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Published May 27, 2012, 11:30 PM

Area 20-somethings struggle with divorce

“Please don’t tell anyone.” Although I respected my friend’s request for privacy, I didn’t fully understand her plea until a few years later, when I began the process of ending my own marriage.

By: Heather Ehrichs Angell, SheSays Contributor, INFORUM

“Please don’t tell anyone.”

Although I respected my friend’s request for privacy, I didn’t fully understand her plea until a few years later, when I began the process of ending my own marriage.

Statistically, one in every two couples whose marital status is ‘married’ in 2011 will divorce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Divorce.org highlights, however, that the 50 percent statistic isn’t uniform across all age groups. Men and women who get married between the age of 20 and 24 years old make up over 35 percent of divorces within the United States.

What sheer numbers do not reflect is the struggle those who marry and divorce in their 20s experience in trying to find peers to connect with; others who share feelings of extreme isolation, personal failure and vulnerability to being stereotyped by their second change in marital status in 10 years.

Melinda Rustad, a 27-year-old woman living in Moorhead who finalized her divorce just over two years ago can relate.

“I do think it’s worse getting divorced younger because it feels like people think you didn’t try hard enough and that’s the part that’s hard to explain,” she says.

Couples who split several years into a marriage are more likely to have established careers, equity in a home or some level of financial stability during their marriages. Divorcing earlier in life can lead to the misconception that those who have to move back in with one’s parents or a roommate simply weren’t ready for the level of commitment a marriage requires.

Another misconception about divorce during one’s 20s is presumptions that a failed marriage reflects a lack of positive relationship examples or that the couple was poorly prepared or unwilling to work at marriage.

“My parents got married when they were 18; they just celebrated their 36th anniversary and are really happy,” Rustad says. “We still catch them dancing in the kitchen and kissing.”

In trying to build a marriage that resembled her parents’, Rustad says she did “a lot of thinking about the marriage and what it would feel like and look like” during a two-year engagement and a year of pre-marital counseling.

Much like Rustad, 33-year-old Phillip Godel of Jamestown, N.D., says that until his marriage ended, he didn’t have much direct experience with divorce at all.

“I grew up in a Catholic household. ... Divorce was just something that you heard about nothing that you really knew about,” he says.

Godel, who also did pre-marital counseling prior to his marriage, says he learned through his divorce that, “My love won’t fix it all. … A marriage can’t work with one person loving the other. It has to be teamwork.”

Prior to presiding over a marriage, the Rev. Patrick Lorree says that the focus of pre-marital counseling that he conducts is resolving conflicts within the marriage.

“We would never want to misrepresent a marriage by saying that people don’t argue we would tell them expect to argue but know the ground rules,” Lorree says. “There are so many what-ifs. What we want to give them (are) the tools just to deal with the what-ifs as they come.”

While Loree says premarital counseling helped him prepare for his own marriage, it was not as helpful as the counseling that he received after getting married.

“It’s certainly been my experience that the first three years of marriage are the most difficult. Why they call them the honeymoon period, I don’t know, but that’s really when we’re trying to discover our own personhood inside the marriage.”

Jennifer Landman, originally from Red Lake Falls, Minn., says she didn’t feel like others in her community valued taking time to adapt to being married.

“In a small town, you don’t just stay married for a while,” the 30-year-old says. “Right after we got married, the pressure began.”

While Landman says that she and her former spouse fulfilled the social expectation of having children very quickly after marrying, when finalizing her divorce Landman says it fed presumptions.

“A lot of people assume that I got pregnant before I was married so they thought that I had gotten married because I was pregnant, (which is) not the case,” Landman says.

Social expectations, Landman says did not end after her divorce.

“People seemed to think I got divorced on a whim or because I wanted to go out and party,” she says.

The reality of her divorce however, hardly resembled the lives of her 20-something girlfriends. “On the weekends I was at home changing diapers on my own,” she says.

Ultimately, Rustad, Godel, Landman and the Rev. Loree agree that it’s how the expectations for the marriage grow and change throughout the duration of a marriage that allow the marriage to continue or end.

“People that have been married 60 years are still learning what it is to discover new things,” Rev. Lorree says.

“They’ve discovered ways to accept the evolution of a person over time,” he says.

Couples that are able to stay together keep the lines of communication open and have hard conversations when they need to, Lorree says.

While Rustad, Godel and Landman all expressed they feel their individual ability to communicate within relationships has improved through their experiences, they also stressed the need to see how their subsequent relationships cope with difficult situations before making lasting commitments.

Lorree says there are many reasons marriages end, but he doesn’t believe those who divorce in their 20s do so out of a lack of conviction or dedication to fulfill their marital vows.

“We certainly don’t want to see people get divorced,” Lorree says. “But when people do get to that point where they say I want no more part in this, then we do kind of transition into helping them adjust to a different life.”

Ehrichs Angell is a 30-year-old writer living in Horace. She divorced in 2009 after six years of marriage.