Archive for Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Double Take: Marriage - even when young - is a serious, lifetime commitment

November 1, 2005


Dear Dr. Wes and Marissa: I am a young mother (20) of two and a wife. My husband and I are having problems and are separating. I love him but don't feel in love with him. I really want to move out to experience life on my own but have never had the chance and want "me time." Is this wrong? Should I listen to my gut feeling knowing my marriage probably won't survive, or should I stick it out and try to make things work.

Dr. Wes and Marissa: This question is not from or about a teenager. However, the writer was obviously a teenager when she became pregnant and married, and thus we thought it an excellent letter for this week's column. Marissa will tackle the issue of commitment. Wes will discuss the situation from a developmental perspective.

Marissa: Though many of the teens reading this column will not consider marriage for a while, it is still important to begin to understand the kind of commitment and dedication required to make a marriage work.

I think that your "gut feeling" is really just selfishness. If there weren't children involved, maybe my opinion would be less rigid, but in this case I think that divorce is absolutely not a good choice.

I personally believe that there are only a few grounds for divorce; those being if addiction or abuse are involved. But you wanting some "me time" is not a justification for a divorce. When you became married, you said "I do," not "I do : for as long as it's convenient."

I've read articles and books describing how married couples often fall in and out of "love" with each other. Maybe the chemistry has cooled down some, but even you said that the love is still there. You should give it time and put real effort into rekindling those feelings that you once had.

Try counseling; try finding a hobby. Try to find another young mother who you can trust and confide in. Your children deserve for you to work hard at keeping your family together. Just because you are married doesn't mean that you have to give up who you are. Do you honestly think that you would have more time to yourself as a single mother? Chances are, you would actually have even less time because you would be working more to support yourself and your children.

Bottom line: There are so many other options to pursue before going straight for divorce. I really wish people wouldn't always view that as the only option. Marriage isn't just another step in a relationship, it's a lifetime commitment.

Wes: The teen pregnancy rate has actually dropped by 25 percent since 1990, probably owing to better use of contraception (which I have noticed) and a purported increase in abstinence (which I have not). Interestingly, the teen marriage rate during the same period actually went up 50 percent - though it remains very low. However, both issues are still significant here and in surrounding communities.

I don't know the specifics of your case, but it appears that you went from living in your family home to starting your own family. Now you want to "live life on your own" and have "me time." Unfortunately, I offer the same bad news as Marissa. "Me time" disappeared when you chose to marry and have children, regardless of which came first and regardless of your age. At that point, it became "us time."

Of course you shouldn't lose yourself totally to your family. Marriage is a union of two individuals, and you deserve a life of your own within that scope. For example, you should work with your spouse to allow each of you nights off with friends. However, you cannot make your family your second priority, regardless of how young you are.

As for your gut, I suggest you give it a break. Mature adults do not follow their guts. That is a romantic notion that is appropriate to your youth, but not your situation. Your gut can give you some ideas, but only your head can decide if they make sense. Your letter appears to be a part of that process, and I appreciate your struggle with these decisions. But you must remember that they are decisions - not instincts or impulses.

I hope your story gives other teens something to think about. On average, teenagers are pretty self-centered. That's not because they're bad. It's because of how their brains are wired and because they are still in transition from the selfishness of childhood to the selflessness of adulthood. It's a necessary part of growing up, and until you finish it, you aren't ready to have others depend on you.

At about age 22 to 25, you realize that when you make a decision for yourself, you make a decision for everyone - that your behavior matters and affects the world around you. This is pretty shocking to most of us, who as teens considered our lives rather private and lacking in impact. Only when you have had that shock a few times are you ready to make the commitments you took on some time back.

You made a series of decisions well before you understood what I have noted above. Now that you are realizing your situation, you understandably want to return to a time when things could be all about you - which you can't. Of course you can get a divorce, but neither of us can imagine how this is going to gain you more freedom, and you would remain interconnected with your spouse forever as a co-parent.

You certainly cannot divorce your kids. If this is a bad marriage and there is no hope for improvement, then you owe it to yourself and your children to consider this option. However, if you are simply trying to reverse a course of poor judgment, I must tell you that you are on a one-way street. There are no take-backs or do-overs. Go to work on your marriage, and make it into something that is joyful again before calling it quits.

Next week: The first in a series on teen finances.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


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