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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Single and Satisfied: Is Marriage Still In?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 28th 2006

This month's issue of Psychology Today magazine (June 2006 or at http://www.psychologytoday.com) has an interesting article about people opting to remain single. According to the research done by the writer, Jillian Straus, in today's world more than forty-nine percent of the population chooses to remain single. This is compared to nine percent who remained single back in the nineteen fifties while married couples comprised eighty percent of the population at that time.

The article goes on to cite many of the reasons why so many people are choosing to remain single. Among these are the facts that: 1. Women are more economically independent today than ever before. Women hold executive and professional positions in everything from private corporations to educational institutions, including colleges and universities. They are also doctors, lawyers, accountants and psychologists. In other words, these are people who do not feel dependent on a man to provide them with security, 2. It is no longer a stigma to be single. In fact, the article points out the fact that society has changed and that those who are single are no longer seen as people who have something "wrong with them." Single themselves report that they are leading full and happy lives without a spouse, 3. People find it acceptable to have sex outside of the boundaries of marriage, 4. Women are having children either with a man or through artificial means and raising those children on their own, 5. Marriage is no longer viewed as the only route to a complete and fulfilling life.

The article goes on to discuss that singles enjoy all the benefits of marriage without being married and even have some advantages that married people cannot enjoy. For example, singles do not have to be monogamous in their sexual relations. They can have more than one partner, if they wish and often have sexual relations with friends without any commitment. In addition, single people are purchasing houses, cooperative apartments and condominiums without the help of a spouse. They travel freely and have large numbers of friends.

Do you fully agree with the findings of the article?

Upon first reading this article I was convinced that attitudes and behaviors about marriage have dramatically changed. However, when I started to consider things more carefully, it occurred to me that the article is presenting a small category of people who are extremely successful, affluent, and liberal in their thinking. The question I am presenting is not whether people should marry but how accurate a conclusion it is that trends have dramatically changed.

In my experience as a therapist over many years, people have expressed a strong desire to get married. However, they express fear and skepticism that marriages can be successful. It is true that the marriage rate has declined while the divorce rate has increased. Therein lays a big part of the reason why many younger people are skeptical about marriage while still hoping to find the right person to be their spouse.

Most of the patients I am referring to range between the ages of twenty five to forty years of age. They tended to come from homes marked by violence, drug and alcohol addiction, remarriage and all the displacement that brought to their lives as youngsters. These are the reasons why they are fearful and doubtful that marriage can work. Even those who did not come from such disturbed homes report that many of their friends did.

These patients add to the list of their doubts about marriage the fact that their married friends are both unhappy and considering divorce or are in the early stages of divorce. In sum, they fear getting married because they fear a repetition of the pain and disruption experienced by their parents and/or friends. In other words, they do not want to experience a marital failure.

The reason these people, between the ages of twenty five to forty five, come to therapy is to search for answers for themselves as to whether or not they should marry. Most of them report that they are not happy with their single status. They state that they do wish to find the right person and marry despite what their skepticism. Despite all their doubts, they continue to believe that marriage is the way to achieve a happy and full life.

Your Experiences and Opinions?

These are my experiences as a clinician and they cause me to doubt that that, on the average, people are happy being single, as stated in the Psychology Today article.

What are your opinions and experiences? Is their a trend away from marriage and towards remaining single? Is marriage still “in” or is it “out” as a way of living and raising children?

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    an adults thing - Julissa - Nov 5th 2009

    In my opinion, marriage is an adult thing to do, it takes a lot of responsibility to know in advance what are we heading for, it takes a lot of awareness that we are getting married to someone else not because we need that person but because we love that person and we decide to share our happiness and fulfillment with that person.  Nowadays, i think there are more independent women (bread-winners) and also more independent men, (they cope well with all the house-cores and take good care of themselves), however, they are seeking to share their lives with someone else who can contribute to their fulfilling or stimulate them somehow; spiritually, intelectually, emotionally, socially.  I think a formula of marriage that can be promising would be = love+adulthood.

    Two Sides to Every Story - Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - Jul 15th 2009

    I can see the wisdom in most of these comments, as I think this issue is multifaceted.  On one hand, I DO think that a lot more people are HAPPILY single these days.  These are people who have discovered, often after several failed relationships and/or marriages, that the benefits of singleness outweight the drawbacks.  The single life can be lonely for some people at times, and no matter what this article says, there still IS quite a bit of social stigma attached to singles of a certain age, not to mention economic risks and drawbacks due to the many legal privileges that married couples get.  On the other hand, some people find it refreshing, peaceful, and invigorating not to have to take care of anyone else or consult them before making decisions.  It's also a relief not to have to deal with the emotional ups and downs of long-term relationships, even ones that last.

    However, I think it's also true that a lot of singles, even a majority, would prefer to be coupled.  For those singles, the feminist movement with its emphasis on "free love" and career over family, the rise of the soulmate culture, and the shopping-mall mindset of contemporary dating have done more harm than good.  Since women tend to be somewhat more interested in committed relationships and children, I agree with the poster who said that this tends to hit females hardest.

    Whether we prefer to be single or coupled, each of us has to learn to be happy in our own circumstances.  For singles who don't want to be single, I think it's helpful to remember that getting married isn't a cure-all.  Even at their best, relationships bring their own set of problems and hardships, and those in them miss out on the good parts of single life.  Also, I think we singles need to speak out against social and legal discrimination (singlism) since our environment, which heavily favors married couples, can really contribute to our dissatisfaction with our single status. 

    People need to be alone after relationships - Dee - Apr 27th 2009

    People need to be alone after relationships. not just jump into something else quickly without a thought. Especially in a day in age of STD's it's not healthy to wander like a stray dog in heat having sex with random people "just because you can" and are single. Thats like personal suicide! It's like drugs in saying that it will never happen to me.. God had a plan and I dont think it wasnt all about sex but about having families and relationships. Things do and can go wrong but its like falling off a bicycle, you just get up and fix that chain, wipe your knees and ride again.. Like a job, you go to school to educate yourself to improve your work status.. You do the very same in a marriage, not just give up and have doubts. Feelings arent as complex as they appear. It just takes patience, time and learning. We all have fears and we all make mistakes but giving up is the biggest mistake. This whole falsity of whether or not youre IN LOVE or just love your mate is stupid.. I have heard it many times. Oh I love him/her but am not IN LOVE. What is love? It's something worth keeping and not betraying or tossing out a window over lust. (which so many seem to do as accepted more & more by society) Promiscuity is like a gun and monogamous relationships fireproof that weapon.

    Single to Married - Fulfilled life - Ellen - Sep 25th 2008
    I agree with the second part of the article.  The research findings tells a part of the story and in a portion of time line.  Being a single for 34 years, I felt lonely in the 20's at times.  However, not desperate enough to find a man.  When I turn 30, fun is still here.  I have decided long ago that I will wait for the right man to come along.  Then, I will marry the man who I can trust and will love forever.  Now, I am 34, this man finally came.  Being in love and thinking about marrying him seem right to me.  Yes, there are doubts and uncertainty (of being hurt) within the relationship.  Though, it is another kind of fun when entering into marriage.  Ultimately, life has its phases. 

    I wish I had married earlier - - Apr 23rd 2007

    I am on this website because I feel confused about the conflict in apparent public values regarding marriage, and my own feelings about it. I am currently happily married, but cannot get over the rough and tumble of my 20s (now 35, met husband at age 30) where I 'dated' a couple of men (for 'dated' I actually mean 'de facto') who I feel were taking advantage of me. I do not mean that they treated me with social disrespect, however, I do feel they were essentially taking a private advantage of me, as I felt absolutely powerless to get myself married! My husband, who I have discussed this with, says simply that I should not have selected these partners in the first place. I feel this is a simplistic response, as it is currently deeply unfashionable for 'interview' a prospective partner for marriage before sex, I guess I should have got engaged before sex? Living in Austraia as I do, I feel our 90s society (perhaps it is changing now, with the headlines regarding low fertility rates) really led me a not so merry dance. It was quite rough on me, and not respective of me as a woman, I feel. I know that sounds 'out of date'! I know relatively little about my husband's past, although I do know he had several 'serious' girlfriends before me (I assume he lived with them as de factos also). I met one of them - she was absolutely gorgeous. She dropped in on an overnight visit from overseas. The only possible thing I think that could have been wrong with her is that her tits weren't big enough! (I think I'm joking...) But honestly, she had it all - education, a great sense of self. Turns out she was six years older than him, and he didn't like that. But he lived with her for 3.5 years - as she watched her clock tick by into her mid 30s. Apparently she was a mess by the end.

    Am I alone in thinking this 'new' anti marriage arrangement can actually be anti women? Indeed, anti love? 

    Willing to Remain Single - Future Science Professor - Jan 27th 2007
    Most of what is described in the second half of the article describes my feelings pretty accurately. I think what I fear most is a failed marriage, especially since most of the men I have dated (divorced or have never been married) are looking for a fairy tale romance type of marriage. I see marriage as a means to raise children in a stable household built by the teamwork of the married couple, not as a means to garunteed sex and fun forever. I was raised in a stable home, but my parents divorced when I was a young teen. My father and I are very close. I'm not angry at either of my parents for the divorce, but I certainly don't want to go through that, especially with children. Until I happen to find a man on the same page as me, I'm willing to wait and even "risk" being single and childless for the rest of my life. My single life (without sex) has been very fulfilling as I carve a path towards a career in higher education. Thanks for writing this article.

    old fashioned - - Apr 29th 2006
    I think that the trend to marry is on its way out with the ways that society is going, it is sort of a everything go's type attitude and yes woman are not as dependent on a husband to go places in life anymore we are self sufficent and have more independant goal other then just being a house wife. I still believe in marrage and am almost 5 years in with a beautiful son I don't think for me I would want to do it any other way. I suppose I'm old fashioned, still enjoying when a man holds the door for a lady and love to be a house wife. I although have lots of challages in my marrage that we work at and the line has been shaky a few times, I think society makes it easy for a person to divorce and almost supports getting out of a relationship if its not working well. Before divorce was not supported and so people really fought to hold there home together and now they don't really have to. My opinion. I know I would fight for it.

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