Marriage – Is It Becoming Obsolete? Is Open Marriage Replacing Traditional Marriage?
Traditional Marriage; Is It Becoming Obsolete?
The Number of Traditional Marriages In the U.S. Has Fallen Below 50%
More and more young people, both men and women, are choosing not to marry – ever. Some of these people who plan to remain single all of their lives are having children as single parents, but many are choosing to remain childless also.
In addition to many people choosing never to marry, some people are choosing nontraditional marriages when they choose marriage at all -- open marriage, or same sex marriages, for example. No, open marriages are not new, but they are becoming more prevalent.
The U.S. 2010 Census shows that married couples make up only 48% of all households in this country; far less than in 1950 when married couples made up 78% of households. Only a fifth of today’s 48% are traditional marriages (marriage that includes 2 people, one each of the opposite sex with no agreed upon additional sex partners).
Some people believe women entering the workforce in large numbers is one of the things that has changed the way society views traditional marriage. Sabrina Tavernise writing for The New York Times writes, in the past “ . . . the institution [of marriage] defined gender roles, family life and a person’s place in society . . .” Not so anymore.
Leave It To Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet are no longer the rule. Cohabitation is more prevalent and no longer taboo. There are now many different options instead of traditional marriage.
People with college educations are more likely to marry other people with college degrees rather than marrying down. College educated people are more likely to marry later and stay married.
Women with only a high-school diploma are less inclined to marry the father of their baby. Women with college degrees are less likely to have unplanned pregnancies.
June Carbone, law professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, believes the state of our economy is a big part in the decision people are making to put marriage off, or never to marry at all.
In 2000 there were only 6 states where traditionally married couples made up less than 50% of their population. Today there are 37 such states. According to the 2010 Census, the biggest changes in households include a huge jump in households headed by women, and a considerable increase in households that include mostly non-family occupants.
Some Women Are Choosing to Have Children Without Marriage
Many educated women with successful careers are choosing to have children without marriage. They are readily able to support themselves and their children.
Most women who choose to have children without marriage also choose artificial insemination with sperm from a sperm bank.
So in addition to not getting married (half of marriages end in divorce here in the U.S.), they need not be bothered with child custody, visitation rights, child support, divided vacations and holidays, and all the other things that can complicate life in a single parent household with children.
Marriage Is Changing From What Has Previously Been Considered Traditional Marriage
Modern Open Marriage
Many different types of marriage were discussed in my Sociology of Sexuality class at the university six or so years ago. Some of the examples I will give were part of the material presented in the classes I took.
The university I attended, the psychology and sociology departments that presented these classes, and the professors who taught these classes, were not promoting these different types of open marriage or any form of open marriage, but merely informing us through our class studies that these marriages exist and if any class members went forward to be marriage counselors or psychologists, they would need to be aware of these different ways of looking at, and of conducting a marriage.
My writing about these issues is not a sign of my agreement with them, but merely bringing them to the attention of my readers because these different types of marriage are increasing in number all the time. They are a part of our society and will likely become a bigger part as time goes on, so I think it is important to be aware of them.
If one is truly against being a part of an open marriage or open relationship, then one needs to realize that people they might date or become involved with may not share that opinion and may expect to be in an open relationship.
So often people seem to assume that most, if not all, of the people around them agree with them on various issues. In psychology we call that “false consensus.” So it could happen that two people would get together and start planning a married life together without realizing that only one of them has a desire or expectation of an open marriage. A good reason to discuss this issue along with the many other subjects that should be explored before a person becomes too serious in a relationship.
Becoming bonded to a person who has very different ideas about marriage than you have can be very painful, so I think being aware that some people have different ideas about what marriage means nowadays is important.
Better to learn about these different types of marriage and determine if the person you are involved with is in agreement about them BEFORE you make a big emotional investment, and especially before you find yourself married to a spouse who intends to have an open marriage whether you agree or not.
Polyamory (Multiple Loves)
It is estimated that currently only 4-9% of marriages fall into the category of open marriages, but that number is believed to be growing. There are several ways people can conduct an open marriage and I will touch on a few of them here.
Some people believe that fidelity to one person for a lifetime is not realistic. They believe that infidelity is inevitable and that the worst part of being involved with other people when one is married is the deception. They believe that ending the lies and the sneaking around will make for a stronger marriage and lessen the likelihood of divorce.
So far the theory that open marriage is a healthier form of marriage has not been proven. I was unable to find any hard statistics on the divorce rate for open marriages.
Articles written by psychologists and marriage counselors who said that even though the deception in an open marriage did not seem to be there initially, the development of jealousy and insecurity in one of the marital partners often led one or both partners to resort to lies and deception in an effort to curb those issues of jealousy, etc. So clearly open marriage does not always take the deception out of all open marriages.
In my research I found people who had been in open marriages for many years successfully (their expressed opinions) and I found other people for whom it had not worked quite so well. So for now I would have to say it is not the magic bullet for preventing divorce. I do think it is important to shed light on the different ways an open marriage can be conducted because more and more people of all ages are choosing to try it even though it is taking a risk with their marriage.
Without a doubt, open marriage is not for everyone, and I do believe if a person expects to have an open marriage that subject should be discussed BEFORE the marriage, not after. If a person does not intend to be sexually faithful they should be candid about their intentions and opinions in order to be fair to their intended spouse.
Just as a person who wants an open marriage believes they have a right to do so, their intended spouse has a right to not have an open marriage, so rather than trample the rights of the person you love more than anyone else on earth, be truthful and clear about your desires and expectations. Personally, I believe true love means not trampling your intended’s feelings and rights.
While the accepted definition of ‘significant other’ is not usually defined as someone a person has a relationship with outside of marriage, ‘that is the phrase I will use, for lack of a more accurate label, to refer to the people in these ‘extramarital intimate relationships.’
The people involved in these relationships as a result of marital partners agreeing to have an open marriage are not considered by the participants as affairs, but more like extensions of their marriage, and sometimes even permanent parts of their marriage.
Examples of Open Marriage
Open Marriage #1
This couple has been married for 40 years and they each have a ‘significant other’ that they have been intimately involved with on a regular basis for 30 of those years. When they meet their ‘significant others,’ the husband in this marriage drops his wife off with their car in the evening and then proceeds to his appointed destination, which is to meet his own ‘significant other.’ The following morning he picks his wife up from her rendezvous and they go back home together. All parties to this relationship are aware of each other.
Open Marriage #2
In this marriage only the wife has a ‘significant other’ and he is not only known to her husband, but lives with the married couple in their home. The wife’s relationship with this man who lives with them is not a secret from her husband, and in fact he accepts it. Sometimes this type of set up includes two or more women and one man.
Open Marriage #3
This marriage was brought to my attention by my professor who used this marriage as an example to my class of one hundred twenty-five students. The primary people involved in this marriage were friends of my professor so that she had a better knowledge of the marriage due to her friendship with the two married people involved.
In this marriage both the husband and the wife had ‘significant others.’ They agreed not to ‘play around,’ but to have serious relationships with other people of the opposite sex if they chose -- ongoing relationships as opposed to one-night stands.
The husband in this marriage had two ‘significant others.’ One of them was pregnant with his child. The wife in this marriage had one ‘significant other,’ and was pregnant with his child. Both of the marriage partners were expecting babies, but not babies conceived with each other.
Both of the married partners as well as all of their ‘significant others’ were aware of each other and everyone’s relationship with the married couple. There were supposedly no secrets from any of the participants.
Neither of the babies had been born at the end of the semester when the class ended so I do not know the fate of this marriage or the children brought into it.
Open Marriage Offers Many Different Options
All of the marriages described above are different and there are even more different combinations. The first two examples did interviews on videotape for a different class I took in Psychology called Marital Adjustment.
Sometimes both partners in an open marriage have ‘significant others’ living in their home. Sometimes children are involved (not just unborn children). Sometimes one or both of the married partners may have more than one ‘significant other.’ Some may be of the same sex and others may be of the opposite sex. Sometimes several of these ‘significant others’ live in the same home, sometimes not.
Some married couples are members of swingers clubs while others may belong to a BDSM club (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism). The reason given for involvement in these clubs is in order to avoid sexual boredom. Both swingers clubs and BDSM clubs require participants to attend as a couple. Individuals who arrive alone are not allowed to participate.
None of these types of marriage are new, and most have been around for decades, but they are becoming more prevalent as our population grows. People want to choose how they live their lives and with whom regardless of what society may think.
Since it is not necessary to legalize any of these different types of marriage, people who have open marriages rarely talk about their situation with anyone who is not included in their marriage, or with anyone they think may not approve, so you may know someone who is part or partner in an open marriage and be completely unaware of it.
All of these different marital combinations already exist and are growing in number, yet they are not publicized by the participants or the media, because so far there is no legal element involved. That may change in the future.
Let me repeat, I am just the messenger and not promoting any of these different marriage models, yet I believe people should be aware and educated about them. It is possible one could find oneself involved with someone who does want this type of relationship and who intends to have this kind of relationship, so being aware could possibly prevent a lot of disappointment and hurt if one does not want to be part of an open marriage.
By the same token, someone who wants an open marriage will be less likely to become seriously involved with a person who does not want the same thing, and save being part of a very stressful relationship. Honesty will help prevent everyone from finding themselves in an unwanted situation.
Before getting too invested in a relationship it is always wise to learn about that other person’s values and expectations to avoid unpleasantries down the road. It is also helpful in finding people who agree with you and who want the same things you do.
I hope my readers will leave comments and share their views, opinions, or experiences with this subject so that we can all learn more.
New York Times
More by this Author
Why do women usually blame the other woman when their husbands have been unfaithful? The other woman never made a promise or a commitment to them. The other woman never said she loved them. Hold that person...
Dealing with infidelity in your relationship. Finding out that a partner has cheated on you can be the worst feeling in the world. Here is how to avoid feeling worse than you already do.
I've been an employer who has had to pay unemployment benefits, and I have been a worker who collected them. This is what I learned from being on both situations at different times.