I Love You….But Now What?
Nearly half of today’s marriages end in dissolution of their vows. However, in the background of an unyielding divorce rate, today’s singles are rewriting what it takes to be in a healthy relationship.
In Canada, in 2013, 70,000 couples decided to end their marriage. And the average time to decide on this course of action was a whopping 14 ½ years. The statistics are about the same as they were 25 years ago.
These staggering realities confuse many couples that are either looking to effectively sanction their desires for each other, or for those already married, but struggling to work out differences. As a pastor and a counselor I am forced to continually rethink what it means to perform weddings, offer marriage preparation programs, and provide meaningful and helpful couple counseling.
Many are predicting that the institution of marriage (as we know it) will be a thing of the past. One popular article (Time, 2010) said “marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be.” It is a premise supported by ongoing research.
It appears undeniable that the institution of marriage is losing its significance in our society. Yet interestingly, studies also indicate that both men and women strongly desire an intimate, loving, and monogamous relationship fortified against outside threats to its longevity. And they are doing so by creating alternative relational containers.
In these new containers the underlying assumptions have shifted from pragmatism to self-fulfillment. The roles are far less defined and much more fluid. Many couples are choosing not to have children and to focus on career; and they are less concerned about obligatory dependencies (like shared financial support) and more concerned about creating an environment in which both feel fulfilled. And, it is less important then ever before, that a religious community sanctions these new arrangements.
These shifts in relational expectations have significantly changed the modern dating scene. In times past the search was somewhat pragmatic (at least more than it is now). Today, according to a biological anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, at least 90% of singles look for a partner who knows how to respect them, who knows how to trust them, and knows how to humor them.
Less than ever before in history these dating singles “are not worried about such things as ethnic background, kin connections, and the ‘right’ religious beliefs.” And though traditional practicalities are still often important, psychological and spiritual health have become the priority. Dr. Fisher states, “Couples are turning inward…forming relationships to fulfill themselves.”
Divorce doesn’t seem to be going away; no matter how many prep programs and counseling sessions we toss at the institution of marriage. So, as I see it, we might consider spending less time trying to fix that which doesn’t seem to want to be fixed, and spend more time acknowledging, and affirming how today’s singles are creating safe intimate containers through their natural acclimatization to evolving expectation and need.