Marriage, Parenting And Divorce In Early Adulthood

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It is early adulthood that whatever lifestyle path that the young adult chooses to take, the path of marriage is one to greatly consider. It is in early adulthood that most young adults choose to get married, bear and raise children and settle down into family life.

In order to well understand what marriage and family is, we have to first define the terms clearly. We now live in a contemporary society where families are comprised of married heterosexual and homosexual couples, step families, single-parent families, multigenerational families, cohabiting adults, child-free families and so on. According to the U.S Census Bureau, a family is comprised of a group of two or more individuals who are related to each other either through blood, marriage or adoption and live in one household (Strong, DeVault and Cohen, 2008)

Individual perspectives of family are also key to be considered. Some individuals might include their best friends, pets, house managers and roommates as family. These according to Strong et al. (2008) are referred to as affiliated kin individuals who are neither related to each other by blood, marriage, adoption or remarriage but they are considered to be family members or relatives.

Also, being related to each other by blood or birth is not enough to be considered as family. Furstenberg & Cherlin (1991) found that 19% of individuals living with their biological siblings did not consider them as family members. Furstenberg et al. (1991) further explained that there was mostly step members that were labeled as non-family members.

Marriage may be defined as a union recognized by law whereby two or more individuals mutually agree to be united sexually, emotionally and economically and they may or may not choose to have children either by birth or adoption (Strong, et al, 2008).

In Kenya, according to the Marriage Act, Cap 150 of the Laws of Kenya, Sec 3(1) provides that, “Marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman whether in a monogamous or polygamous union and registered in accordance with this Act.” Kenyan law does not recognize gay marriages and the only marriages recognized are:

  • Civil marriages
  • Customary marriages
  • Hindu rites an customs marriages
  • Islamic law marriages
  • Christian marriages

Come-we-stay marriages are recognized under Kenyan law as presumed marriages but they are not listed as one of the five legal marriages. Sec 2 defines cohabitation as when two consenting adults who are unmarried live together in a long-term relationship (more than six months) that resembles marriage.

The Bill of Rights, Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Kenya defines family as the natural and fundamental unit of a society.


An individual’s desire to marry is a key factor in determining whether an intimate relationship will eventuate into marriage (Newman and Newman, 2015). Each intimate relationship however, is different and whether the couple desired to marry depends on their personality and their history together as a couple. Love or being in love does not determine whether an intimate relationship leads to marriage. According to Gottman & Silver (1999) there are five key determinants of a good marriage, namely:

  • Love-maps: The greater you are similar or relatable to your partner, the closer you become intimately. This is what is defined as having a love-map pf your partner. Couples should have in-depth knowledge of their partner’s world and life in that psychologically and emotionally they are not strangers.
  • Positive affirmations of fondness and love: When partners give each other praises ad positive remarks a marriage is likely to be successful. This boosts the self-esteem of your partner and makes him or her more confident and loving in the relationship.
  • Friendship: A good solid foundation of friendship before intimacy prevents the couple from being overwhelmed in the relationship when faced with challenges. Friendship is the foundation of a good marriage.
  • Partner influence: Power-mongering is a key characteristic of a bad marriage. There should be room for compromise and positive sacrifice and respect for your partner’s role in the relationship.
  • Creating shared meaning: Honesty and respect should be mutual in order to share meaning in marriage. Couples should also have shared goals and should help each other in achieving these goals.


Having a lot in common with your significant other will more likely lead to a long-lasting and satisfying marriage (Berger, 1988). Homogamy is the marriage of a couple who share similar ages, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic upbringing and status. The opposite of homogamy is heterogamy where the individuals vary on these variables; for example, being of a different race or one partner being significantly older than the other. However, in recent years, there has been a loosening of conventions in relationships whereby we see men or women marrying partners of a much younger age or women are now partnering with men with less income or education (Lamanna and Reidmann, 2012).

Another prerequisite for a successful marriage is the age in which the young adults enter into the marriage institution. For young adults who are in their mid-20s, their marriage is likely to succeed unlike if they got married at a younger age. According to Erik Erickson, intimacy should be established after an individual’s identity has been realized. According to Berger (1988) adolescents are still trying to figure out who they are, their values and roles. A young couple might mistake their roles and values to be compatible at a younger age, then go into marriage only to have a whole different set of values and view of roles when they enter into young adulthood. Also, intimacy is hard to achieved and find fulfilling until identity has been established (Berger, 1988)

Lamanna and Reidmann (2012) also posit that couples who go into marriage when they are young for example in late adolescence, are less able to be economically, educationally, morally and psychologically ready to commit to a partner in marriage and perform marital roles. Financial problems, lack of interest in school, rebellion towards parents and the urge to move out of the parental home, poor problem solving skills, history of abuse and premarital pregnancies could be some of the reasons for marrying early. Teen marriages are the least stable. Couples who choose to marry in their mid-20s are likely to be happier and satisfied in their marriage. Partners who marry after 30 are less likely to be happy in their marriage but remain married (Bramlett and Mosher, 2001).

However, it does not necessarily matter the age at which the couple decide to get into marital commitment. Marriage is intense and passionate in its early years/honeymoon period. During this time, couples spend almost all their spare time together, talking, establishing marital roles and routines, solving their issues and making love (Berger, 1988).

Marriages that are characterized by the couples being extremely close whereby they share their experiences and activities, are most likely to be happier in their marriages. However, if the marriage is troubled from the beginning then the unhappiness is likely to be intense even after sharing these intimate activities and passionate experiences together.

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It is during the honeymoon period that couples are now settling into what their partner expects of them now that they are married. For example, women in marriage will be concerned about maintaining their relationships with their friends or relatives, unlike men who don’t find it necessary or productive. It is after the honeymoon period that closeness and intensity and satisfaction with marriage diminishes and for some it takes a nose dive. This can be explained by the drastic change in the relationship dynamics when children come into the picture.

When both partners mutually agree to come to a decision to postpone or avoid bearing any children, they tend to be much more satisfied in their marriage than couples who have several young an unplanned for children or couples who involuntarily cannot bear any children due to health or other physical complications for example infertility ( Matthews & Matthews, 1986).

Financial stability especially if it is the husband’s is another factor that makes a married couple’s life happier and most men achieve this when they are in their mid-20s. Some researchers are of the opinion that most marriages are happier when both spouses have a source of income and they share financial responsibilities (Lamanna & Reidmann, 2012).

Patterns of Married Couples

As the marriage progresses, interests, values and priorities of the couples either drift apart or come together. According to Cuber and Harroff (1965) who studied more than 400 successful marriages (spouses that we still together after 10 years or more), they found that marriage takes any of the following patterns:

  • Conflict habituated: Couples spend most time together arguing, bickering and criticizing each other. As this may indicate that they are headed for a divorce, for some couples it is their way of expressing attachment to one another. A woman was asked whether she had ever considered divorce and her reply was, “Divorce never. Murder, every day.”
  • Devitalized: The couple though in love still, are no longer close and each have their own interests and activities. They continue to get along but are drifted and each has their own goals.
  • Passive-congenial: These are roommates more than they are a married couple. For these two marriage was more comfortable and convenient than intense and passionate.
  • Vital: Both spouses remain actively and intensely connected emotionally, socially, recreationally and socially and are connected in family activities as well.
  • Total: These spouses are not only involved in family activities but are very connected personally in their lives, sharing the same passions and fantasies, sharing same work interests and confide in one another passionately.

According to the above study, 80% of all marriages will be ranked in one of the five categories. When both spouses are dependent on each other and there is mutual support for each other, then the marriage is likely to succeed. When dependence is unequal with one spouse being more dependent on the other conflict is likely to arise in their marriage. There can be major changes in the spouses’ individual lives and this may make one more dependent on the other for example, education, employment or income, health and loss of status.


Divorce comes when a married couple in unable to make the marriage work, that is,t hey ae unable to solve the challenges that affect their marriage and the only way to end the marriage is through getting a divorce. Omoro (2018) suggests that factors that contribute towards a couple getting a divorce could be the age difference of thee couple, socioeconomic background, inability or one spouse voluntarily choosing not to bear children, personality differences, drugs and alcohol abuse and poor communication skills.


Gottman and Silver (1999), according to their Love-Lab, report that the following are the warning signs of an impending divorce.

  1. Harsh start up: Emotional topics are started with discussions that are characterized by contempt, defensiveness, sarcasm, low-blowing and criticism.
  2. Four horsemen of the apocalypse: These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
  3. Flooding: Comes after the spouse has been on the receiving end of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It involves always been alert that your spouse is about to explode again and fight or flight responses kick in. Occasionally, flooding does not impact a stable relationship.
  4. Body language: These are the physiological responses to flooding. For example, increased heart rate, anxiety and they lead to divorce in that one feels intensely distressed in having to deal with the other spouse or they are unable to calmly problem solve issues in a rising in a disagreement.
  5. Failed repair attempts: Repairs in relationships are only effective and long lasting when the flooding stage is avoided in a marriage. When the four horsemen of the apocalypse are in play, it becomes almost impossible to successfully repair a failing marriage.
  6. Bad memories: Reliving past memories or using them as ammunition during a disagreement greatly increases the divorce chances. A marriage is at it’s end when they have negatively re-written the relationship.


There are several factors that lead to divorce. This section highlights the causes that may lead to a couple legally ending their marriage.

Let’s begin with the age at which the couple gets married. According to Lamanna et al. (2012), the desire to have a white wedding, unavoidability of getting married for example after an unplanned pregnancy or dating for a long period, and getting married at an early age are the major reasons that young couples listed as reasons for their divorce. Couples who married at an early age are more often than not economically unstable, psychologically immature and have more marital discord then those who marry in their mid-20s who are both financially secure and emotionally mature and ready for marriage life (Omoro, 2018).

Infidelity may be defined as the breach of the marriage contract whereby one or both partners engages in sexual intercourse with another individual that is not their spouse. It greatly affects the psychological well-being of the other spouse and even of the family system. The spouse who has been cheated on experiences feelings of betrayal, anger, inadequacy and embarrassment. The spouse may be unable to regain trust or the guilt of being of having an extra-marital affair may be impossible to get over by the unfaithful spouse. As a result, the couple can decide to have a divorce and part ways.

Lack of communication in issues such as handling of finances, parenting, religion, income and employment decisions may be impossible to solve if there is poor communication of feelings, insecurities, intentions and plans by either of the spouses. In young adulthood, this is a period where a couple gets gainful employment, children are raised, there is a lift off in their careers of choice and if these are properly and positively communicated between the couple, the couple will in future disagree on all aspects in their future and a divorce may be the end result. Gottman and Silver (1999) believe that it’s not what the couple argues about but rather how they argue. When communication suffers the couple is doomed for a divorce.


The psychological and emotional impact of divorce on a couple can impair the well-being of the individual even after five years since the conclusion of the divorce (Berger, 1988). The long-lasting negative effects of the divorce are worse than even the death of a spouse.

Divorce has an impact on the economic and social stability of the individuals involved and studies show that a couple tends to be more depressed after a divorce than when they were actually married (Berger, 1988). However, this does not suggest that the individuals wish that they had not divorced although some may later feel that divorce was not the necessary route to take.

Divorce could result in even more anger and resentment between the estranged couple and this could be as a result of disagreeing on how to share their matrimonial assets and fighting or disagreeing over child custody and alimony of children are involved. The couple may be more inclined to being hostile and abusive to one another then ever before. This hostility and aggression may lead to the development of depression, change in sleeping and eating patterns and alcohol and drug abuse (Kelly, 1982). Men tend to feel the brunt of divorce more than women.

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