More and more people are cohabitating rather than getting married. In the U.S. traditional marriage is at an all-time low. Yet these cohabitating couples use traditional marriage terms. There is a new meaning for the words “husband” and “wife,” meaning the couple is committed and monogamous but they aren’t married on paper. 46% of U.S. households in 2012 were unmarried, about 56 million households. That’s quite a shocking number. Well educated, well-to-do Caucasians are still marrying. But it seems most of the folks in the other categories are hobbling out a relationship or a family sans marriage. In 2012 households of single individuals living with at least one child was 40%. USA Today called this the new normal. And due to the Great Recession, many Americans couldn’t afford a wedding even if they wanted one. Weddings in some parts of the country are so expensive they get into the tens of thousands of dollars. When people are unemployed or underemployed, even if they wanted to get married, they have to put the big to-do wedding on the back burner to pay for the essentials like food, rent, gas and utilities.
So this elicits the question, does marriage truly validate a couple, or does the couple validate themselves for the faith and commitment they bestow on one another? Many younger couples would certainly say that their personal commitment to each other is what really counts. A piece of paper or a big party doesn’t very well mean that a couple has lasting power. That’s up to them. But due to the traditions and expectations of the older generation, younger couples are calling each other “husband” and “wife” not just to be funny or display how they feel about one another, but to put older relatives at ease. People start asking questions and feeling awkward at family parties when they don’t know the couple’s exact situation, particularly if children are involved. Those whose families are from certain religious backgrounds can find cohabitation, especially with children involved, particularly disillusioning and disappointing. So to calm expectations and keep up appearances couples are using these titles. Some couples too find boyfriend and girlfriend doesn’t convey how they actually feel about one another. But husband and wife does. Marriage and family planning has changed significantly due to social, economic and political forces with no abatement. This new generation will redefine these for themselves and future generations to come. For advice on this topic, read Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller.