Why Some Couples Choose Not to Get Married

Moving couple holds stacks of boxesNot all couples plan for a trip down the aisle. Even couples who have been in a relationship for years may choose to forgo tradition and not get married.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that over the last decade, adult Americans appeared to be steadily falling out of love with marriage. According to the report, the year 2012 saw an average of 6.8 marriages per 1,000 people, a consistent decrease from 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people in 2006 and 8.2 marriages per 1,000 people in 2000.

A 2011 analysis of United States census data conducted by the Pew Research Center found only about 51% of American adults are currently married—a record low. Compare these statistics to the 72% of American adults who were married in 1960, and some social trends may begin to emerge.

A Shift in Public Attitude About Marriage

With numerous studies suggesting healthy marriages promote physical well-being, boost mental health, and protect children from social and educational problems, the following questions may arise: Why do some couples choose not to get married? And what living arrangements are replacing marriages in 21st century America?

Data from the Pew Research Center analysis suggests age and public attitudes may play significant roles in the current trend to remain unmarried. Of all Americans ages 18-29, only 20% are currently married, compared with 59% in 1960. Whether young adults are completely abandoning marriage or temporarily delaying it is not yet clear. However, evidence suggests young adults today may be focusing on furthering their education or seeking to establish a social foundation before considering marriage. The analysis reveals an increase in the number of college graduates who decide to marry later in life.

Public attitudes toward marriage are also changing. While marriage may have been expected in the past, the current perception is somewhat mixed, with a growing number of people viewing marriage as unnecessary, said Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, an expert in relationships and marriage. A 2010 Pew Research survey reports almost 40% of Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete.

“Marriage is no longer looked up to, and being single is no longer looked down upon,” Lori Hollander said.

What factors have contributed to this public shift in perception? The increasingly sophisticated desires of modern-day adults, coupled with the drive to fulfill these desires with as much freedom as possible, may be influential. Bob Hollander, husband of Lori and a relationship therapist for more than 25 years, suggests people simply want more out of life and love.

Happiness is no longer just about having a full-time job and keeping the bills paid,” Bob Hollander said. “We now see people who are looking beyond mere survival, and the needs that are being met are simply more sophisticated.”

People in the past may have viewed marriage as an effective way to start a family, build financial stability, or gain happiness, but many modern-day adults are able to meet those needs without a marriage license.

In recent years, single-parent households, single-person households, and cohabitation have all become more popular. Whether the intention to marry is present or not, couples are now moving in together before marriage more than ever before. This trend may be attributed to multiple factors, including:

  • A mutual desire to live together
  • A desire to experience what marriage to one’s partner may be like
  • Financial stress experienced by one or both partners
  • A deliberate effort to reduce costs and increase savings
  • Proximity to school or place of employment

Tools for a Successful Relationship

According to data from the Pew Research Center, marriage may still be a goal for many Americans, even if it is not among their top priorities. Thirty-six percent of adults report a successful marriage as being one of their most important goals in life, while 48% of Americans say a successful marriage is not most important. A larger portion of adults (53%) view being a good parent as one of their most important goals.

People in the past may have viewed marriage as an effective way to start a family, build financial stability, or gain happiness, but many modern-day adults are able to meet those needs without a marriage license.More than half of Americans surveyed believe marriage does not make a difference in having a fulfilling sex life, being financially secure, feeling happy, reaching a desired social status, or getting ahead in a chosen career.

Stuart B. Fensterheim, LCSW, a specialist in emotionally focused therapy, relationships, and marriage, explains the changing nature of beliefs about healthy relationships.

“For years, people have lived with the idea that relationships are one big guessing game,” Fensterheim said. “On top of that, so many folks now fear that they will have to give up something that they love in order to sustain a marriage. Healthy partnerships are just not that way.”

Married or not, there are many resources available that may help build a healthy, happy, and lasting relationship. Couples counseling can help take the guesswork out of relationships, set realistic expectations, and teach the skills needed to enable love to grow. Individual partners may also seek the assistance of a qualified therapist if they are experiencing specific personal challenges.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). National marriage and divorce rate trends. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm
  2. Cohn, D. (2013). Love and marriage. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/13/love-and-marriage/
  3. Cohn, D., Passel, J. S., Wang, W. & Livingston, G. (2011). Barely half of U.S. adults are married—a record low. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/12/14/barely-half-of-u-s-adults-are-married-a-record-low/
  4. Copen, C. E., Daniels, K. & Mosher, W. D. (2013). First premarital cohabitation in the United States: 2006-2010 national survey of family growth. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr064.pdf
  5. Copen, C. E., Daniels, K., Vespa, J. & Mosher, W. D. (2012). First marriages in the United States: Data from the 2006-2010 national survey of family growth. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr049.pdf
  6. Rosenblum, C. (2013, September 13). Living apart together. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/realestate/living-apart-together.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Beth

    December 22nd, 2015 at 2:30 PM

    Why would I want to mess up something that is already good just to have that piece of paper that says we are official?

    Even if to others we are not official, to us we are and that is quite enough.

  • Allen

    December 23rd, 2015 at 5:17 AM

    because they are adults and have decided that this is the best choice for them?

  • cyrus t

    December 23rd, 2015 at 4:11 PM

    Marriage is the natural progression of a relationship. When you love someone and want to spend the rets of your life with them then you do the right thing and you get married.

  • Glynn

    December 24th, 2015 at 7:17 PM

    This is a very personal and private choice for any couple and one that I definitely do not believe I have any say so in. If marriage works for them, then great, get married. And if not? Then who am I to judge. I want to get married one day and have a family, but that does not mean that I think that this is the only way. It is what I right now believe will be the right choice for me, but things will always change and you never know, I could change my mind and that’s no big deal either.

  • jake

    December 25th, 2015 at 8:47 AM

    My parents were never married and that was always pretty embarrassing to me. I think that had it not always been the norm you would have never known but they were adamant abut telling people that they were not married nor were they going to get married so I know that there were parents of kids who I was friends with who looked down on us for that. I respect that this was the decision that they made for them but I will say that as a product of that kind of relationship, it can be hard on the kids.

  • Terrell

    December 26th, 2015 at 10:57 AM

    I know that for many couples this is what makes the most sense, but in my family it is really frowned upon to just live together so I think that I would catch some real heat if we chose to not do the next step and get married.

    I know that that sounds like I would be doing it for all the wrong reasons, and maybe that is true but I just know that my mom and dad both would probably be very disappointed if this would be the choice that I thought was for me so I think that it would just be easiest to take the next step and take that plunge into marriage.

    I am nowhere near ready to do it right now but the thought of that not being a part of my future I don’t think is something that I could ever consider.

  • haley

    December 27th, 2015 at 8:35 AM

    I would maybe love to find someone to settle down with some day, not because I need that for financial reason, but just because I think that if I had the right person in my life then that would equal real happiness. But that doesn’t mean that I’m gonna gt married just to do it. It would definitely have to be to the right person.

  • beck

    December 28th, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    In some ways I think that it is sort of a generational thing, like marriage is not as important to younger people as it was to older generations

  • Georgina

    December 28th, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    I hate to state the obvious but you know that for many people finances definitely come into play when it comes to deciding who they choose to marry.
    I mean nobody wants to be with a minimum wage earner for the rest of their lives do they? Most of us are looking for more than that?

  • collin

    December 29th, 2015 at 4:08 PM

    I sort of got bullied into proposing and then getting to married.
    Needless to say, not very bright of me.

  • RandyB

    December 30th, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    we should remember that there are many couples in many states who would still love to get married but legally they can’t

  • Kate

    January 1st, 2016 at 10:39 PM

    I am 37 yrs old and have been in a committed loving relationship for 7 years. I have no desire to ever get married and my boyfriend feels the same way. Most girls dream of getting married,but I never did. I enjoy my independence. I think that marriage can ruin otherwise great relationships. I have seen it happen so many times. My boyfriend and I (even after 7 years) still act like we are dating. It is still fresh and exciting even though we live together.

  • greg

    February 6th, 2022 at 7:22 PM

    just read your post about not needing to be married. I agree with you in our case we lived together for 20 years before we got married by JP. We are both catholic but do not practice any more since we are still living in sin according to catholic church We are just as happy living in sin as if we had married inchurch.

  • Esme

    June 1st, 2022 at 9:42 AM

    Many 20 – 30 something’s today (including myself) grew up with parents in unhappy marriages. I love my boyfriend dearly, but I also like the fact that we are choosing to stay together because we want to be together, rather than feeling tied down due to the cost and complications of divorce. Marriage is very expensive, we have life insurance, wills and have each other as beneficiaries in our pensions should one of us pass early. We don’t want children. Having a deposit for a property made a much bigger difference to our lives than marriage would, for a similar cost.

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