The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

I’m about to do something here I’ve not done before.  I am cutting and pasting an entire article from Time magazine into this space.  The reason is that I’m so completely appalled by the content that I fear readers of this blog might not click on the link and actually read the article.  Here goes.  I’ll have a few observations at the end of the article.

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining “forever.”

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-sq.-ft. apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency de-glitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of — except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO (fear of missing out), isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television dramaSatisfaction, which premiered on USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the Internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term uncoupling (yuck).

They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43%, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty-three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach — marriage licenses granted on a five-, seven-, 10- or 30-year ARM, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21% said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

marriageIn total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 — and 53% of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40% said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, tells me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “re-up” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage-Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000% over the past four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried but cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56% of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the past decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner — we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69%, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and long-term unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball — or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. 

So, what are the likely consequences of these attitudes toward marriage?  How likely will couples be to have children in these models?  How likely is it that when these folks finally grow old (not necessarily up) and inconvenient that they will have someone there to care for them?  Where is the discernment, the rapture of discovering your life partner, when there is always some greener grass on a distant hill?  The concept of commitment has been displaced, and instead we see people kicking tires and going for 18 month test drives, constantly on the lookout for the Next Great Hookup. 

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all of this is that this generation, as described herein, is accustomed to having the new product or the new release be a radical improvement over the previous one, creating a mentality of “commitment aversion” tied to the FOMO.  Who wants to get stuck with Jennifer 3.0 when Caroline 4.0 might be waiting at the next Starbucks?

We boomers have, admittedly, a pretty terrible track record of making lifelong commitments that provide happiness, stability, well-adjusted children and tenderness that lasts “until death do us part.”  We are aware of how human life has become disposable, though we generally don’t discuss abortion or euthanasia in those terms.  We seem to be seeing marriage being added to the growing list of institutions that have outlived their utility.

Our next post will excerpt some comforting ideas from couples who have been married forever and share their secrets of making love last.


A New Twist on Spring Cleaning

healthy habits happy homes

By Joe McGonigal

I am definitely ready to walk outside without layers of coats and sweaters!  But with the change in season comes the dreaded…spring cleaning.

Instead of figuring out how to dodge my upcoming “chores” I thought I would give some thought to sprucing up my relationship with Denise!  Check out this article in All Pro Dad…maybe your success with this list could eliminate some entries on your “honey-do” list!


Five Dreams for Your Child

Parents and kidsJoe McGonigal has been bugging me to help him post some articles from Tony Dungy’s All-Pro Dad site.  (This blog, after all, was his idea.)  Yet, his name is conspicuously missing from our list of contributing bloggers.  As the fathers of daughters–Joe and Denise have four, Nancy and I three–we share some attitudes and wishes for our girls.  This article is a nice compilation of some of my wishes and, undoubtedly, some of his.

(My strategy here is to post the articles that Joe and I talk about, beat him to the punch, and shame him into posting some of his own.  It doesn’t appear to be working.)

When our children were growing up, I told Nancy I had four goals for them while they lived under our roof.  I wanted them to go out into the world:

  • with healthy self-esteem.  Not OVERLY healthy, just healthy.
  • with great problem-solving skills.  Theirs are better than mine, thankfully.
  • with straight teeth.  All that orthodontia was purchased for a reason.  And, finally,
  • with the ability to operate a manual transmission.  This,alas, was our main failing, as only one of the three can reliably operate a clutch.  Of the four, however, this last one is silly.  But if they had been boys, it would have been at the top of the list.

Speaking of silly, I wish I had found this 20 years ago.

Date my daughter

In closing, then, I offer this passage from Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleHere’s another nugget from John Gottman, courtesy of the Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative.  This piece discusses the specific types of connections we make with our spouses, how some are positive and some are negative.  Mastering the art of opening positive connections–leaning in versus leaning away–with your spouse invites a warm, open relationship in which conflicts heal quickly and intimacy is part of everyday life.

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

The story many of us tell ourselves is that our marriages are imperfect, that they are what they are, and there’s no point in trying to re-build them.  But what we also see are research reports, by Gottman and others, that suggest practical techniques for improving our relationships.  That yours, and mine, is imperfect is due to the fact that each of us is imperfect. We are all sinners.   And, therefore, it’s not so much about finding the right person as it is being the right person.  If our marriage appears to be failing, we will be taking some of the reason for that with us in the pursuit of a new, improved marriage.  Logic dictates that even in the unlikely event that Spouse #2 were, in fact, perfect, it would bode poorly for the success of the relationship.marriage-vs-money

Marriage literature suggests that most marriages go through three distinct stages.  Euphoria, that unmatched feeling early in the relationship when it seems the sun, the moon and the stars rotate around your intended spouse.  Disillusionment, when you realize the natural order of the universe and where exactly you and your spouse, and probably children, fit in it.  And, finally, That Third Stage, in which the partners either don’t work it out, manage some kind of peaceful coexistence, or, at best, feed and maintain a relationship built upon respect, trust and intimacy, both emotional and physical, and thank God for that person, for the loaning of your partner’s spirit, if only for a short time, that is at the core of sacramental marriage.

The practice of leaning into your spouse when discussing important issues is what the Masters of Marriage do.  It allows couples to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise in marriage quickly and without any need for retribution.  It is a skill, and can be developed by anyone ready and willing to try to improve their marriage.  The story we need to be telling ourselves is that we can improve our marriage if we want to and if we enlist the help of The Holy Spirit.  As Nancy constantly reminds me, “The door is open.”

old-couple in love

Do it for the Kids

Written by Christine Burrows

In this age of divorce, we hear lots of talk about staying together (or not) for the kids. I say we not only stay together, but work on making our marriages true sacraments for our kids’ sake. Each generation deserves an opportunity to be better at Christian living and growing in God’s favor.

CBurrowsphoto #3So, why not use our own marriages to help our kids make it to heaven? Just as we try to advance a culture of marriage in the wake of a rising tide of divorce and casual sex, we owe it to our children to establish this culture at home so that they see strong marriage as the norm, aspire to enter into a holy marriage one day, and see such a blessed union as a step toward heaven.

How do we do this? While I’m certainly not a pro, I’ll throw out some ideas to ponder:

  • Make your faith part of your family identity. Go to mass as a family. Regularly receive the sacraments together. Pray together. Read about saints and discuss the mass readings. Make sure your children know what it means to be a Catholic Christian so that they can explain it. And, just as importantly, try to help them see the marriage and the family as the core unit of their faith, and part of the larger community of the Church. This will help them begin to see faith as a central characteristic of their future spouse.
  • Talk to your children about sex and the church’s teachings on sex.  Do not leave this up to others – educators, friends, or the media. You will earn major points with your children even if you simply share with them the biology of their bodies BEFORE they learn it in health class. But, don’t stop there. Teach them about the beauty of marital sexuality so that they don’t become lured by extramarital sex and view birth control as normal. You don’t have to answer personal questions about your own sexuality, but do spin marital sex and the creation of babies as a true gift from God.
  • Be physically affectionate with one another in front of the children. I’m not suggesting groping in the kitchen and then running upstairs while the kids sit down to eat dinner. But, it’s certainly good for kids to see their parents hug, kiss, touch as a healthy way of being affectionate – versus witnessing on TV or in movies non-married people, sometimes even strangers, jumping into bed with one another and calling that affection or love.CBurrowsphoto #2
  • Encourage your children to think about their calling. It’s important to think of marriage (or religious life) as a vocation–something God has a say in– not just an event they get to participate in.  Speak openly with your children about why you got married to one another, and on what part of that decision you consulted God. If they think of marriage as a calling (not just a wedding day), they may begin to view dates and crushes as potential spouses who they might want to run by God before moving forward.
  • Surround yourselves with other married friends. Do this not only for yourselves, but for your children. Feed the culture of marriage so that you feel bolstered in being part of a community of people who believe in marriage and want to see marriages survive. As far as the kids go, they should see that there are plenty of married people whose marriage might look different from their parents, but are still clinging to one another. They also need to believe that marriage doesn’t put an end to friendship and fun.

CBurrowsphoto #1I have great hope for my children and their generation. While statistics don’t favor their ability to get married and stay married, I see a beautiful trend among them as they seek to find more meaning in their lives. They crave true intimacy and are beginning to see that casual sex isn’t the way to get there. So, let’s all join forces and give them some real inspiration – some hope in marriage that can reflect God’s true love for us through the gift of our spouses.

Let’s do it for the kids!

An Evening with Vicki Thorn


Vicki Thorn

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel welcomed Mrs. Vicki Thorn to our parish on Thursday, January 31, 2013 for a talk on the biochemistry of sex, which she refers to as “the biology behind the Theology of the Body.”  Vicki has devoted her career to raising awareness, especially among teens, of the consequences of the so-called Sexual Revolution as they relate to the physical health of all involved.  Vicki is the Founder of Project Rachel and the Executive Director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation & Healing located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

During her 90 minute talk, Vicki revealed a theme about God’s world and plan for humanity.  The theme was inter-connectedness, and the message was that God’s power, as it pertains to procreation, is immense beyond our understanding, and we mess with it at our peril.  Looking at my notes, I came away with a number of ideas worthy of future discussion:

  • I learned about “menstrual synchronicity” and the biological significance of the “alpha female.”  (And here I thought “alpha female” meant only that she maintained the checkbook.)
  • How we, as a society, have become “disembodied”, such that we make decisions regarding our behaviors without full awareness of what those decisions mean to our health.  In Vicki’s words, we are “stone age people living in a high tech society.”
  • That my mother’s observation–“before you marry some gal, check out her mother”–was dead on, as Vicki gave a great segment on mitochondria, how women carry the genes from seven generations of their mothers.  And how the Y chromosome that men carry has 72 genes, compared to the 3500-6000 genes on EACH of the two XX chromosomes in women., explaining in part why women are so much more complicated than we men are.
  • That the whirlpools you find attached to the swimming pool in cheap motels, which I refer to as “DNA swap meets”, have nothing on the real world.  That women carry in their bodies the genes of their parents, their older siblings, their children, and children they may have conceived but not borne, as well as residual DNA from every man they’ve ever had sex with.  Reset, for me anyway, the concept of a person’s sexual “dance card” and how it’s actually even longer than we might have thought.
  • That what I had heard previously about the presence of estrogen in public water supplies, and what that means for the health of both men and women, is true.  A great example of how we, as a community, suffer from the actions, sinful or otherwise, of our neighbors.
  • That chemical contraception alter’s a woman’s subconscious biologic assessment of potential mates.  That the blocking of her reproductive hormones causes her to seek a mate with a higher level of testosterone than she otherwise would.  And that men with high testosterone levels are more likely to hit, cheat on, and leave women.  She suggested, too, that birth control pills lower a woman’s libido.  And, to make things worse, when the woman goes off the pill, she doesn’t like him anymore!  Message:  that when we play God, which is what we do when we practice chemical contraception, the spiritual prohibition is now supported by the biology behind it.

There was plenty of other good stuff involving immune system issues, pheromones, micro-chimerism, testosterone, cellular communication (biological, not iPhone), and the health benefits of seminal fluid.  All of which you can find discussed at length at the sites listed below.  This is a brief video of Vicki speaking on biochemistry and God:

Here’s more of Vicki’s stuff :  Come Holy Spirit Conferences       Healing after Abortion  Vicki’s Facebook page       “What They Didn’t Tell You in Sex Ed” video

The Economics of Marriage

Posted by Christine Burrows 1/9/2013

Christine#1 imageMy kids’ 10th grade economics teacher, Bonnie Kelley, taught that economics isn’t about money. Rather, it’s about choices.

She was referring to setting priorities based upon a person’s, or a business’, or a government’s earnings, and making spending choices that reflect those priorities. Based on the premise that you can’t have it all, economics is about picking between those things or opportunities you CAN have.  Or, as academics say, the artful allocation of scarce resources.

This task of prioritizing how to earn and allocate income is a daunting task for large entitiesChristine#2 image – witness the Federal Government.  It’s daunting for individuals – witness our college daughter during her first semester in college. So, why should it to be any less difficult for two adults in a marriage?

When we were first married, Peter owned a car and a house and had almost finished paying off his student loans. I had a small student loan and no other debt. We both had full-time jobs in our fields.  We were flush.  It feels like we’ve never had as much money as we had back then.

So, what did we do?  Buy a bigger house!  Between the time we qualified for the house on our combined income and moved into it, we took some major hits – Peter took a 20% pay cut, and I quit my teaching job and didn’t find another real position for another year. Suddenly, we were in our big new house, living on about 50% of what we had qualified on.

Macaroni and cheese and Gin Rummy were staples for our Friday nights.  They wereChristine#3 image good times… not really.  It was downright tough.  But in retrospect, it was an important time in our marriage.  We had to figure out our priorities: making the mortgage payment, maintaining cars, meeting basic physical needs were the basics. The extras, like going out? Decorating the home? Saving for a rainy day? These required choices, and took some serious conversations.  At times, I thought a new pair of shoes was the best use of our money. (Or, maybe, I just wanted some new shoes, and, like a child, was unwilling to accept the pain of not getting what I wanted!)

Basic application:  If we are not rich, and most folks aren’t, we must accept that there will be things we just can’t have!

Higher level application: If a married couple accepts that they can’t have it all, they agree to share in both the pleasures and the disappointments that come from not being able to have everything they want.  Even steven.

Herein lies the key to the economics of marriage – you just can’t have it all (or at least most of us can’t).  So, when you’re trimming back from ALL, what gets trimmed?  Doing the trimming together is tough, but ultimately more genuine when you reach those decisions together, if not completely.  Learning how to defer gratification in your youth will shower rewards upon you later in your lives. Christine#4 image

This is hard stuff – no getting around it.  But, isn’t it the right thing?  As compared to, say, running up a bunch of credit cards and crying when the mail comes each day?  When making sacrifices together, they are a little easier. Reaching these agreements peacefully is an art form that develops over years.

Let me say this:  I don’t really like macaroni and cheese.  I laugh when I think about the rummy games from those early days in our marriage.  But I can’t remember a single pair of shoes I bought back then.

Christine#5 image