Can’t keep a long-term relationship? It could be a millennial issue

Can’t keep a long-term relationship? It could be a millennial issue

Can’t keep a long-term relationship? It could be a millennial issue

In prior decades, relationships were considered to be lasting. The overall societal view was that the romantic relationship would endure and that marriage was for life. Today, many individuals in their twenties and thirties present the therapy asking why they can’t keep a long-term relationship and why don’t relationships work?

It appears that having trouble in keeping a long-term relationship is a relatively modern phenomenon. Conflicts in relationships have always presented yet relationships have managed to be formed and have endured. For many couples, there are minimal problems keeping a long-term relationship but for others it seems that relationship failure is inevitable.

If you have a history with relationship failure and you can’t manage to keep a long-term relationship, it may be a product of when you were born.

The millennial relationship dilemma
According to the Pew Research Centre fewer Millennials (also known as Gen Y’s, 23 to 41 years) are in long-term, committed relationships than any other generation before them. Out of those surveyed, nearly four in 10 reported that they believed marriage is becoming obsolete. Many are choosing more casual relationships and some are choosing not to engage in a relationship at all, putting other things such as professional advancement and friends over an intimate partner.


Research findings show that in 1960, 59% of 18 to 29-year-olds were married and in 2011 only 20%. Currently 64% of 18 to 29-year-olds are neither married or living with a partner. The Gallup Poll data indicates that the increase in people identifying as single and never married exists across a broad range of subgroups, including by race, education, region and political party. The 2017 study reported that out of all 20-year-olds surveyed, 68% were in a relationship but only 16% were married and 32% living together.

What’s the reason?

Millennial’s are the children of baby boomers and earlier Gen X’s who saw the struggle of earlier generations and strive to give their children more than what they or their parents had. As a result, many things for Millennials have been easier than in previous generations.

Every generation has its challenges to navigate, including the era of the Millennial. This is the age of struggle to manage professional security and permanent work, and owning a home is proving to be more difficult than in previous decades.  However, Millennials have it over other generations in terms of life’s conveniences.  Uber Eats, Netflix (what’s a trip to the video store) fast food, frozen dinners, the internet, social media, takeaway coffee (shock, you used to make your own), and dating apps are only to name a few.

The impact on relationships

For many Millennials, struggle and inconvenience are relatively foreign concepts compared to some other generations. Break up with someone and in front of Netflix you can download a dating app and have a date by the weekend. Our personal relationship with the concept of ‘struggle’ is relative. If we have a low tolerance to struggle it’s likely to change the way we navigate relationships.

People with a high tolerance to struggle are more likely to stay in their relationship and continue to work on the issues. These people understand that relationships require hard work and they are willing to go the distance. Whilst this is a positive way to manage relationships, these people can also stay too long and will often present to therapy saying that they “should have gone years earlier”. None-the-less, when they do leave they can report that they exhausted all options and have given the relationship a good chance of surviving.

Conversely, those with a low tolerance to struggle, often leave relationships too early. They are unwilling to work through the problems and are unable to manage the emotional stress when the relationship becomes challenging. These are the people who have trouble in keeping a long-term relationship and go through life experiencing many relationship failures.

The secret to maintaining a positive relationship is to find the balance between knowing when it’s time to leave and having the fortitude to fight on when the relationship becomes difficult.

Written by Terri O’Reilly

June 2018

Relationships: Why don’t we get along anymore?


Further reading:

Chapman, G. (1995). The 5 love languages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Jay, M. PhD. (2012). The defining decade. Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Irby, S. (2017). We are never meeting in real life. Melbourne, VIC: Penguin Random House.

Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Walker, J. L. (2017). Do you know why so many relationships fail? Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse.

Fisher, B. (EdD) & Alberti, R. (PhD) (2017). Rebuilding: When your relationship ends. New York, NY: New Harbinger Publications.

Bancroft, L. & Patrissi, J. (2011). Should I stay or should I go? A guide to sorting our whether your relationship can and should be saved. Docklands, VIC: Penguin Putnam Inc.

Gottman, J. M. (2011). The science of trust: Emotional attunement for couples. New York, NY: WW Norton & Co.

Pankhurst, C. (2016). Insights to intimacy: Why relationships fail & how to make them work. UK: Christian Pankhurst.

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