The millennial generation, or the 75.4 million adults in the US currently in their 20s-30s, are faced with a myriad of unique life decisions. Statistics from the PEW research center reflect the tendency millennials have to prolong big life decisions such as having children and getting married. But what exactly are some of these decisions, and how do they affect millennial couples?
Here are a few to get the conversation going:
Living with parents
At the highest rates of any generation at this age, 35% of millennial aged men are living with their parents, while 29% of women do at that age.
Why might this be?
Some answers come to mind: Financial support or an ability to save one’s money until marriage, the fact that millennials are marrying later (or not at all) and thus have less of a reason to establish themselves outside of their parent’s home, an ability to pay off higher amounts of debt without having to worry about rent, in a response to the economic crisis beginning in 2008, or perhaps as a result of reliance to parents/caretakers and a tendency to embrace their willingness to have them back at the house.
With that being said, It is not uncommon for couples to decide to live with parents before, or sometimes even after, getting married. This is typically out of a desire to create a financial foundation as a couple and to be able to handle paying for a wedding, a cost that many young couples today find themselves either partially or completely responsible for handling.
The convenience of living with parents can, of course, lead to struggles! This might include boundary issues with parents, experiencing difficulty establishing themselves as a “couple”, feeling controlled and obligated to make certain life decisions, or difficulty being able to practice open communication with one another, for fear of stirring up drama or conflict within the family system. For young couples living with parents, the struggle is real.
Pursuing career dreams vs. job security
In a recent survey, 50% of millennials stated that they wanted to be entrepreneurs. 40% identified Mark Zuckerberg as their business inspiration. There is no doubt that individual pursuits of self-employment and entrepreneurial freedom have become enticing for the millennial generation. And, many are making it happen.
Many millennial couples will likely find themselves exploring the pros and cons of following their entrepreneurial dreams (and hopefully creating a good plan to do so to ensure stability along the way), or following the more traditional standard of getting a degree, certification, or licensure to have the security of a corporate profession. Financial security is often a stressor on relationships, so there is no doubt that pursuing career dreams may come with tension, conflict, and critical financial decisions for a couple to manage.
How to use their money
It is rare in today’s world that a couple won’t enter into a relationship with some form of debt. From student loans to credit card payments, couples today are faced with the process of revealing their debt(s) to their partner, and deciding together how they plan to address it.
It is also a fact (and stat) that millennials value traveling now versus the idea of waiting until later in life (who wants to backpack Europe when you’re 60?). Millennials want to be able to explore new parts of the world and experience beautiful things that they are often enticed by on social media.
This, of course, poses a conversation to be had within a couple about where their values fall. Do you take the opportunity to spend on traveling and experiencing fun restaurants, new activities, or investing in hobbies now? Or do you take the road less traveled and spend less, budget more, and prioritize where your money will go with long term goals in mind? Money conversations are often a sensitive topic for couples at any age, so addressing how you value money and where you want to see it go is something to discuss early on as a couple.
Our culture is moving further away from the financial tradition of a bride’s parent (or either parents) paying for the entire cost of a wedding. I have worked with many millennial couples who are given a lump sum from one or both/all sets of parents, to which they are instructed that “you can either use this to pay for the wedding or for a down payment on a house”. Decisions, decisions!
When to have children
Many millennial couples are now exploring the option of being DINKs (Dual Income No Kids). This most likely speaks to the earlier point of valuing life experiences and other ventures before, or in lieu of, having children. In my experience working with millennial couples, I still see a hesitance some couples have in even discussing this with one another. People often don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings for bringing up the idea of not wanting to have children.
On the flip side, couples who do want children are still waiting longer to have children. The average age of a first-time mother is now 26, compared to 21 in 1970. I often hear people say that they look forward to spending the first few years married as a single (no-kids) couple so that they can truly experience life together in marriage.
I believe that a couple can “have it all” if they have clear and open dialogue with each other from the get-go. They must explore each other’s values, aspirations, and goals with a sincere curiosity towards one another and willingness to make it work.
What to believe in
It is no secret that the millennial generation, as a whole, is less trusting of (and less likely to engage in) organized religious practices. However- millennials still value spirituality and experience a wonder about the meaning of life. Young adult couples are faced with the decisions around potentially being with someone who follows a different religion than themselves, who may have different spiritual practices, or none at all.
This does not mean that couple’s cannot explore and determine a shared meaning in their life. Core values can be explored inside or outside of religious practices. Many premarital couples I work with enjoy exploring the topic of Spirituality (not religion) in our sessions, because it is something they have hoped to discuss and share together, but simply hadn’t taken time to dialogue about.
To stay together or not
As a therapist, I couldn’t leave this one out. With divorce rates at a pretty consistent 50/50 chance, divorce is something that all engaged millennial couples need to think about, and talk about. We live in a culture that prioritizes individual wants and needs, and a marriage calls for a level of commitment and selflessness that being on your own does not require. Choosing to stay in a marriage and work through problems is an intentional and conscious decisions that couples are faced with making.
Couples today are also faced with the anxiety of "FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out) and uncertainty due to the choice paradox: simply having so many partner choices in the palm of their hand (literally). This often leads to an ambivalent mindset of: how do I know they are "the ONE"?
Online dating and technology have changed the dating and relationship scene forever, for better or worse. It is not uncommon for young couples to question their relationship entirely when challenges or conflict arise with their partner.
Millennial couples today have many critical decisions to make. But these decisions don’t have to overwhelm a couple to the point of no return! There is a plethora of resources accessible for couples all over the world.
Think about the above decisions and where you stand on an individual and couple level. Share with your partner. It’s never too late to start having these conversations!
Are you and engaged couple? Check out a free copy of my premarital checklist: Ten Topics To Discuss Before You Tie The Knot!