Marry young. In your twenties. Then grow up, dammit. Just like Michael Pollan’s rules for omnivore eating are so simple (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.), my rules of how to have a lasting military marriage are just as straightforward.
Consider me ready to roll for our 25th wedding anniversary this June. Instead of repeating my grandma’s rule for a happy marriage (Never go to bed angry), or my grandpa’s rule for marital bliss (Stay up and fight), I am crossing all military cultural boundaries and going for Marry young. In your twenties. Then grow up, dammit.
That should make the entire chaplain corps sit up and howl. Because working with couples who married too young is one of the things those poor guys gotta do all the time. Admit it. We military folks do marry awfully young. According to the research, male military members are much more likely to have married at a younger age than the civilian population. More than half of us are married by age 25.
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Yet early age at first marriage is one of the strongest predictors of divorce in the civilian world. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 48 percent of couples who marry before 18 are likely to divorce within 10 years. Only 24 percent of those who marry after age 25 will divorce within 10 years. That doesn’t mean half those teen marriages last forever. That means only half of them even make it to the tenth anniversary.
So it is not surprising that young age at first marriage has been found to predict a higher rate of divorce in the military population too, especially among young enlisted. Considering how many stressors a young military marriage must face, that fact alone ought to be enough to convince us that everybody in the military ought to be single until, say, age 25. Or 30!
Which should make the entire active-duty population sit up and howl. One of the greatest predictors of life satisfaction is a deep relationship with one other person.Why should military service condemn people to a life alone?
Marry young. That’s why my rules work so well. I’m all for military folks marrying pretty young. In the all-volunteer force, early marriage is so common that it is the norm. There are significant social supports for marriage as well as financial benefits that come with marriage. So run with it.
As long as you are in your twenties. In the civilian population, 74 percent of all women have been married by age 30. So my number isn’t too far off as averages go. But my real thinking is that my line of work I hear from plenty of long-married military couples who married before age 25, but I rarely hear of a teen marriage that worked out for the best.
Then grow up. It ain’t no sin to be young and hopeful when you get married. It is fairly common among young military couples that they think they will not deploy very much or very often. It is common to think the paycheck of an E-3 is a lot of money. It is always a surprise to realize that your one true love can be so annoying.
That is when military couples really come in to their own. When young couples start to experience the reality of military life, they have a choice. They can rip into each other or they can grow up and figure out what kind of strategies and sacrifices and strengths they need to develop. That growing-up-together attitude is common among lasting military couples. And when I see it. I am so grateful that after 25 years, Brad and I can count ourselves among that married bunch.
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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at Military.com and a military sociologist. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??
Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.