Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell reject traditional marriage. It's more common than you think.

Jenna Ryu
USA TODAY

"You never want to get married?!"

It's a loaded question stemming from the assumption that a lavish ceremony and piece of paper equate to a happy life. And consequently, those who don't want to get married are met with confusion and judgement. 

The reality is, many people are abandoning the institution of traditional marriage. Research has shown that marriage in the U.S. is steadily declining, and a 2019 report found that three in 10 people view it as unimportant. 

One high-profile example is Hollywood duo Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Nearly 40 years later, they're going strong without the institution of marriage.

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell first met while filming "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band" in 1966.

"For decades, people have been exploring less traditional forms of relationship style," says Antonia Hall, a psychologist, relationship expert and author of "The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life." "Societal views on cohabitation have become more favorable, and we are becoming more accustomed to varying familial paradigms. We are slowly understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all way of being in relationships."

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Why we judge those who don't want to get married

Though the pressure to get married often comes from well-intentioned friends and family, those who don't conform still face a social stigma.

This is because "generally, our society operates in fear when we can't fit people into clearly defined categories.

"So when they don't fit into a neat box, we resort to judging them," according to Weena Cullins, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist.

Traditional marriage has long been hailed as an ideal life structure that provides companionship, security and the best way to raise a family. However, experts say this isn't necessarily true.

Many people falsely assume that traditional marriages will ensure a happy, idealistic life. But psychologist Weena Cullins says healthy, long-lasting relationships look different for everyone.

Rather, many people hold a glamorized image of what marriage is supposed to look like. They assume marriage is effortless and easy, without understanding the reality of hardships that come along with it. 

"Marriage can be seen as a goal accomplished that no longer requires effort, which couldn't be further from the truth," Hall says. As a result, "it's all too common in long term relationships and marriages that couples stop trying and take each other for granted."

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The psychological freedom of not being 'tied down'

People choose not to get married for an array of reasons, ranging from financial constraints to fear of divorce. But for some, being legally bound to one person is constricting.

This was the case for Hawn, who once praised the independence that came with avoiding marriage. In 2016, she said, "I chose to stay (and) Kurt chose to stay. And we liked the choice… After all these years, you think, 'Why (would we)? It's not working? What is marriage gonna do?' " 

Hall agrees that contrary to popular belief, proposing and getting married isn't necessary for maintaining a loving relationship. In fact, it doesn't prove your love for your partner either. 

Experts say there are a number of reasons why people are opting out of traditional marriages in recent years.

"We all want to feel desired and appreciated, especially by our partners, so there's something very romantic about consciously choosing someone day after day, rather than just seeing one's relationship partner as a given," she says.

Cullins adds it can be "psychologically freeing when you're not married but still choose to stay together."

"It's because you know that person can make a choice to leave, and they don't. They actively choose to stay," she explains. "I applaud individuals who avoid the marriage matrix and avoid getting married too soon or for the wrong reasons. You can absolutely still be perfectly happy or in a healthy relationship without being married."

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What is open marriage? Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith refuse traditional marriage

Traditional marriages work for some, but successful, long-lasting relationships look different for everyone.

Take, for instance, Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, who have publicly talked about the success of their open marriage. In short, an open relationship is when a couple "remains in a relationship while granting each other the trust and space to evolve with others," Cullins says. However, all relationships are different and based on the needs and wants of all people involved. 

"More people are becoming curious and they're experimenting with open marriages and different types of romantic relationships … because they see more benefits to having an open relationship than they do with constricting, conventionally monogamous ones."

She adds that it can be liberating and thrilling for some couples who find monogamy "unnatural," and that an open relationship offers the benefits of both commitment and freedom.

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"What can be restricting about the institution of marriage is the pressure we come to place on our partner's shoulders to meet all of our needs. For example, it's assumed that all your sexual needs must be fulfilled by your spouse," Cullins says, adding that this burdensome responsibility can breed emotional strain in the relationship. 

Though opening up your marriage isn't for everyone, it can help some relationships grow stronger. Cullins says it requires a "high level of faith and effective communication" to allow your partner to explore their natural curiosities "while setting apart a special place for you at all times, no matter what other relationships come into play."

"Acknowledging desire or attraction for another person outside of the marriage with an open relationship doesn't necessarily stunt growth or kill the primary commitment that two people make with each other," she clarifies.

Regardless of whether you do or don't want a traditional marriage, it's important not to judge others' lifestyles, no matter how unconventional.

"There are many ways to be happy in life, and for many people marriage will never be a good fit," Hall says. "Being able to explore varying relationship styles has helped many people find love and fulfillment they never would have experienced in a marriage."

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