It's no secret that marriage looks a lot different today than it has in years past. Change is inevitable, and as time progresses each new generation of married couples has a fresh set of distinct challenges and parameters to navigate. However, there are some trends that have remained the same for decades regardless of the landscape. Take, for example, the fact that when an increase in salary occurs in a given area, more marriages and births happen as a result.
Until recently, that is. According to a study done by researchers at the University of Maryland, while the wage increase tied to jobs created by fracking booms for men in the U.S. was accompanied by an uptick in births, there was little to no movement of the needle on marriages.
There are a number of factors that could explain the shift (or lack thereof) — but according to Jordan Johnson, LMFT, practicing in Salt Lake City, Utah, they all ladder up to the fact that now, more than ever before, people are seeing marriage as truly optional.
"With the increasing societal acceptance of cohabitation, out of wedlock births and single parenting, the institution of marriage has become less of a pre-requisite."
"Traditionally in the United States, there has been a general consensus that the passage to adulthood goes through marriage," he explains. "Today the role of marriage as an essential part of the transition to 'adulthood' has become less defined. With the increasing societal acceptance of cohabitation, out of wedlock births and single parenting, the institution of marriage has become less of a pre-requisite and more of an optional part in the process than in previous decades."
Millennials are getting married less often and much later in life than previous generations, as they put their careers first and, especially for women, take full advantage of the opportunities that weren't available to them in decades past. "In 2000, there were 2.3 million marriages within a population of 281 million" according to the U.S. Census Bureau, says Johnson. "Comparatively in 2010, even though the population had grown to over 308 million, the number of marriages decreased to under 2.1 million." As of 2013, the average age men in the U.S. tie the knot is 29, and women at 26.6.
So, how does all of this impact the state of marriage today? Matrimony has always come with challenges, but there are some unique hurdles that couples in 2017 are coming across on the road to wedded bliss — from navigating social media to towing along more baggage.
Social media conflicts with couple's quality time
While it may have been considered rude less than a decade ago, taking the time to scroll through your phone while in the presence of another human being is considered pretty commonplace nowadays. But according to Jim Seibold, PhD, LMFT, practicing in Arlington, Texas, the seemingly harmless act of checking Instagram while on the couch with your spouse is leading to bigger issues in present day marriages.
"For many of my marital clients, social media has become quite intrusive for two related reasons," Seibold explains. "First, it takes away from interactive time together. Spending too much downtime checking social media limits face time with each other. A lack of interaction ultimately leads to feelings of disconnection. Second, couples become resentful of social media use, and often report feeling that social media is more important to their partner than they are. They feel that given a choice of spending time with each other or their smartphone, their partner will choose the smartphone."
People feel that given a choice of spending time with each other or their smartphone, their partner will choose the smartphone.
Another way that social media is putting stress on today's relationships? Comparing your own, unfiltered marriage to what other married couples are posting on their profiles. "An additional issue that arises occasionally is when people start to compare their lives with what they are seeing displayed by others on social media," he says. "This is particularly problematic when couples compare their lives in a more negative light."
Relationships are given less priority
Not so long ago, men and women had a very short runway before their new spouse became their top priority. Tying the knot a decade or more after you've graduated from high school opens up opportunities to establish other priorities, like forging strong friendships and carving out career trajectories. Michael D. Zentman, PhD and director of Adelphi University's post graduate program in couples therapy, says that this can end up competing with the amount of attention a marriage needs in order to be successful.
"The overall impact is that, for many contemporary couples, their relationship is unwittingly given much lower importance than most marriages can endure," he says. "If the job, the children, the gym and the friends are consistently prioritized over the marriage, the marriage, over time, can wither like an underutilized muscle."
More privacy means more infidelity
Before the age of cell phones, extramarital affairs were much more difficult to carry out — and as a result, more easily found out. Today's marital indiscretions can all be carried out on a personal, password protected phone that it is not at all uncommon for our partner to be constantly glued to — which Beth Sonnenberg, LCSW, practicing in Livingston, NJ says has a lot to do with rising infidelity statistics.
"One of the biggest changes in modern marriage is that people have more private lives thanks to texting, emails, IMing and Facebook Messenger that make dishonesty more prevalent," she says. "Whether it's having an emotional or sexual affair or gambling or porn addiction, it's easier to hide things from your spouse. Gone are the days of the mistress calling the home phone during dinner time. This makes cheating more prevalent than ever before." Men have long been thought of as the cheating sex, but a recent study of over one thousand men and women done by the Kinsey Institute found that nearly 20 percent of both the men and women surveyed have cheated on their partner.
Couples are having a harder time communicating
You'd think that with modern day technology, allowing you to shoot over a text or email any time of day, communicating with your partner would be easier. But clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly says it's actually causing complications.
"Many couples are seeking assistance on basic communication skills," she says. "Electronic communications are often at the root of misunderstandings. When texts, emails and even telephones are used as a replacement for in-person discussions, communication often suffers. It is easy for couples to misunderstand each other when there is not a ready, in-person opportunity to add clarity and address any misunderstandings. As well, such contact is devoid of the vital messages contained in body language, eye contact and facial expressions."
Today's married couples are also competing with more of a time deficit when it comes to having these important face-to-face conversations. "Busy schedules leave couples rushed in the mornings and exhausted at the end of the day," says Dr. Manly. "Communication is often shoved into tight spaces, such as when the kids are doing homework, dinner is being cooked or as preparations are made for winding down for the night. None of these common situations allow for the focused attention on whatever topics might be at issue."
People are entering marriage with more baggage
Today, the majority of men and women are spending a good chunk of their 20's solo. But psychologist Dr. Vijayeta Sinh, PhD, says that while this has benefits for our careers and friendships, it can also make operating as one half of a couple harder to do in the long run.
Putting marriage off until later in life can be a double-edged sword: people are more mature, but are also more settled in their single lifestyle.
"Getting married older means struggling with adjustment issues," he explains. "By the time we reach our late 20s, we've already figured out for the most part who we are and what we are/are not willing to put up with, which in turn makes it harder to adjust to the other person, their likes/dislikes and preferences."
Compromise is key to any marriage, and an established feeling of independence can make the ability to do so much harder. It's also worth noting that the more time we spend alone, the more time we have to form personal habits that may not jive with the person we end up marrying.
"Because people are putting off marriage to later in life they tend to have more baggage that they bring into the relationship and marriage," says psychotherapist and author Jonathan Alpert. "For example, bad habits from past relationships. Putting marriage off until later in life can be a double-edged sword — they might be more mature and ready for marriage because they're more settled in their careers and feel more stable — but they've had more time to get comfortable being single and might feel more settled in their single lifestyle."