Sara and Sam are 30 years old, have been married for five years and are finding themselves overwhelmed by his new social entrepreneur business, her blog and home business, their two small children and their big dreams. She finds herself on social media and not able to find a way to connect with her husband. He is struggling with pornography and dealing with all the stress. Both are lonely, tired, and wonder if the marriage is not working, rather than assessing what they are each are doing to contribute to the demise of their ideal dreams. It’s just not what they thought it would be…marriage, that is.

Whether Generation Y, also known as Millennials, are truly more narcissistic, immature, and interested in only short-term gratification, the statistics are informative on why this generation is having higher divorce rates than every generation beforehand. In fact, they are more likely to divorce in the first two years of marriage (Raso, S., 2011). That’s just two months shy of the 18-month brain fog of most infatuations and infidelities. It seems that Sara and Sam are beating the odds for their generation.

Though a millennial is likely to agree that they want life-long love and to passionately pursue a soul-mate that was made just for them (thanks to pop culture and lack of modeling from parents), anyone born between 1980 and 2000 are set-up with a disadvantage towards what it takes to sustain a healthy marriage. Millennials had the most divorced parents and it became their norm (thanks to the Baby Boomers and early Gen-X’ers). Stereotyped by their introduction to the digital world and reality TV the moment they could sit up in a grocery store cart, the emotional, relational, and brain development of Millennials is different than generations before. Some of these differences are very good: Innovation. Tolerance. Passion. And yes, some are not so good like: unrealistic expectations, poor work ethic, and a whole lot of distractedness.  

Hello, over here.

Time Magazine wrote a fascinating article in May of 2013 called the ME ME ME Generation ( saying:

“Here’s the cold, hard data: The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20’s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. Millennials got so many participation trophies growing up that a recent study showed that 40% believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance. They are fame-obsessed: three times as many middle school girls want to grow up to be a personal assistant to a famous person as want to be a Senator, according to a 2007 survey; four times as many would pick the assistant job over CEO of a major corporation. They’re so convinced of their own greatness that the National Study of Youth and Religion found the guiding morality of 60% of millennials in any situation is that they’ll just be able to feel what’s right. Their development is stunted: more people ages 18 to 29 live with their parents than with a spouse, according to the 2012 Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults. And they are lazy. In 1992, the nonprofit Families and Work Institute reported that 80% of people under 23 wanted to one day have a job with greater responsibility; 10 years later, only 60% did.”

Though the delivery of this data is pretty cold, the data does tell us that the generation mentoring and teaching my children have some concerns. We need to have compassion for Millennials and Millennial couples trying to make it.  As Simon Sinek encourages us “older and wiser” folk to have empathy because Millennials are a product of their systemic environment, parenting, digitally-induced world, with a side of impatience. 

Due to the increase of violence, pornography, and multitasking at our fingertips, Millennials have technology-induced ADD and many have higher levels of symptoms similar to PTSD. Researchers now have data that suggests even viewing a traumatic event can cause PTSD symptoms in a quarter of those viewing the material without ever actually experiencing it (Ramsden Study, 2015). Think about that and the amount of video games, violent media, and exposure to horrific news events we all have on a daily basis, let alone during a key time of brain development for Millennials (Ages 1 – 24 years old).

The exposure to a global community has unfortunately increased exposure to raw trauma, cyberbullying, Facebook depression, and more. Becoming a “brand” rather than a human being, is a far too common way of thinking for the general Millennial population. Some who are reading this might even think, “What’s so wrong with that?”.  Other Millennials are sighing with relief as they recognize the symptoms on their own. We are drowning in a lukewarm boiling pot, and do not even know it!  Check out The Marriage Millennial Proposal as a sample of what we are facing. 

Though Millennials have found themselves connected to more people than any other generation with the help of social media, researchers are finding that they feel more alone and unknown, with higher rates of suicide, anxiety, depression, addictions and lower levels of stress tolerance, relational skills, and overall life satisfaction. The face-to-face relationship still out weighs the digital reality.  Relationship skills like good eye contact, focused attention, good listening, meaningful touch, and consistent care and comfort will always breed a healthier person and relationship than a 1000 plus followers or likes on social media. Some things just never change.

A great marriage takes a resiliency to difficulty and consistent effort over a long period of time. Marriage also takes a framework of “we” rather than “me” which many are saying has been in demise over the last few generations (Kellers, 2011).

A great marriage is like staying hydrated. Not that I am good at this, but I have heard that it’s better to sip a little bit a water throughout the day, than waiting until one is dehydrated or has a headache. Though the water tastes so good when you are quenched, the feel good does not last and the health factors are not as significant as the slow and steady approach. This needs to become the new norm for how we approach our relationships.

In leadership cultures, we use terms like “hardiness” or “the resiliency factor.”  We can help by giving Millennials our time and focused attention, and basic skills like:

-prolonged attention span
-anxiety and stress reducing skills
-emotional and sexual regulating
-identity formation
-relationship & communication skills
-reframing the ideals of marriage

Though this may sound like we are suggesting the apocalypse is happening due to the children of the digital age, hope lies in awareness, ownership, and movement toward purposeful change. Millennials have a passion to change the world and a capacity to do it. As the largest generation on earth (over 80 million), they are impacting every sector of culture by their innovation so we are asking them to take the time to invest in their marriages, what we believe is still a tried and true foundation for thriving children and society.  Studies have shown that Millennials are less likely to seek counseling before they divorce. Wisdom says, we always have a choice. Sometimes the choices are made for us and we have to choose how we respond, but in most cases, a healthy brain and a healthy person can move from paralyzing ambivalence and avoidance to options and solutions.

Marriage has so many benefits!  Read “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim & Kathy Keller to discover what those are. However, more than anything, the history of moving through life with one person is something that is rare and hard to exchange.  We believe helping Millennials in marriage is a divine call. Re-thinking about how “we” can be better than “me” might be the start of something beautiful.  Jeff and I know this first hand and are helping others to experience it too.

5 Things to Remember if you are a Millennial and Married (or want to be):

1. Get mentors who value marriage and can walk with you step by step, allowing your reality TV models to be less impactful than the real life one’s you have dinner with.

2. Practice time-blocking and focusing your attention on one task at a time. Try technology-free moments in your day where you breathe deeper, notice the world around you more, and look in the eyes of another human being.  Re-train your brain to be calm and enjoy calm.

3. Know your story and do the work needed to heal.  One-fourth of women have sexual abuse in their history. One-third of men have some type of abuse in their history. One-fourth have been effected my social medial factors like cyberbullying.  And most have been exposed to pornography by the age of 10.  We like to say the effort to get your “baggage” down to carry-on size before marriage is so worth it!  A quality and skilled professional counselor can help you get there.

4. Find 5 couples who have stayed married over the years. Have them share their stories and advice for the hardships they have moved through. It will bust the Instagram ideals we all think are out there and ground your expectations in reality.

5. Believe life long-love can happen.  Do something hard and practice working at it daily. This kind of inspiration and practice will help you when times get harder during marriage. It’s inevitable. An example might be signing up for a marathon and join a training team.


Written by Jeff & Terra Mattson, co-founders of Living Wholehearted, LLC
Leadership Consultant and Clinical Director/Marriage and Family Therapist