Do people not know how to be in relationships anymore?

shutterstock_101887807Ellyn Bader has been doing a video series on how to counsel self-absorbed couples.  The overwhelming response to her video series has been “Thank you!!!  I’ve been seeing more and more couples like this in my office!!”  Come to think of it, I have noticed an increase too.  And the evidence is not just anecdotal either.  Statistically, we are seeing more divorce and more infidelity than ever before.  We are also having people being single at a much older age, either due to having never been married or due to divorce.  Some are saying that as a people we don’t know how to be in relationships anymore.

A while back I was doing some genealogical research and I came across a living relative. She was the cousin of my great grandmother.  I got in contact with her and we scheduled a visit so we could discuss the family history.  When I met with her and her husband, she told me the story of how they met.  They were both at a dance at the county fair.  They danced that night and immediately fell in love.  He proposed to her that very same night.  The only problem was that he had just enlisted in the military and was leaving the next morning.  He would be gone for two years, but they wrote back-and-forth the entire time he was away.  As soon as he came back, they were married.  She then told me about the years that followed afterwards.  They had children, they had friends, they had hobbies, they had adventures together.  They seemed genuinely happy.

Let’s compare that story to what my clients tell me about online dating.  Online dating is no longer considered to be a shameful and embarrassing thing (nor should it be in my opinion) but due to the change in popular opinion, it would seem that everyone is online.  People are being flooded with so many choices that there’s no need to “make it work” with someone.  In fact, it’s such a buyer’s market, I’m frequently told stories of last-minute cancellations, no-shows, and perpetual first dates.  There seems to be an attitude that if the person isn’t perfect, then they’re not worth your time.  I think all of this is really interesting because 10 years ago I actually met my husband on  It only took me a couple months of online dating before we met.  Was it love at first sight?  Was he perfect?  No, but I gave it three months of dating before I decided if I wanted to continue with the relationship or not.  Obviously I chose to continue and I’m very happy I did.

So what’s going on in the dating world?  Obviously we live in a different society than the one that existed in the 1940s, but is it really that different from just ten years ago?  And what about the couples that do stick it out to date long term or even get married?  I see these couples in my private practice.  The most common thing I see in couples counseling are couples that don’t know how to compromise, are unwilling to give, and blame absolutely everything on the other person.  When couples fight in my office, the #1 cause of the fight is that one of them will tell the other something that they need in the relationship. Why does this have to trigger a fight?  Couples should feel free to tell each other what they need in the relationship and they should be happy to hear it from the other person.  The expressing and receiving of needs is an essential skill in any relationship, but it seems to be sorely lacking.  Why is that?

We’re seeing a cultural shift in how people view relationships.  We know this by the statistics mentioned earlier.  There has been some interesting speculation as to why.  One popular explanation is that a generation ago people drastically changed the way they parented children.  There was the “self-esteem movement” and “everybody’s a winner” mentality.  Children were praised and rewarded for every little thing.  “Hard work” and “effort” were becoming foreign concepts for children.  There was the “cult of children” were parents were babying and worshiping their children in a manner never before seen in society.  At the same time, these children watched as their parents’ marriage fell apart.  Is it any wonder why these children have grown up to be adults who don’t know how to give in relationships and don’t have any faith in marriage?

I’m very interested to hear what all of you think.  I’m not quite sure if I buy the argument that the self-esteem movement is to blame for the current marriage crisis.  I would be interested to hear other perspectives and opinions on modern dating and relationships.

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My name is Marina Williams and I am a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Jamaica Plain, MA. This website is my professional website devoted to my activities as a therapist. If you are interested in finding out more about my private practice, please visit my other website


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