Marriage these days seems to be falling out of favor. Not only are young couples choosing marriage less today than ever before, the number of those who consider themselves happily married is also in decline.
In his 2012 book You Can Be Right or You Can Be Married, Dana Adam Shapiro wrote that as few as 17 percent of couples are content in their partner.
Vicki Larson, journalist and co-author of The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, sites that six of every 10 are unhappily coupled and four out of 10 have considered leaving their partner.
A study done by the National Opinion Research Center in 2014 revealed that the trend is getting worse, not better. People are becoming less and less happy in their marriages as time goes on.
While the actual number of discontented varies and the data is hard to pin down exactly, it seems clear that "happily ever after" is less common than we would like to believe. Despite the reality, fairytales will always have their romantic endings and Hollywood will never stop making happily ever after films. It's what people love and we will undoubtedly continue to be conditioned to think that this is the only right path. This could be a major disservice to the public, however.
Why Are People Unhappy in Marriage?
In these studies and polls, the usual reasons are cited as the culprits. These include— but are not limited to: lack of communication, lack of common interests, no sex, feeling bored, etc.
In her article, Larson included quotes from individuals who said things like "people don't know what they're getting into," "marriage isn't natural," and "people fill in the blanks with what they want marriage to be."
One of the reasons I believe that people are as unhappy as they are in their marriage is because they believe they've been sold a bill of goods. Marriage is simply nowhere near everything it's been cracked up to be and since we don't need marriage the way we did even 25 years ago, it is in danger of going by the wayside.
Every day in my work, I come across couples that are suffering under the assumption that they are doing something wrong because they are not happy in their traditional roles or they don't like the one-size-fits-all marital model. Mainstream America still looks to the heterosexual middle class or upper middle class couple with children to determine whether they are doing their marriage right or not.
If this is the only measure for a successful marriage, it's no wonder people are rejecting the concept.
For all of you who continue to try to put your square selves into the round holes that society has carved out for you, I have some good news.
Marriage, like many things we see changing around us, is much more fluid than ever before. In fact, it is becoming more and more acceptable to enjoy a lifestyle that doesn't look anything like your next-door neighbor.
In researching, The New I Do, Vicki Larson and I uncovered a variety of unconventional ways that couples are starting to come together. It was as refreshing as it was surprising. Here's what we found:
Couples can live in separate houses and be just as committed as if they live in one.
Couples can have outside lovers and be just as committed to their spouse as a monogamous husband or wife
Couples can marry for reasons other than love (like marrying for money and financial security or to have children) and have a happy relationship.
Couples can marry for a short time and still call their marriage a success when they go their separate ways.
Couples can marry for reasons other than wanting to have children and call themselves a family.
Couples can raise children successfully together even if they are not in love with each other.
What Does This Mean for You?
So, if you are not happy in your current marriage, ask yourself if it's the person that you're not happy to be with or the paradigm that you're not enjoying. We make assumptions about things like monogamy, for example, but it's important to have a conversation with your mate about whether you are really cut out to be with one person or not. If you can't go outside the lines of "tradition," you are stuck with only two choices: stay against your will or leave and create fallout for your kids.
Paradoxically, it is the people who are open-minded and willing to try something new who end up finding what works for them and their relationship. These people are more content to keep the nuptials intact because they know they have a choice; they know they're not stuck in a situation that makes them unhappy.
Those who cling to the "same old, same old" out of fear of change suffer and always wonder whether they have done the right thing.
I'm not suggesting this is an easy transition but I encourage more of you to start thinking outside the lines and to begin having the difficult conversations you may have been putting off. If you need more ideas of how you can tweak your marital agreements, pick up a copy of The New I Do.
If you have tried something new with your mate that has enabled you to stay in your marriage, please leave a comment and tell us about your arrangement.
If you have a specific question about how to set up an alternative marriage, feel free to leave it for me and I'll do my best to get back to you.