10 Ways We're Reinventing Traditional Marriage

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

Marriage is not what is used to be. The Census tells us that between 1970 and 2012, the share of married-people-with-children households halved. Single motherhood is on the rise; millennials are either postponing or forgoing the institution entirely. Clearly something about traditional marriage is not working for women. So what are the alternatives? Below, 10 ways in which we’re rethinking the way the knot is tied.

1. Intentionally asexual marriages. I know, I know, insert joke here about all marriages being asexual eventually. But seriously: As much as 1 percent of the population identifies as asexual, defined as a lack of sexual attraction to any gender. Asexual people are finding one another via online support groups and meet-ups. Read this man’s story of his happy, asexual marriage.

2. Breadwinner moms and stay-at-home dads. Pew reported that the number of dads at home with their kids nearly doubled between 1989 and 2012. Dads are staying home for the same reason moms did—they want the experience of day-in, day-out caregiving, or the family can’t afford child care—and they’re paying the same long-term career price that women pay.

3. Long-distance marriages. Between 2000 and 2005, long-distance relationships increased from 2.36 percent of marriages to 2.9 percent. Couples who meet online—and perhaps forgot to restrict their dating radius to 20 miles—or couples whose careers have taken them to far-flung locales are making the relationship work on weekends and holidays.

4. Not getting married at all. Unmarried-but-cohabitating partnerships are on the rise, according to the Census. Many women find the trappings of traditional marriage, with all its unspoken expectations for wives, to be not especially happily-ever-after. Amy, 39, a musician who’s raising two kids with her long-term partner, says, “My friends and I in high school just assumed that marriage was outdated. We collectively agreed that lifelong monogamy was something that might happen but you definitely couldn’t plan for it. And that marriage was inherently patriarchal, and nobody would get married anymore. Well into my 30s, it continues to surprise me that anyone I know is getting married.” For other women, if you aren’t merging finances or securing a lifelong commitment, why bother? Says Eleanor, an English professor at a large Midwestern university, “When I was younger, my fantasies of marriage always involved either the dream of achieving financial stability through my partner, or making an insecure relationship more secure. Neither of those is relevant for my partner and me—[he] is terrible with finances and comes to the relationship with a decent job but debt and expenses. On the other hand he’s 100 percent loyal and committed. So marriage just didn’t seem that important to me. I grew up with a single mom, and when I got pregnant I imagined I’d just do it on my own. My son has my last name, and since I’m the primary breadwinner and child care provider, I feel this is not just feminist but apt….My partner moved in with us when our son was six months old.”

5. Gay marriage. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. By the time our kids are grown, a man introducing his husband won’t even merit the slightest blink.

6. Breadwinner moms doubling as stay-at-home moms. Working mothers today spend as much time with their kids as stay-at-home moms did in the early 1970s. Women feel such pressure to be both good workers and fully present moms that they’re essentially trying to fill two roles. And they have the stress, sleep deprivation, and anxiety to show for it.

7. Polyamory. Some couples find that expecting a single person to meet all your emotional and sexual needs is too much to put on a partner. Says Carolyn, who’s raising children within a polyamorous relationship in upstate New York, “It would be silly to assume one person could handle filling all my needs just because they love me and I love them. Love is taking care of each other. I take care of the people I love by not expecting them to be my ‘everything.'”

8. Cross-Cultural Marriage. A global economy means a global match-making marketplace. Kristin, 33, of Austin, Texas, is married to a Brazilian man, Thiago. She says, “I always knew I wouldn’t marry an American. Having grown up abroad, even though I was born in the Midwest, I felt I needed someone who could understand me, what shaped me as a person, and not someone I had to explain my life to and hope that they would understand.”

9. Couples who never see each other. The high cost of child care forces some parents to work opposite shifts: Anne, 46, works 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a national grocery retailer in Queens, New York; her husband, Joel, works 4 p.m. to midnight. He says, “At 3:45 Anne gets up and it starts all over again. I get the kids up and ready for the day.” It’s the only way they can manage the school drop-off and pick-up for their first grader and the all-day care of their almost 2-year-old daughter.

10. Transgender marriage. Says Julia, who’s been married for nearly eight years, “We look like a typical heterosexual couple on the outside, and in many ways we are. But he is female-to-male transgender, so instead of being male from birth, he’s been male since age 21, when he transitioned.

“His upbringing has had an immense effect on our marriage and how it functions and how we relate to one another. In housekeeping and child-rearing, for example, he wasn’t raised as a boy, thus he wasn’t raised with any notions that he would not be a primary part of those things. It’s made me feel very fortunate because, where I see many of my peers in distress because their husbands aren’t participating as much as they’d like, that’s one problem I don’t have.”

This article was originally published on