12/11/2012 07:45 EST | Updated 02/10/2013 05:12 EST

How Millennials Are Redefining Commitment


There was a time in my coaching practice history where every single new client I sat down with had the goal of getting married. Within the last few years, I have been attracting more and more millennials who are giving me new and different answers:

"I'm not sure about marriage. That's a huge commitment."

"I'm too scared to get married."

"I don't want to end up like my parents -- in this love-less, empty marriage."

Dr. Ruthie Grant, a social psychologist, wrote this in a recent article:

With the divorce rates (as high as) 68 per cent (in some countries) along with almost everyone we know openly admitting that the relationships they are in are either dysfunctional, abusive, unsupportive, manipulative, draining, or too demanding, we are in a relationship crisis unlike any other time in recorded history. In fact, many young people, after looking at the failed marriages all around them, are opting to either put off marriage until they are in their 30s or not to marry at all. Others are beginning to question the sustainability of a patriarchal institution originally based on women as the property of their husbands. As a result, the entire institution of marriage appears to be headed for a paradigm shift.

In my opinion, based on my conversations with millennials, I don't get the impression that they feel the institution of marriage is at risk. It is more of a case of they see the definition of marriage is broadening to include a much more diverse range of choices.

There's also a bit of a rebellious nature amongst millennials against traditional marriage. They are less likely than in previous generations to "succumb" to family pressure. And in fact, I've had more than enough conversations with millennials where they've said, "My parents want me to get married, have a couple kids and live in the suburbs. That sounds like jail."

Maybe this shift in attitude isn't too much of a surprise considering how many people in prior generations got married to please their parents or got married because they figured that's "the right thing to do."

Grant furthered shared in her article:

Recently, I asked six critical thinking classes of approximately 300 students if they were in a functional, satisfying relationship with the opposite sex. Not a single person raised a hand. Last semester, out of six similar classes, when I asked that same question, one lady out of all six classes raised her hand and this was her second marriage.

To me, what this says is millennials are not experiencing enough, for themselves or through role models, the basics of a happy, healthy relationship. Figuring this out is like finding their way in the dark.

Even if their parent's marriage is healthy, they are surrounded by other parents, their friends and a consistent flow of media couples who are not in healthy relationships. Try and think of the last time a millennial saw a headline, "Famous Couple really and truly are happy after 16 years of marriage." Try NEVER.

It's far more likely to see the headline "Famous couple married in June, filing for divorce in July." As a whole, if they're not given enough reasons to get married, they'll either opt out or create an entirely new definition of the institution of marriage and commitment.

I believe that regardless of how millennials choose to define commitment, it really comes down to gaining the skills and knowledge on how to build and sustain a healthy relationship -- and for that to happen, positive and tangible role models need to be present.

The Canadian Millennial: Survey Says