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10 Reasons Marriage Has Grown Tougher Over the Past 10 Years

Modern love poses challenges other generations didn't experience.

Key points

  • Modern culture tries to convince couples of fairy tale endings.
  • Higher workloads and greater distraction lead to decreased marital satisfaction.
  • Research shows that divorce can be contagious in social circles.
Yuri A / Shutterstock
From financial stress to digital devices, there are many distractions.
Yuri A / Shutterstock

A strong relationship is tough to create—and tougher to maintain—in modern society. From smartphones that work hard to attract your attention to pop culture that tries to convince you unhealthy relationships are normal, staying in love means beating the odds.

But that doesn’t mean people are giving up on love. In 2023, I surveyed more than 1,000 married individuals in the United States for my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Couples Don’t Do, and 86 percent of people said they want to strengthen their relationship.

While I’m thrilled that so many people are invested in creating a stronger relationship, I’m not surprised that many don't feel like their relationship is as strong as it could be. Here’s why it’s so tough to maintain a relationship today.

1. Social media is trying to distract you from your relationship.

Multiple apps are vying for your attention, showing you attractive pictures of other people, and working hard to distract you from your partner. Research shows that in many relationships, social media is winning the battle. A study published in Computers in Human Behavior found a link between social media use and decreased marriage quality in every model analyzed. Researchers concluded that people who use social media are 11 percent less happy in their marriages.

2. Song lyrics normalize unhealthy attachments.

You might think you’re being romantic by turning on some music while you’re eating dinner. But there’s a good chance that whatever song you’re playing includes lyrics about unhealthy relationship behavior.

While songs about romantic relationships are nothing new (the word love has remained the most popular word in songs since the 1950s), a 2022 study published in the Psychology of Music revealed that 86 percent of popular recent songs about relationships depict insecure attachments. That means performers are objectifying partners, normalizing jealousy, and talking about unhealthy relationships in most of their songs. So, while you might think music is helping you connect with your partner, the songs you play might actually be normalizing unhealthy attachment issues.

3. Physical appearance is emphasized in romantic relationships.

There’s an emphasis on picking an attractive partner today; most dating apps are designed for users to pick potential partners based on looks alone. It’s led to the idea that physical attraction is a key component in successful relationships—but that’s not actually the case. In fact, when researchers at the University of Tennessee studied physical attraction in newlyweds, they discovered that there was no relationship between either partner’s level of physical attraction and either partner’s relationship satisfaction. Interestingly, they also found that the most physically attractive men were actually the least satisfied in their marriages.

The emphasis on looks may be causing people to pair up with individuals they aren’t compatible with. But it may also be causing married people to wonder if life would be better if they’d picked a more attractive partner.

4. Digital devices get in the way.

You have to compete for your partner’s attention today. Their electronic devices are constantly alerting them to new business opportunities, messages from friends, and emails promoting time-limited deals. So it's not surprising that more than half of adults in a committed relationship say their partner is distracted by their phone when they’re trying to have a conversation, and 40 percent say they’re bothered by how much time their partner spends on the phone.

Digital devices also offer unlimited access to pornography, and according to some surveys, divorce rates double when men start watching pornography and triple when women do. While some researchers maintain that viewing pornography is a symptom of an unhealthy marriage more than a cause, research still shows pornography is a likely cause of relationship dissatisfaction.

5. Work spills over into family time.

Just a few decades ago, there was a clear delineation between work and home life. But remote work, electronic devices, and the push for 24/7 availability have blurred the lines between work time and home time.

Research shows that higher workloads lead to decreased marital satisfaction. The effects are cumulative, meaning that the longer hours or the more work one partner puts in, the worse the relationship becomes over time. So, while some individuals might say their partner’s strong work ethic was attractive early on, putting too much effort into a job can cause the other partner’s marital satisfaction to decline.

6. Negative news and frequent crises affect emotional well-being.

From death tolls during the pandemic to constant stories about war and crime, the news cycle over the past few years has been grim. And people are consuming news more than ever now that they’re accessing it throughout the day on their devices.

Doomscrolling and 24-hour news stations have taken a toll on the mental health of many consumers. In fact, surveys show many people are feeling so emotionally overwhelmed that they struggle to make basic decisions. If you can’t decide what to eat for dinner and what to wear to work, it’s tough to make healthy decisions about your relationship—and to be a good partner.

7. High divorce rates increase your chances of divorce.

While divorce rates have actually declined since the 1970s, other people’s divorces may be affecting your relationship more than ever. Research shows divorce is contagious in social circles. A study published in the Social Science Research Network found that having a friend get divorced raises a couple’s likelihood of divorce by 75 percent.

But there was even a ripple effect: After reviewing three decades worth of data on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the researchers found that participants were 33 percent more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend gets divorced. Now that social media gives us a much larger social network, that ripple effect is likely to reach you more easily. In a world where more than 700,000 couples divorce every year, it’s likely you don’t have to look too far to find someone who has ended their marriage.

8. Addiction and untreated mental illness are rampant.

We’re in the middle of a global mental health crisis. And research consistently shows mental illness and substance use are big risk factors for divorce.

About one in four adults are suspected of having a mental illness. Fewer than half of them get treatment. Mental Health America estimates about 15 percent of the population has a substance use disorder, and only about 6 percent of these individuals get treatment.

The reasons people don’t get treatment range from lack of access and limited resources to concern over the stigma and the inability to pay for services. Researchers estimate that if people received treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders, there would be 6.7 million fewer divorces.

9. Financial stress often breaks a strained relationship.

While some unhappy couples feel pressure to stay together because they can’t afford to get divorced, financial stress is also one of the biggest reasons people break up.

And right now, many couples are feeling the financial strain. In October 2022, the American Psychological Association reported the highest rates of money-related stress since 2015 as 66 percent of people said money was a significant source of stress. Money may be putting many relationships to the test right now as couples have to find ways to address rising prices.

10. Hollywood skews our view on romance.

The idea of soulmates isn’t new. But, the belief that there’s really only one person on the planet for you has increased in popularity over the past 50 years. Surveys show more than 60 percent of people believe in soulmates. But studies show people who believe in soulmates exhibit more dysfunctional behavior in relationships.

As feelings naturally shift over time, individuals who believe they’re married to their soulmate may start to wonder if fate has other plans for them. We can thank Hollywood movies and even reality dating shows for reinforcing the idea that you’ll find “your person” if you look hard enough. Even many pop psychology sites have suggested we could find a “twin flame,” and when we do, everything will be easy.

Healthy relationships take hard work, even when you’re compatible. But we live in a culture that tries to convince us of fairy tale endings.

How to Stay Strong

Despite the fact that the modern world isn’t conducive to strong partnerships, you can safeguard your relationship. A good place to start is by building your own mental strength. When you work on becoming the strongest and best version of yourself, you’ll have more energy and skills to strengthen your relationship, too.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Sebastián Valenzuela, Daniel Halpern, James E. Katz, Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 36, 2014, Pages 94–101, ISSN 0747-5632,

Jorgensen-Wells, M. A., Coyne, S. M., & Pickett, J. M. (2023). “Love lies”: A content analysis of romantic attachment style in popular music. Psychology of Music, 51(3), 804–819.

McNulty, J. K., Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2008). Beyond initial attraction: Physical attractiveness in newlywed marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(1), 135–143.

Pew Research Center, May 2020, “Dating and Relationships in the Digital Age.

Perry SL, Schleifer C. Till Porn Do Us Part? A Longitudinal Examination of Pornography Use and Divorce. J Sex Res. 2018 Mar-Apr;55(3):284–296. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2017.1317709. Epub 2017 May 12. PMID: 28497988.

Lavner, J. A., & Clark, M. A. (2017). Workload and Marital Satisfaction over Time: Testing Lagged Spillover and Crossover Effects during the Newlywed Years. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 101, 67–76.

Huff, C. (2022, November 1). Media overload is hurting our mental health. Here are ways to manage headline stress. Monitor on Psychology, 53(8).

McDermott, Rose and Fowler, James H. and Fowler, James H. and Christakis, Nicholas A., Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample (October 18, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Mental Health America. The State of Mental Health in America.

American Psychological Association. Stress in America.

Gallup. Over Half of Americans Believe in Love at First Sight.

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