Individualism, Independence, and Marriage

It is no secret that traditional marriage and family values have taken a huge hit in our culture over the past few decades. And, the future does not look much brighter. It has been reported that less than half of teenagers and young adults now believe that choosing marriage over remaining single or cohabitating (living together) leads to fuller happier lives. Premarital sex, cohabitation, and choosing to bear children outside of marriage are accepted options by many today. Never mind the fact that social research has repeatedly demonstrated the problematic consequences of these practices. How did our collective view of marriage change so dramatically?

Perhaps the tragedy of this considerable shift in attitude regarding traditional marriage is not the problem in and of itself. Rather, maybe these attitudes are the result of other related cultural dynamics. In particular, two characteristics have sculpted views toward marriage and the resulting choices and practices: individualism and independence.

Individualism is lauded as a great American virtue. Our culture glorifies the individual and vilifies anything else that appears to get in the way. It’s all about “me”. Parents, spouses, children, friends, and community all take a back seat to the ambitions of the individual. Personal happiness, personal success, personal growth, and so forth are often seen as the main objective of our existence.

Individualism and independence go hand in hand. Because relationships with others are trumped by personal priorities and goals, many feel a need to “break free” from what they envision as confining forces. Any influence that appears to detract from personal happiness or success is treated as a threat.  People today routinely distance themselves from the values of their parents, the teachings of their religious group, the responsibilities to a family, and so forth in order to satisfy their own desires.

There was a time when the ideas of individualism and independence contained some honorable qualities. But, over time these concepts, as practiced by the majority, have morphed into an incredibly devastating force. In a word, selfishness has become the order of the day. And it is destroying us on every level: personal, marital, familial, and communal.
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