I do… do I? Divorce, Millennials and the starter marriage

Generation Y: life in a disposable society, long-term relationships and the “starter marriage”.

For Generation Y, sometimes “til we drift apart” seems to be more applicable than “til death us do part” when it comes to commitment.  We now live in a disposable society where we are sold products and lifestyle choices that change on a daily basis, where we can choose a potential partner at the swipe of a smartphone. It is impossible to keep up with the latest diet fad, exercise trend, celebrity love match.

With the rise of insta-culture, the concept of “forever” seems to be a less important factor when making life decisions.

Over recent years there has been an increase in short-lived marriages amongst Millennials who tie the knot in their 20s.

These short, early marriages have been dubbed “starter marriages”, a trial run to test drive marriage and make mistakes, before moving on to find something better and longer-lasting second time around.  Also known as a “beta” or “test” marriage, the “starter marriage” ends in divorce around the age of 30, the couple having had no children and little joint property.

Statistics suggest that couples are now quicker to end their marriage early on, with around half of all divorces happening after less than 10 years of marriage, and of those, the most breakdowns happen between 4 – 8 years.  With figures like these, chances are that many Millennials will be facing picking themselves up, dusting themselves down and coming to terms with starting again.

I see many clients come to see me in their mid to late 20s, or having just turned 30, having found themselves in a committed relationship after finishing school or at the end of university.  At the time, the next logical steps seemed to be engagement and marriage, with everything moving at speed and with some haste.  Many commit due to peer pressure – everyone around them is doing it and they don’t want to be left behind, or see the ideal “big day” that their friends have had and want the same.  A few years later, reality hits, followed by the realisation that the marriage is not working, but comforted by thought that there is still enough time to make it work with someone else.

The fairytale happily-ever-after doesn’t come immediately after, or as a result of, saying “I do”. Life, and marriage, can take us down any different, unknown path – our future isn’t mapped out before our eyes.  We are all human and fallible and it can be very hard work.


If you find yourself coming to terms with the end of your marriage in your 20s or 30s, self-care is essential:

  • Whilst it may be relatively easy to dissolve a marriage, understand the lasting effects cannot be so easily wiped away and it takes time to heal.
  • Seek support. Get some counselling and understand the reasons for the breakdown of the first marriage and the impact it has had on you.
  • Get to know yourself what makes you happy, what you like and what you don’t.
  • Find out what’s important to you.
  • If you have made mistakes, don’t make the same ones again.
  • Learn from previous relationships and understand what makes a compatible partner.
  • Find the right pace for your relationship to move at, and be comfortable with that (even if no-one around you is doing the same – chances are, if you’re not overly-concerned about comparing yourself with others, the way you’re doing it is the right way for you).
  • Be honest. Communicate. Realise that you both have your imperfections and different expectations, but learn what you can (and what you can’t) live with.
  • Don’t be tough on yourself (or your new partner!).
  • Don’t see divorce as failure. Relationship breakdown is a stressful and drawn out experience – having been through something horrible, relish the chance to start anew with a clean slate.
  • Know yourself and be independent. Love will follow.

I know plenty of people in their 20s and 30s who have sadly had a failed first marriage or long-term relationship, but are now in happy, positive, loving relationships (some marrying, others not).  It takes time and everyone moves at a different pace – the best pace being the one that is right for each of us, and not the one that society says we should move at.

The law

Whatever route you take, and whatever the stage of your relationship, make sure that you know your legal rights and responsibilities, which can vary significantly depending on your relationship status – be empowered by knowledge.  If you’d like to find out more, contact me.






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