In this Time Magazine article, the author presented some statistics that give us a glimpse of how this generation views the concept of marriage.
According to the article, only 31% of Millennials (18-34 year olds) believed in a “Til Death do us Part” approach to marriage.
The rest? They believed in marital “beta testing”. In other words, a “choose-your own-adventure” kind of relationship in which you avoid life-long commitment in exchange for the ability to jump ship if things don’t work out the way you expect them too.
In the article’s words: “Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence.”
The majority of Millennials surveyed believed that marriage shouldn’t be a permanent choice with one person for one lifetime– but a choice that you can “re-evaluate” every few years, or take part in with different partners to “fulfill” the different needs in your life.
It’s not about commitment issues, they say, “we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely.”
When presented with this cross-section of statistics, I have many concerns. As a Professional Counselor, my heart is pained when I see Millennials in my own generation struggling so much with the concept of marriage. My heart goes out to them, because in one sense, I get it.
Anyone can take a quick look at our society and be crazy not to agree that we have painted a very poor picture of what marriage is supposed to be. Most Millennials haven’t even seen, much less experienced, the beauty and safety that comes from a healthy, nourished, life-giving marriage.
For many Millenials, they look at their family of origin and see the crumbling love of their parents, who “fell out of love” as their marriage crumbled into an ugly divorce; or just as difficult, they watched as their parents held on to their toxic relationship out of duty and obligation.
Millenials look out, and see the glamorized version of Hollywood marriage, coated in diamonds, roses, and champagne, but falling apart at the seams only months later.
What’s a Millennial to believe, when this is all they see?
I feel for this generation, but I also rebel against the mentality that the problem is in the concept of “I Do”. What if marriage isn’t the problem? What if the problem lives inside of us wrapped up in our fear, anxiety, and deep insecurities?
What is it about permanence that brings out so much fear inside of us?
Whether or not we want to admit it, the truth is, we ARE afraid to commit, afraid to choose, and afraid to enter into something that has life-long implications. Why walk into the unknown of forever, when you can have the temporary peace and control of the here and now?
But this, my friends, is a lie from the pit of Hell.
It’s a lie that is robbing so many men and women of the joy, trust, companionship, and oneness that comes from a relationship done right. Healthy relationships CAN and DO exist. But unlike the passive approach we take to relationships: we don’t “fall” into those kind of relationships by chance – we have to CHOOSE them, we have to CREATE them, we have to BECOME them. We have to COMMIT to them. And true commitment…is never optional.
As I read through this article today, I wish I could share these counter-cultural-truths with every single Millennial who has been jaded and confused by the concept of marriage:
1. Marriage is not about lifelong happiness and fulfillment.
When we go into marriage with the idea that it is meant for our happiness, we will be disappointed every…single….time. There is no human being on earth that has the capability to bring that kind of joy into our lives, because they weren’t made to have that role in our lives.
Real marriage is not about being happy and fulfilled for the rest of our lives, it’s about becoming the best that we can be from this day forward.
Through the un-replicated commitment and intimacy of marriage, we have the opportunity for lifelong growth, maturity, selflessness, forgiveness, and grace as we learn to unconditionally love another flawed human being; seeing their realness, and loving them anyway. But harder yet, we learn to receive that kind of love for ourselves. There is no greater love than one that’s unconditional. And no matter what our family background or story, I am thankful that Jesus models that kind of love for us every single day.
At the end of the day, marriage is not about ME…it’s about WE. It’s about learning to choose another person over ourselves- because by choosing them, we are choosing to become greater in humility, strength, forgiveness, and love. Like I say in Choosing Marriage:
Marriage isn’t about becoming happier, it’s about becoming better. But ironically, in becoming better, we often find that we’ve also become happier.
2. Beta-testing DOES exist.
Contrary to popular belief, you CAN learn everything you need to know about someone BEFORE you say “I do”. I’m not saying you can learn everything about that person, but you can certainly learn enough to know whether or not they’ll be a compatible match for your life.
In fact, as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I highly recommend it!! As I explain in True Love Dates:Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, I think the biggest problem with our society is that we rush into relationships, allowing the chemistry and romance to guide us, instead of balancing that with a healthy dose of logic, truth, and compatibility.
There are so many things that go into the CREATING of a healthy relationship, but sometimes we focus so much on feeling that we forget to focus on the facts, too. Healthy relationships are made up of certain ingredients, and in dating, you have the opportunity to “beta-test” this relationship for what it is long before you have to say, “I do”. I believe that if we approached dating the right way, we would save ourselves so much heart-ache, pain, and regret.
3. Relationships can be done right.
Oftentimes, we struggle so much committing to a relationship because we haven’t ever taken the time to commit to ourselves.
We get so caught up in trying to find the right one, that we LOSE ourselves and our God-given identity in the process.
We’re plagued with confusion, doubt and guilt. And worst of all, we’re driven by fear: fear of commitment, fear of failure, fear of abandonment, and fear of being alone. And because of this, we end up staying in relationships that were never good for us to begin with.
Because understanding the kind of person who fits into our story, requires us to first understand our story. Who are we, and where are we going? Where did we come from, and what parts of our lives are in need of healing?
We go into relationships with so much baggage and pain to begin with, hoping that our pain will dissolve in the arms of another. But relationships can’t heal our wounds. Only we can. Knowing ourselves is the first step in knowing what we need in a relationship. Relationships CAN be done right, but it requires us to look in, to look out, and to look up.
It requires us to see the bigger picture of who are, in order to have an idea of where we’re going…and who might be able to come along.
I believe with all of my heart (and with all of my marriage) that this life-long relationship, when done with wisdom, is one of the greatest blessings, joys, and experiences on the face of this earth. And that’s how God intended it to be. It may be filled with questions, detours, U-turns, and bumps along the way, but the right journey with the right person won’t lead you to a dead end.
Here’s to a new time, a new generation, and a new idea of marriage- one that is filled with joy, maturity, health, and wholeness. May we all be driven to pursue healthy lives, and in turn, healthy relationships and marriages. Not only for the sake of ourselves, but because others are watching. Let’s set an example of marriage that other Millennials can’t resist.
BOOKS BY DEBRA:
Get busy learning what you need to know about healthy singleness, dating, and marriage. Check out Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me or True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life.
A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on April 11th, 2019. Used by permission.
DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twi