More and more unmarried couples are seeking counselling before making any lifelong plans with their partners, new research indicates.
A study by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, found approximately 8.1 percent of households consist of unmarried heterosexual partners, and the number increased tenfold between 1960 and 2000.
In the past, couples married before quarrels developed, but now some younger couples try to sort through their issues of compatibility for years before they take the final decision.
Philadelphia psychologist Dr. Michael Broder has worked with couples for more than 35 years, and sees therapy as an increasingly common and acceptable option for those in their late 20s and early 30s.
"I'm seeing more younger, unmarried couples than ever. I didn't used to, but in the last 10 to 15 years, it's really been increasing," Newsweek magazine quoted him as saying.
Broder estimates that today one third of his couples are unmarried, and of these, some never intend to marry.
He sees couples coming to therapy to re-evaluate whether a stagnating relationship is one they should continue, after the initial passion, the love struck honeymoon period of the early months, has worn off.
In the case of unmarried couples in long-term relationships, therapy serves as it has done traditionally, as the tipping point for bringing ambivalent partners closer together or to ease them more comfortably apart.
Couples often repeat the phrase "good-faith effort", or something similar, along with the notion of giving the relationship "one last try."
"The problem is, the patterns that you develop ultimately are based on, 'Well, heck, if it doesn't work out, we're not married,'" Julie Nise, a relationship trainer and therapist based near Houston, said.
"So you do not put in the same effort. Essentially, this is what I tell my dating couples: if he's not good enough to be married to, then you don't need to be living with him. Because all you're doing is burning daylight," she stated.
Anne Ziff, a marriage and family therapist, who has been in practice since the late 1980s, and works in Westport, Conn., and New York City, said she has seen couples who are entirely committed but not married.
When unmarried couples consult Ziff, she does not view them as any less serious than couples a generation or so earlier, who were quicker to marry and less likely to cohabit or date for long periods of time without marrying.
Once in a while, Ziff says, she learns in private consultation with one member of a couple that the person would rather call it quits, but doesn't really know how.
"What I have to say is: 'Are we the only two people who know that?'" she added.