Jenny and I were married at twenty-three, two years before scientists say our brains were fully developed.
Just saying that out loud helps me understand why a major change in marriage has taken place over the last decade. But while the change makes sense, it will not lead to the outcomes that many expect.
Capstone vs. Cornerstone
The modern model for marriage is called a capstone marriage. After every aspect of one’s life is built exactly the way they want it, a person then begins to consider marriage to put the capstone on the life they desire. Marriage is the final step.
The assumption is that by forming as much of our individual lives as possible, we can find the right person to perfectly fit into what we have created and therefore be happy.
This contrasts with how marriage has been approached for centuries—the cornerstone marriage. In this format, marriage is one of the first acts as an adult and from that relationship, everything else in life is built—family, career, friendships, etc.
It’s understandable why many assume that a capstone marriage is a better approach than a cornerstone marriage. And there are plenty of stories of couples marrying young only to grow apart over the years.
Yet, there is a problem with the capstone approach that many people never consider. When marriage is the last step in building the life you want, the expectation becomes that your spouse will fit perfectly into your life. If they don’t, they are the ones who need to change.
How Do You Experience Happiness?
At the heart of this switch is a belief in how we experience happiness. The modern assumption is that happiness is the byproduct of getting exactly what we want. So, build your life, and find a spouse. If you choose wisely, they will fit perfectly into your life and bring you happiness.
A cornerstone marriage is built on a different idea. The concept is that we don’t fully know what we want or what will make us happy. Rather than making everything about me, happiness is more likely found in mutual submission to another person. As we give and take on what we want, together we create a meaningful life and in so doing find happiness.
Is happiness something your spouse brings to you or something you create together?
That’s a major difference between a capstone and a cornerstone marriage. It’s the latter with a longer history of success than the former.
Of course, some couples have a cornerstone marriage, but they treat it like a capstone. Rather than working together to build the happiness they desire, they simply expect their spouse to fit into their dreams and make them happy.
This is not a formula for success.
No matter when one gets married, the approach should always be with the mindset of the marriage being the first step toward what we will build rather than the last step. It's the start of something new, not the completion of what we've been doing.
Marriage requires us to give up things, submit to one another, and begin a process of working together to figure out life. When a couple does this, they have the potential to experience great joy. When they try to build a life on their own and then expect their spouse to merge into what they've created, it's a recipe for frustration.
I Loved Her Before My Brain Formed
Getting married at twenty-three isn't for everyone, but it was a gift for me and Jenny. It meant that as our brains took their final steps in formation, our love for each other impacted that process.
A few decades later, we are still building on the love we committed to each other at such a young age. Old enough to know ourselves and young enough to still be in process, that's a good combination for a lifetime of love.
While I understand why people think a capstone marriage is better, I'm worried about many obstacles that stand in the way of couples approaching life and love in that manner. Instead, I would encourage young adults to pursue love early allowing a meaningful relationship to shape the life you create more than having life shape the love you choose.