Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Early Adulthood (19–40)

What specific challenges are involved with the beginning of committed romantic partnerships?

Although the average age of marriage has increased in the West over the last few decades, this is still a time where the majority of people commit to romantic partnerships. Commitment to marriage or other forms of long-term romantic relationships brings a host of challenges. The very act of commitment is often an ambivalent one, especially for young adults who have grown used to freedom and independence. The same social changes that have demanded longer and longer periods of preparation for adulthood have stretched out the period when a young person has no one to account to besides himself or herself. Thus, the necessary compromises and sacrifices of commitment can present considerable problems. Moreover, even in those people eager to find a committed relationship, it often takes time and experience to identify those traits in a potential partner that are most important to sustain a long-term relationship.

Many young people complain of being single but continue to pursue lovers who offer little potential for a successful relationship. Once a committed relationship is attained, there are numerous relationship skills that need to be developed. Couples need to learn how to balance alone and together time, communicate needs effectively, and manage conflict constructively. In our constantly changing society, however, there are few fixed rules for relationships, making it more difficult for the young adult to master the skills necessary for a successful relationship. The difficulty of these tasks is reflected in the divorce rate. According to 2005 statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, about 7.5 out of every 1000 people get married each year and about 3.6 out of every 1,000 people get divorced. While this is the lowest divorce rate since 1970, it is still remarkably high. Likewise, people who marry very young, specifically before the age of twenty-three, have the highest likelihood of divorce.


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