TRACEY COX reveals 10 reasons why marriage is harder now than it was 10 years ago

British expert Tracey Cox reveals the reasons why marriage is harderREAD MORE: Should you lie about your sexual past? TRACEY COX reveals why it sometimes pays to keep quiet 

Is your relationship feeling the strain?

You’re not imagining it: marriage IS tougher than it was ten years ago.

The average couple faces a multitude of challenges that were different – or less pronounced – a decade ago.

Economic instability, changing social norms, digital distractions and increased mental health issues are just some of the issues affecting modern marriages.

Here’s ten reasons, backed by research and statistics, why relationships are harder today.

Tracey said working from home together can have a negative impact on communication and can mean we spend too much time together (Stock Image)

Tracey said working from home together can have a negative impact on communication and can mean we spend too much time together (Stock Image)

We’re anxious about the world

Who wouldn’t be?

The Israel/Palestine debate rages with angry protests and heart-breaking images flooding our screens. A third world war seems increasingly likely, AI threatens to take over our lives and crime and homelessness are at a highly visible all-time high.

Horrible things have always happened. But we didn’t hear about them all – let alone immediately. Having 24/7 access to the news leaves us informed but a little too informed. If we avoid directly checking on what grim things have happened in the world today, a phone alert pings to remind us.

The consequence is that mental health issues – especially anxiety and depression – are more prevalent. The incidence of mental illness has increased 13 per cent over the last decade and it’s having significant impact on our personal happiness and the state of our relationships.

Money worries are on the rise

Arguments over money spending styles have always been a top reason why people divorce: financial stress is a significant predictor of marital dissatisfaction.

Add a cost-of-living crisis to the mix and you have even greater financial strain on the average marriage.

A 2023 report by The Federal Reserve found many households are struggling with stagnant wages and soaring costs of living. There’s less job security, stress levels are higher and leisure time is lower: hardly a recipe for a happy relationship.

British relationship and sex expert Tracey Cox, pictured, revealed one of the reasons we're struggling is because we're anxious all the time

British relationship and sex expert Tracey Cox, pictured, revealed one of the reasons we're struggling is because we're anxious all the time

We’re working differently and from home

Technology makes everyone contactable 24/7. The lines of work and play have blurred and plenty of employers expect us to be contactable outside of ‘work hours’.

Most of us don’t work nine-to-five anyway. If you’re working from your living room, you can afford to be more flexible with the hours you choose. But it also means there’s no official ‘time for us to play’ cut off time.

Plenty of couples loved working side by side at the kitchen table during Covid. (Just think! We can have sex whenever we want!) Until they realised there is such a thing as too much time together (who wants sex when it’s on tap 24/7?).

You need separation and time apart to keep your relationship fresh: if you do everything together, what do you have to talk about?

There’s more to distract us

Technology has been luring us away from spending time and having sex with our partners for a while now.

Streaming became the norm in households in the UK and the US around 2018. But fierce competition between an increasing variety of providers, creation of compelling original content and high-speed internet has made binging on on-demand viewing irresistible.

Smart phones were a staple in most people’s lives around 2014 but their usage was limited. Today, we use them for fitness, banking, buying, selling…and, crucially, amusement. Is it any wonder they are always in our hands, stopping us engaging with our partners?

Sixty-eight per cent of us said social media has negatively impacted our relationships, said Tracey (Stock Image)

Sixty-eight per cent of us said social media has negatively impacted our relationships, said Tracey (Stock Image)

Social media is poisoning our lives

Social media had well and truly hijacked our lives by 2011 and it has altered how couples interact.

Today, sixty-eight percent of people say social media has impacted their relationship – and not in a good way. A US study found excessive social media use was a significant factor in marital dissatisfaction for 45 per cent of people.

Why is it so toxic for relationships? The comparison factor is one reason. Everyone looks better and richer and happier than you do. Their partners are more buff, leaner, cleverer and more connected than yours.

Our intelligent brain knows all of this is fantasy – no-one posts mid-rage or when depressed – but it still leaves us feeling unsatisfied and more critical of our partners.

Infidelity and trust issues are at a high

Social media doesn’t just feed us a constant stream of idealised portrayals of other people’s partners and relationships, it provides great opportunities to reconnect with past lovers – or to find a new one (the person whose photo you just liked).

Twenty-four per cent of Facebook users say the platform has caused relationship issues – fuelling jealousy and suspicion - and made them feel dissatisfied with their lot.

Eighty-one percent of divorce lawyers say they’re seen an increase in cases involving social media evidence over the last five years.

Our communication skills are getting worse

Because we’re spending less time talking and listening to each other, our communication skills are suffering.

We engage with our gadgets, not each other and face-to-face interactions have plummeted.

Often when we do speak, we’re talking but still scrolling. If you’re looking down and not up into your partner’s face, you lose the ability to read their body language. You miss a narrowing of the yes, a brief furrow of the brow, a hurt expression in their eyes which alert you to a potential problem.

Misunderstandings are more likely to happen if your attention is only half on what your partner is trying to communicate to you.

We have higher expectations of relationships

We’re getting married later in life: the median age for first marriage is now 30 for men and 28 for women. This means we’re more established in our individual lifestyles, which can make it more challenging to merge.

The ‘Happy Ever After’ myth – that we marry young and stay together until we die – has been replaced by the equally as unhelpful ‘Perfect Marriage’ myth.

We want what we (think) we see on our socials: a relationship that’s always fun and loving and never unsatisfying and hard work.

Few (if any) marriages are like that but they’re out there, right? There’s evidence on Instagram! Disillusioned, many leave before the first year is even over: the high of the wedding wears off and they didn’t expect the low that inevitably follows.

There is also a growing emphasis on individual fulfilment and personal growth. We’re more ‘me’ than ‘we’ in this age of individualism, prioritising personal goals over marital harmony.

We have less support systems

It’s an established fact that your relationship has a much higher chance of succeeding if your friends and family approve.

But what if they aren’t nearby to offer support and advice when we need it? More and more families are living geometrically dispersed, leaving couples feeling isolated in their struggles.

In the old days, your Mum lived two streets away - a vent over a cup of tea solves more problems than you think. Ask any couple with kids: having grandparents or family willing to babysit helps immeasurably with parenting. Which has also got harder…

Parenting pressures are greater than ever

Raising children in today’s competitive and demanding environment adds intense pressure to marriages. There’s a plethora of books, podcasts and social media accounts telling parents how to raise their children.

Classroom numbers are stretched, teachers are under pressure and jobs are scarce. Even eight-year-olds know it’s ‘hard out there’; exam anxiety is more intense than it’s ever been. All of this puts a strain on the parent – which in turns stresses the parent’s relationship.

Social media, the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t helping here either. No-one shows pictures of their child having a tantrum with the parent ripping their hair out in frustration. It’s all birthday cakes and happy families, expensive picture-perfect parties and glam ‘goodie bags’ (reinventing the term competitive).

Years five to seven in a marriage are known as the ‘exhaustion years’ because this is when most couples raise children. It’s a rare couple where both parents don’t work and there’s little fuel left in the tank for each other at the end of the day.

So, there you have it: life is harder than it used to be. Realising it’s not ‘just you’ is reassuring. Recognising there are new challenges is the first step to creating a resilient relationship that can survive them.

Listen to Tracey’s podcast every Wednesday: details on traceycox.com. Her latest book, ‘Great Sex starts at 50’ is available at all booksellers.

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