The Future of Relationships

Societal, technological, & religious trends portend revolution in relationships.

Posted Jan 20, 2016

Dennis Hill, CC 2.0
Source: Dennis Hill, CC 2.0

A regular reader of my Psychology Today articles, psychotherapist Michael Edelstein, asked me to write a series: The Future of Relationships, The Future of Work, The Future of Education, and The Future of Clinical Psychology.

Although it is said that he who lives by the crystal ball eats broken glass, here's my take on the future of relationships.

Marriage's decline will accelerate. The acceleration will occur because women's increasing financial independence and religion's decline atop the stubbornly high divorce rate.

Yet people still want formal long-term relationships. Enter what's been called the WedLease, a renewable few-year marriage contract. Not only does it offer flexibility, it helps keep people on their best behavior and saves divorce's often great cost. At minimum, I predict that people will continue to reduce their expectation that marriage is "'til death do us part"—no matter how much they spend on "their special day."

Birth rates will continue to decline. That is caused not only by the declining marriage rate but by ever more Catholics' ignoring the prohibition against birth control and abortion, and by the cost of raising children, which I predict will become more unaffordable as the middle-class continues to get hollowed-out.

Virtual relationships increase. There will be more long-term relationships, abetted by Skype's next generation: A three-dimension hologram of your partner will be in your room even if you're thousands of miles away. (Of course, that's not quite the same as the real thing.)

Per the movie, Her, humanoids will supplement although probably not replace friends, let alone romantic partners. Already, Pepper, "the robot with feelings" keeps selling out.  Update: ever more capable sex dolls are coming available. One company makes conventionally attractive females called "RealDolls" as as well as "RealCocks" and a transgender option.

More sex without love. The widely discussed hook-up phenomenon is extending beyond the college campus. As people continue to widen the gap between sex and love, let alone sex and marriage, more people will consider sex as recreation, at least for some portions of their lives, the so-called sport sex, boy-toys, hookups, etc.

Heterocentricity fades. Society's mind-molding vehicles: the schools, colleges, and media have been on a decades-long mission to support equality of sexual orientation, currently focusing on transgendered people. As a result, acceptance of sexual diversity is becoming more mainstream, so the often quoted 10% homosexuality rate, previously derided as exaggerated may be soon be an underestimate. Also, I predict wider use of the full continua of sexual preference. For example, more people will be pansexuals: people attracted to both sexes and multiple sexual orientations.

Technology will make us more emotionally sensitive.  Today, our FitBits monitor our heart rate. Tomorrow, we'll wear badges that display our and our partner's emotional biomarkers. So despite people's tendency to hide their feelings, their badge will let you and perhaps your partner know when you are doing things that are a turn-on (pheromones rise) or annoying them (cortisol rises.) Such a badge could help relationships and might also be used at singles events, bars, and even in the workplace.

Genetics will assess potential partners' compatibility.  We already can do genetic tests to assess a couple's likelihood of passing on disease to their children but in the not too distant future, people will be able to post a summary of their genome (for example, their genes for sexual appetite and intelligence on their Match.com profile alongside their height, weight, and preferences.

We'll embed our children with a GPS chip. Among parents' greatest worries is that their child will get lost or kidnapped. An embedded GPS chip will help.

High tech will not eliminate the need for high touch. Technology is replacing much of our face-to-face interaction but we'll crave a measure of flesh-and-blood contact: with friends, family, romantic partner, and yes, our doggies.

Here are the other installments in this series:

The Future of Work.

The Future of Education.

The Future of Clinical Psychology

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