“Nothing lasts forever – not even your troubles.”
– Arnold H. Glasow
I wrote here the other day suggesting that the continued increases in the number of cohabiting couple families and the rate of divorce could, in the near future, spell the end of marriage as the dominant family type in this country. Thinking on, I have since realised that those two facts could spell an even more fundamental change for families in the future.
Many people fear the increase in the cohabiting couple family type as they believe that it is less permanent than marriage, and that this will have dire consequences for society. Let us assume that they are correct, at least in the first proposition that it is less permanent. The other fact, the increase in divorce, obviously is all about marriage not being permanent.
Extrapolating those things into the future leads us to the conclusion that relationships in the future may be regarded as temporary, at least for a very large proportion of the population. Of course, this is already the reality for many people, who never find that ‘partner for life’. The difference may be that that will become the norm, rather than the exception.
So, what are the consequences of this?
Well, first we may need to do away with the expectation that we will all find that partner for life and, more importantly, with the idea that finding such a partner is the only route to happiness and fulfilment. These things are, consciously or unconsciously, grilled into our children. Many more of them are going to be sorely disappointed by reality, as their lives unfold. We may need to teach our children that relationships don’t have to be permanent, and that there are many other routes to happiness and fulfilment, other than finding a partner for life.
The next consequence, and the one that the supporters of marriage so fear, is that there is likely to be a substantial increase in the incidence of single parent families. Being raised by one parent (including shared arrangements of ‘one parent at a time’) is going to become the norm. Rather than try to fight this, we are simply going to have to get used to it, and do what we can to ensure that the welfare of all of those children is not going to suffer. We can start by removing that label ‘single parent family’, and with it the stigma that still attaches to it in some circles.
The third consequence of relationships being temporary is that many more will no longer be able to rely upon having a partner to support them into old age. We are already seeing this with the increase in the number of ‘silver splitters’ – couples who divorce near or past retirement age. This will obviously have serious implications for the care of the elderly, with other relations, or the state, having to take on more of the burden.
There will no doubt be other consequences of the increasingly temporary nature of relationships, but those are perhaps the most obvious.
Now, it may be that this alternate future for the family in this country may never come to pass. I’m not saying that it will. However, it would be quite wrong to think that the family in the future will be the same as the family is now. These things are in a constant state of change – family life in this country now is quite different from what it was just fifty years ago, for example. The above is surely a scenario that is possible, and one for which we should be prepared.
One last thing. Many readers may be appalled by the above scenario. However, I’m sure the same could be said for those supporters of traditional families fifty years ago, as they contemplated possible futures. Things may certainly be different, but I think it would be a mistake to equate ‘different’ with ‘worse’. Who knows, people may actually be happier when released from the shackles of traditional expectation. It’s all a question of coming to terms with the new reality, whatever that may be.