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Adult Education: The Strain of Grown-Up Pressures on 'Childhood Sweethearts'

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Enduring teen love has long held a fascination for photo romance magazines, film-makers and songwriters alike.

Successive generations have cherished the idea of childhood sweethearts triumphing over stern parents, summer vacations and even vampires to find happiness ever after.

However, whilst many fictional young relationships promise devotion long after the final movie credits have rolled and the music's died away, things are rather less rosy in the real world.

That cruel reality is only too apparent from the cases I and my colleagues in the Family department at Pannone handle on an almost daily basis.

Twelve per cent of the divorces which we deal with feature couples who have been in long-standing relationships, often since their school days, going their separate ways while still only in their twenties and thirties.

They seem sadly unable to cope with the sorts of pressures and temptations which being an adult experience brings. Worries about work and money, the strain of having children, differences in outlook, ambition and infidelity can all play a part.

In short, they no longer feel the same way about each other.

Some find themselves married, with a job and children yet hankering for the sort of single life which they had never had because they had been with their partner since school.

Others realise that although they may have agreed on what they wanted from life when they were teenagers, their world view is dramatically different once they start work.

They are more prepared to cut their losses and try and find lasting happiness when they are still relatively young, rather than remaining in an unhappy marriage into their forties.

They also recognise that divorcing when spouses are a little bit older can be more fraught given the likelihood of unpicking their own more complicated financial positions - property, pensions and so on. That is, of course, before considerations are made for any children involved in the separation.

When I looked at the proportion of Pannone's cases made up of young couples, I was initially taken aback. After all, we handle divorces on their individual circumstances not as part of a larger pattern.

I then understood that what we are seeing mirrors a broader trend, though. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/divorces-in-england-and-wales/2010/stb-divorces-2010.html) revealed that although incidence of divorce was highest among men and women in their early forties in 2010, the rate of increase of divorce was greatest for those in their late twenties and early thirties.

Whilst popular culture may fuel a fondness for the notion of childhood sweethearts, it could be argued that it also helps break them apart in practice.

Seeing young celebrity couples break up reduces the sense of stigma in divorcing than it might have done in previous generations.

What no amount of pulp fiction or gossip magazines can totally eradicate, though, is the stress associated with seeing a relationship - sometimes the first true romance of their lives - collapse and dealing with the financial and emotional consequences.

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