Youth Culture Window

Millennials, Monogamy & Marriage

Dynamic ImageEarlier today, I had lunch with a young man from my church that had just ended a long relationship with his fiancé due to her infidelity. Is their problem with monogamy an isolated incident?

Nope. In fact, our culture wouldn’t even define it as a problem.

Keeping the Knot Untied
Millennials are everywhere; in fact, they are now the largest living generation in America. But the presence of more young people hasn’t led to the celebration of more marriages. The Barna Group – along with just about everyone else on the subject – reports that the percentage of singles who’ve never married has increased. Comparing data from the last 16 years, Barna’s researchers call the significant increase in the number of young people compared to the significant decrease in the number of marriages a “massive shift.” Back in 2014, Pew Research even predicted that “when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s [which is somewhere between 15 and 20 years from today], a record high share (25%) is likely to have never been married.”

Why are so many young people keeping the knot untied? Here are three agreed-upon reasons:


  1. First, a growing percentage of young people see co-habitation as a viable alternative to marriage. According to Barna’s findings (above), 65% of all adults “agree that it is a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married” and 57% of adults have done it (or are currently doing it). The overwhelming majority (84%) said it was to “test compatibility.”
  2. Another roadblock to marriage is the lack of finances. Not only are wedding costs getting ridiculous, but so is living, in general. Jonathan McKee recently wrote about Millennials’ money struggles, but as Forbes points out, staying single isn’t necessarily helping their financial situation, either.
  3. And lastly, opinions have shifted among generations as to which of life’s priorities should get the most attention. 67% of 18-29-year-olds now believe “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.”

Muddied Monogamy…
But there may be another reason why today’s young people aren’t seeking marriage as previous generations have. Perhaps it’s because this group doesn’t see the importance – or possibility – of monogamy within marriage?

Hear me out.

Before lunch with the broken-hearted young man who attends my church, I read an article about Scarlett Johansson’s separation from her second husband, Romain Dauriac, and the effect it had on her understanding of monogamy. Perfectly representing her generation, the 32-year-old actress said:

“I think the idea of marriage is very romantic; it’s a beautiful idea and the practice of it can be a very beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person. I might be skewered for that, but I think it’s work. It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people — for everyone — the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing.”

I won’t get into her apparent contradiction of terms. Nor will I dissect her theory about tasks that require “a lot of work” being labeled unnatural (I’m guessing parenting is also unnatural). She was simply repeating her thoughts from a decade-old interview in which she claimed, “I don’t think human beings are monogamous creatures by nature.”

But is this really surprising? How often do you hear entertainment media preaching monogamy?

I guess it would be easier to answer, how often do you hear entertainment media preaching hook up culture?

Ed Sheeran’s #1 song Shape of You, opens with “The club isn’t the best place to find a lover so the bar is where I go.” The Chainsmokers’ Closer, which is now ranked #7 (after a whopping 28 weeks on the charts!) is about a chance hookup with an ex in a hotel. But there have also been plenty of songs about love suffering from infidelity over the years: Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood), I’m Not the Only One (Sam Smith), and Cry Me a River (Justin Timberlake). Yep, monogamy has evidently been under attack in the music business ever since Hank Williams sang Your Cheatin’ Heart.

At the risk of seeming judgmental – because I truly don’t mean to be – it’s not unfair to point out the almost constant parade of celebrities, icons, and politicians who’ve suffered a very public struggle with monogamy: Kristen Stewart, Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt, Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even Donald Trump.

With this kind of cultural influence, it’s little wonder that today’s generation looks at monogamy as a “spectrum.” (You should read that article even though you won’t agree with it or like it…because it heartbreakingly points out that a mere 51% of young people under the age of 30 describe an ideal relationship as “completely monogamous.”)

Fostering Monogamy
In no way do we need to give up hope on monogamy just because it has become a rarity in our culture. The men and women who practice it understand and experience the blessing it affords them on a routine basis. If we want to export that same reality to the coming generation, we need be active in teaching and modeling monogamy.

  1. Teach monogamy from God’s Word.
    Look, the Bible has plenty of examples embedded in it concerning the troubles that occur when husbands and wives step outside the bounds of monogamy: Abraham, Solomon, Jacob, Solomon, David, Solomon, Elkanah, Solomon, Abijah…and oh yeah, Solomon!!! Just because a bunch of people (mainly men) in the Bible weren’t monogamous does NOT mean it wasn’t God’s plan. There are also stories of faithfulness sprinkled in amongst the pages of God’s Word: Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Joseph and Mary just to name a few. Show your young people the benefits of monogamy and the consequences of infidelity as clearly as the Bible presents them. (Jonathan McKee spends the entire first chapter of his book Sex Matters making this very point.)
  2. Model faithfulness and commitment in your own relationship.
    Parents and youth workers, I hope this is as obvious as it is crucial. The young people in your lives are taking their cues about commitment from those they’re watching the closest…namely you! Be honest (and wise) about your past if need be, but put before them an example of godly faithfulness going forward. Take the time to continually speak with them about the importance of keeping vows. More importantly, be authentic in your love for your spouse. Your kids can see the truth of your relationship and how solid it is. If you are both making God first and loving each other selflessly, this will make your marriage solid AND your kids will notice.
  3. Put champions in front of them.
    As I’ve grown older, my icons have shifted. I no longer revere the athletes or artists of my youth. Instead, I have deep admiration for husbands and wives who’ve parented awesome kids while fostering a continually growing love for each other. My heroes include Russ and Nina, John and LeeAnn, and Casey and Faye, among others. They are champions of marriage and family, and my wife and I brag on their love of one another for the benefit of our son. We want him to see as many positive examples as possible.

There are as many ways to foster monogamy as there are benefits of it. Pick a few and get to work. The young people you’re bringing along in life will be grateful to you for it!

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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