How to make marriage work for millennials

Happy wedding couple in decorated car PIC: 123RF
Happy wedding couple in decorated car Happy wedding couple in decorated car PIC: 123RF
Image: 123RF

With a shift in personal goals, values and roles that differ greatly from previous generations, more and more millennials are tapping the brakes on marriage.

Led by their desire to focus on their careers, personal needs and goals, forming a substantial financial foundation, and even questioning the meaning of marriage itself, this generation of young couples seeks to enjoy marriage on their terms, should they actually decide to eventually get married.

Compared to generations before them, millennials are three times likely to never have married as their grandparents were.

Some of the reasons why millennials postpone marriage include the feeling that they are not financially ready; not finding someone with the “right” qualities; and the feeling that they are too young to settle down.

Millennials are marrying, if they do choose marriage at all, at a much older age.

According toStats SA, the median age for first-timers in SA is 32 for women and 36 for men.

As recent as 2001, that age was 29 and 33 for women and men respectively.

Approach to marriage

The majority of millennials grow up with single parents, either by divorce or simply out of wedlock.

Access to technology, including dating apps, increases as they age. In their preparation for marriage, this generation epitomises the act of focusing on the wedding and its optics, rather than the life after the wedding.

And if happiness does not characterise life after the wedding, then the marriage will likely be short-lived.

However, they are not scared of marriage, but rather seek to enter marriage on their terms and are actively seeking to redefine it to suit their generally liberal views.

Marriage as it stands in many of their eyes, is an obstruction to progress.

And progress generally means financial freedom and self-determination.

Despite the scepticism, we are strong proponents of the fact that anyone, irrespective of a generation, can thrive in marriage if they put in the work.

Principles respect no-one. They work for whoever implements them appropriately.

There are many things in life we think are unattainable, simply because we don’t have the tools, knowledge or the map to guide us.

As such, with friendship as the foundation, we suggest the following principles to help the millennial marriage thrive.

Enhance your love maps

A love map is essentially information about your partner’s life: their likes, dislikes, best friends, favourite places, fears etc. It’s the information that allows you to be intimately familiar with your partner.

It’s knowing which show to load on Netflix when you collapse into the couch together, it’s knowing to go easy on the lime when you’re preparing their favourite Thai food, or knowing whether it’s Johan, Ncumisa or Sheldon that’s giving them hard time at work lately.

Holding a detailed love map of your partner’s life allows you to better take on stress and conflict, especially when significant changes occur. Why? Simply because you know each other better.

Love maps must be updated throughout the course of the marriage, so be prepared to keep up.

Cherish one another

No matter what problems exist in a marriage, if a sense of fondness and admiration are present, the marriage can always be saved. This again has much to do with our thinking.

It’s putting a positive spin on your partner’s character and maximising positive thoughts when they are away.

Cherish is an antidote of contempt.

Keeping positive feelings about each other high, means that when you face adversity, cataclysmic thoughts like separation and divorce are not the first things that come to mind.

Turn towards each other

Each time we turn towards our partners, we are “funding the emotional bank account”, and we can turn here if we become emotionally cash-strapped later. Never underestimate how important the “mini-moments” are.

Being helpful to each other on a daily basis will do far more for strength and passion in a relationship than a two-week getaway to your favourite destination.

Turning towards each other also means you don’t run away at critical moments in your relationship, thus causing emotional abandonment.

Solve your solvable problems

While many of us began our married lives with the assumption that as we grow old together, our differences will melt away, this is far from the truth. The fact is, many of the issues couples have conflict over may or may not be resolved.

Some are solvable over a period of time, while some are so embedded in the personality and nature that the other spouse simply has to find a way around the problem.

Resolving marital conflict can be a long process that may even last for as long as the marriage itself. Never fall for the trap of believing that you can’t be happy if you can’t resolve some of your disagreements.

It is not the presence of conflict that stresses a relationship; it is the manner in which you, as a couple respond.

Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.

Couples can live with unsolvable differences about ongoing issues in their marriage as long as they aren't deal breakers.

Create shared meaning

Successful marriages should all have a spiritual aspect, or an inner life together — creating rituals, symbols, customs, and ultimately a “microculture” that is unique to your marriage.

Rituals might be having a family braai every second week, Thursday date nights, Sunday home-cooked dinner or hiking together every Saturday morning.

This microculture should ultimately create shared meaning between the two of you, and this will reduce conflict and keep gridlock at bay.

Be deliberate about ensuring that as a couple, you have a shared system of meaning underpinning your marriage.

Developing a shared vision, as well as the emotional intelligence and skills for managing conflict is far more significant than any resolution of conflict.

When your marriage is characterised by a shared meaning, any conflict is inevitably less intense. And you are likely to maintain focus on what’s important, the bigger picture, without avoiding the conflict.



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