife was having an affair.
They had met when he was 22 and had two children together.
“Everything was going fine, but I had a gut feeling something was up,” he says.
“I found out when she left a note from him in the car.”
After trying to patch things up over a couple of months, the pair decided to go their separate ways.
Thomas says he felt like he had disappointed people.
“We obviously got married at a young age and everyone was looking up to us, sort of thing,” he says.
Ms Cribb says people will often feel foolish for separating after a short time.
“They are embarrassed about having made the wrong choice, they often consider it as ‘I’ve been foolish’, whereas a lot of the times information comes out after you were married that changes the entire deal.”
Young couples are also dealing with pressures like building their careers, trying to enter the housing market and social media, Ms Cribbs says.
“The ambiguous stimuli through social media and potential for misunderstanding based on looking at each other’s social media and followers is yet another stressor.”
Time to rebuild
Young divorcees have more time to rebuild and learn from their mistakes, Ms Cribb explains.
“More years in a miserable situation that is potentially not changeable is not a badge of honour,” she says.
Lucy says going through a separation in her 20s has taught her a lot about herself.
“I realised that prior to settling down, I had no idea who the hell I was … I knew myself only on a surface level,” she says.
As for the relationship itself, she has no regrets.
“Life is too short, you can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself — you just have to do what is right for you and what makes you happy.
“I don’t regret the relationship. My life is richer for it and knowing him.”
Thomas says divorce has made him stronger and more appreciative of his non-romantic relationships.
“It’s definitely made me a better person,” he says.
“You have to hit rock bottom to appreciate what you have in life. It’s a blessing in disguise and I’m glad it happened now rather than later in life.”