University of Calgary

Talking it out, staying together

UToday HomeFebruary 6, 2013

By Betty Rice

Education grad student Samantha Merritt is doing research into communication between young married couples. Photo courtesy of Samantha MerrittEducation grad student Samantha Merritt is doing research into communication between young married couples. Photo courtesy of Samantha MerrittForty years ago, the average age for a woman marrying in Canada was 22 years, and men were on average 24 when they tied the knot. Today, those numbers have jumped to 29 and 31, respectively.

It’s pretty clear then, looking at the statistics, that young marriage is becoming increasingly less common. A number of societal changes have contributed to this shift, including greater incidences of cohabitation, divorce, and childrearing outside of marriage, as well as the fact that there are fewer marriages taking place overall.

“Divorce is relatively common among young married couples. In fact, marrying young is considered to be a risk factor for getting divorced,” says Samantha Merritt.

“This is especially unfortunate because of the negative consequences of divorce, such as mental health concerns and feelings of rejection and loneliness. These young divorcées are also no longer able to reap the individual and relational benefits of marriage.”

Merritt, a graduate student in the Faculty of Education’s Counselling Psychology program, is currently exploring how young married couples have made decisions together in ways that have strengthened their marriages.

“I’m asking couples to describe how they use conversations to make significant decisions together, so I can examine how their decision-making processes have contributed to bringing them closer throughout their marriage,” explains Merritt.

“I’m hoping to discover practical ways young couples have made decisions that can be passed on to other counsellors and young married couples, while also highlighting the strengths of these young married couples in their decision-making endeavours.”

Merritt plans to become a counselling psychologist working with couples and families. She believes her research will aid in understanding of how couples interact and work together. She aims to present her findings at conferences for counsellors and psychologists, where she hopes to share the academic and practical aspects of her research.

Merritt is currently looking for heterosexual married participants for her study. Eligible couples are those currently in their first marriage and married for less than five years; couples must also not yet have any children, must not have lived together for more than six months before marrying, and must have been married when both spouses were younger than 29 years old. Contact Merritt if you are interested via email.