If you're pretty sure you don't want to get married, you're certainly not alone. Marriage rates have declined over the years as fewer and fewer people are opting to get married. But despite the general trend, there are some folks who still feel shame around saying, "I don't want to get married." Here are some helpful statistics and explanations for why some people don't want to get married, plus how to deal with the people who'll inevitably question you over it.
More people are saying they never want to get married.
Years ago, getting married and having children was the expectation. But over the last two decades, those expectations have shifted, with fewer and fewer folks considering marriage a necessity. A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center found one in seven people who've never been married before don't want to get married ever, and another 27% of people aren't sure how they feel about marriage. A 2019 Pew report found just 17% of people think marriage is essential for a woman to have a fulfilling life (16% for men), and three in 10 people think being married is simply not important.
One reason for that is the increased acceptance of living with a long-term partner without marriage: 55% of adults ages 18 to 29 think couples are just as well off if they stay together without ever getting married, compared to 45% who think long-term couples ought to get married eventually. And 69% of all adults say cohabitation is just fine with or without plans to get married.
Reasons some people don't want to get married.
There are plenty of reasons some people decide they don't want to get married, ranging from past traumas to finances. Whether your partner doesn't want to get married or you're the one with the apprehension about marriage, here are a few good reasons to consider:
You're more focused on your career.
Some people are generally more career-oriented. Marriage and any long-term committed relationships can take up a lot of time and attention, and some people aren't interested in dividing their energy between work and romance. This isn't to say having a career and getting married are always mutually exclusive endeavors; some people just care more about one than the other. In the past, women and feminine-identified people were expected to get married instead of having a career, so today, some of them may opt for a more career-centric life as a way of directly rejecting those expectations.
Bad experiences with marriage in the past.
Relationships can be hard work. For some, the lack of success in long-term relationships can make committing to someone for life unappealing. For those who have trouble sustaining healthy relationships, legally binding yourself to another can be scary. Alternatively, some people may have witnessed a lot of failed marriages around them (e.g., having parents with a troubled marriage), making marriage seem less appealing.
Refusal to get married again.
The 2017 Pew report found 45% of people who've been married before never want to get married again. Some research suggests divorce rates for second marriages tend to be higher than for first-time married couples. According to the Gottman Institute, there are many reasons, ranging from potential issues around co-parenting and exes to the baggage and lack of vulnerability one can bring to a new relationship. For all these reasons, some people may choose to not get married again after having experienced one failed marriage in the past.
A preference for nonmonogamy.
Marriage is often tied to monogamy, aka a relationship where the expectation—both written and unwritten—is that emotional and physical intimacy is limited to two people. But there is a rise in the acceptance and practice of nonmonogamous relationships, from polyamory to open relationships. The boundaries of these relationships vary depending on the individuals involved, but all include room for consensual engagement in emotional and/sexual involvement with multiple parties. These relationships are focused not always on sex but rather the freedom to give and receive love and emotional energy to more than one person, and this is not reflected in our current understanding of marriage.
Polygamy (marriage between more than two people) is not legal in the United States, so some people who are in polyamorous relationships or other styles of nonmonogamy may choose to forgo marriage altogether because it doesn't make sense for their relationships.
You view marriage as a patriarchal institution.
The institution of marriage is steeped in heteropatriarchal history, with women considered the property of her father or family to be given away in exchange for resources, alliances, and status. In marriage, women went from being the property of her father to the property of her husband. Even modern marriages have some lingering patriarchal influences, including the traditions of the father giving away the bride, the wife taking the husband's last name, and marriage being treated as a marker of success among women. For some people, this complicated history makes marriage unappealing.
Marrying your partner is not legal where you live.
Same-sex marriage continues to be illegal in many places across the world. According to Pew, just 30 out of 195 countries have passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.
"Marriage has often functioned as a way to validate and legitimize one's relationship, and this has often violently come at the expense of excluding groups of people, including queer folkx," psychotherapist Sabrina Sarro, LMSW, tells mbg. While now legal in the United States, this was not the case until 2015, undoubtedly changing the way that some queer people viewed long-term commitment.
Weddings are expensive, and so is divorce. Some people simply cannot afford the great financial risk that's involved in getting married. There are also instances where some do not feel comfortable linking their finances to another individual, potentially due to credit, tax considerations, or other concerns. Social worker and therapist Krystal Kavita Jagoo, MSW, also cites government-sponsored benefits as a strike against marriage for some. For those receiving disability, the individual being "deemed to be a dependent of another" can negatively affect their income.
Additionally, with divorce rates staying steady around 40 to 50%, some folks want the freedom of simply leaving sans the financial implications of a legal divorce. Studies have shown that the working middle class is more concerned about the fiscal impact of a divorce, especially considering the economic state of our country.
You don't need marriage to legitimize your relationship.
Previously, legal matrimony was seen as the only way to commit your life to another person. Sarro says some couples no longer see the need to have a government's approval for their relationship: "They feel marriage is an institution that often bears no legitimacy on the foundation between them and their partner(s)."
You feel marriage comes with too many rules and expectations.
There are expectations that come with marriage that may push people to not want to get married. There are some antiquated and problematic tropes that come with getting married, akin to your sex life declining or your freedom being limited. Plenty of married couples would argue with this, but considering the popularity of bachelor and bachelorette parties, there's certainly some people that think fun and games are completely over once you say, "I do." Even for those who know that these tropes dramatize marital expectations, being tied to and responsible for another adult for the rest of your life may feel unappealing nonetheless.
You're just not that interested in relationships.
While some value commitment outside of legal matrimony, there are some who simply are uninterested in relationships in general. Some aromantic or asexual people may be inherently uninterested in relationships in general. Other people might simply have the desire to expend energy on other things. Most people who've been in any relationship, healthy or unhealthy, can attest that it's no easy feat. So we should also be able to accept that not everyone values the outcome in the same way!
You enjoy more casual relationships.
Sometimes marriage isn't even on the radar because there's no desire to be in a committed relationship. For some, this is hard to understand. We've been conditioned to believe that there is someone for everyone and that you couldn't possibly be content living into old age without a romantic life partner. We're seeing more of a refusal of this idea, with folks being completely comfortable having a lifetime of solely casual relationships.
You are willing to get married to the right person, but otherwise, it's not a priority.
Some people are open to marriage but don't actively seek it. They may not want to get married in any active way, but that isn't to say that they're actively opposed to marriage. In other words, if they found themselves in a meaningful relationship with someone who wants to get married, they'd be willing to do it. But otherwise, marriage isn't a personal goal or desire of theirs.
A few considerations:
Some people don't want to get married but do want a long-term committed relationship.
For some people, there's not much difference between a long-term commitment and marriage. The primary difference is the legality. So for some people, whether or not they are bound by law does not determine their dedication to one person or their willingness to put in the effort to make a relationship work. In terms of satisfaction between couples, integral parts of relationships like communication, sex, and work-life balance are very similar between married and unmarried long-term couples. A shining example: Actress Goldie Hawn has been in a long-term relationship with actor Kurt Russell since 1983. Hawn and Russell were both previously married but have not made the decision to "legalize" their commitment in almost 40 years.
Some people avoid marriage because of fear.
Be wary of making decisions about marriage based on fear or family expectations. Everyone has ideologies that are passed down from their families of origin, some based in religion or tradition. Sometimes people are survivors of unhealthy family dynamics, and in an effort to avoid recreating those cycles, they opt to avoid getting married completely.
Jagoo says this is an instance where it's helpful to pause and interrogate one's aversion to marriage. She recommends therapy as a potential way to process these experiences and clarify your real feelings on the matter.
"There can be issues with distorted thinking such as catastrophizing or all-or-nothing thinking, whereby one is not able to assess their situation as clearly due to belief systems, so therapy may be an opportunity to challenge automatic thoughts toward more balanced thinking based in reality," Jagoo explains. "Generally, therapy can offer a nonjudgmental space whereby folx can reflect on the factors that may have impacted their views for or against getting married, including cultural and family expectations, financial stability, etc."
There can be financial reasons to get married.
Some people who do not care for the institution of marriage may still find some benefits to getting married anyway, particularly legally and financially. For some, considerations like insurance or tax breaks may sway your decision. "There can be situations where marriage might be helpful and beneficial to the couple," Sarro says. They recommend asking:
- Why do I want to get married?
- How will getting married inform my relationship physically, emotionally, and financially? Or will it not?
- What will getting married bring to the relationship?
People can change their minds about this.
Some people do change their minds about marriage, and that's OK. There is plenty of time to make decisions about the collective future of a couple. Some people may want to wait until they are settled either financially or emotionally, and others may simply change their minds over time or in specific relationships. People may judge or rush your decision, but no one is required to make a decision before they are ready. Because we are always changing, adapting, and growing, our opinions have the ability to as well.
How to deal with other people's reactions.
Be honest from the beginning.
While marriage talk may not arise in the very beginnings of a relationship, it is important that you are upfront with your potential partners about your feelings, even if you know they may change. Jagoo says it's important to "communicate that transparently from the beginning and throughout their interaction with potential and current partners to reduce the odds of any misunderstanding for all parties."
Keep lines of communication open.
Remember that you are allowed to change your mind! It's 2020, and many are not only open to not getting married but to nontraditional relationships as well.
Whatever you decide is valid.
"Marriage is not the only option, and it certainly doesn't have to bear so much weight on your relationship! Your relationship is valid and legitimate without the institution of marriage recognizing or acknowledging that," Sarro says. "You do not need to justify or explain your choice or your relationship's choice for not wanting to get married."
It's OK to let people know you don't want to get married. People will always have their opinions, but you can rest assured that your feelings are valid and that you are not obligated to work on anyone else's timeline or definition of commitment.
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Taneasha White is a Black queer writer and editor. She has a degree in English from Virginia Commonwealth University, and her work has been published at Rewire News, Next City, them, Pulp Mag, The Black Youth Project, Gay RVA, and more.
White is the founder and editor of UnSung Literary Magazine, a flash fiction and poetry publication focused on offering artistic space for marginalized voices. She is also a guest editor with Quail Bell Magazine and the co-host of Critiques for The Culture, a podcast where media is dissected through humor and a sociopolitical lens. She is a lover of words, inquisition, and community and has used her role within both literary and organizational spaces to make room for folks who are often cast aside.