Recently I had lunch with a young man from my church who’d just ended a long relationship with his fiancé due to her infidelity. Unfortunately, their problem with monogamy isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, much of our culture wouldn’t even define it as a problem.
Millennials 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—reports an increase in the percentage of singles who’ve never married. 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 [in about 15 to 20 years], a record high share (25 percent) is likely to have never been married.”
Why are so many young people keeping the knot untied? Experts point to three reasons:
- A growing percentage of young people see cohabitation as a viable alternative to marriage. According to Barna’s findings, 65 percent of all adults “agree that it is a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married,” and 57 percent of adults have done it (or are currently doing it). The overwhelming majority (84 percent) said the goal of living together is to “test compatibility.”
- Finances are another roadblock to marriage. Not only are wedding costs getting ridiculous but so is the general cost of living. Jonathan McKee recently wrote about millennials’ money struggles, but as Forbes points out, staying single isn’t necessarily helping young people’s financial situation, either.
- Opinions have shifted among generations as to which of life’s priorities should get the most attention. Sixty-seven percent of 18- to 29-year-olds now believe “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.”
But there may be another reason 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 having lunch with the brokenhearted young man, 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 Johansson’s 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 must also be unnatural). The actress 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.”
This really isn’t surprising. Consider how often you hear entertainment media preaching monogamy. It probably would be easier to answer how often you hear entertainment media preaching hookup culture.
For example, Ed Sheeran’s No. 1 song “Shape of You” opens with this line: “The club isn’t the best place to find a lover, so the bar is where I go.” The Chainsmokers’ hit “Closer” is about a chance hookup with an ex in a hotel. But plenty of songs about love suffering from infidelity have been created over the years, including “Before He Cheats” (Carrie Underwood), “I’m Not the Only One” (Sam Smith), and “Cry Me a River” (Justin Timberlake). Monogamy has been under attack from the music business 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 public struggles 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.” (Read the article at that link even though you won’t agree with it or like it. The author points out that only 51 percent of people under 30 describe an ideal relationship as “completely monogamous.”)
Just because monogamy has become a rarity in our culture doesn’t mean we need to give up hope on it. The men and women who practice monogamy understand and experience the many blessings it affords. If we want future generations to experience those blessings, we must actively teach and model monogamy. Here’s how:
- Teach monogamy from God’s Word. The Bible offers plenty of warnings about what occurs when husbands and wives step outside the bounds of monogamy. But just because a bunch of people (mainly men) in the Bible weren’t monogamous doesn’t mean it wasn’t God’s plan. Accounts of faithfulness are also sprinkled throughout God’s Word (Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Joseph and Mary, to name a few). Show teenagers the benefits of monogamy and the consequences of infidelity as the Bible presents them. (Jonathan McKee addresses this topic in the first chapter of his book Sex Matters.) Group’s LIVE curriculum series “Journey to Freedom” is another great resource.
- Model faithfulness and commitment in your own relationship. I hope this is as obvious as it is crucial. The teenagers in our lives take their cues about commitment from people they’re watching the closest…namely parents and youth workers. Be honest (and wise) about your past, if necessary, but offer an example of godly faithfulness going forward. Take time to regularly speak with teenagers 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’re both putting Jesus first and loving each other selflessly, your marriage will be solid and your kids will notice.
- Put champions in front of them. As I’ve grown older, my icons have shifted. I no longer revere the athletes and artists of my youth. Instead, I deeply admire 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, 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 our son to hear. We want him to see as many positive examples as possible.
Just as monogamy has many benefits, there are many ways to foster it. Pick a few and get to work. The teenagers looking up to you will be grateful to you for it! (For more perspective on an issue related to this topic, check out the Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus podcast—Season 2, Episode 8—where co-hosts Rick Lawrence and Becky Hodges interview Barna’s Roxanne Stone about their massive new research report on pornography in America.)