The pressure to conform to social norms and expectations can often be overwhelming.

But more of us are contemplating new possibilities, with attitudes changing towards marriage, family and traditional expectations of what relationships look like.

People are being empowered to choose the best path in life for them – what they want to do rather than what they are told to do – not just defaulting to conventional cultural and social concepts.

nuclear family

The nuclear family – a family group consisting of married parents and their children (one or more), typically living in one home residence – will continue to be at the core of most communities.

But even so, more individuals are choosing to design their lives outwith this construct, opting for a life which they feel is the happiest and healthiest option for them – listening to their own needs, wants, values and desires and embracing their authentic selves.

The relationship value hierarchy, which is the idea that certain relationships should be prioritised or valued more than others, is being disrupted in a number of ways.


For the first time ever fewer than half of all adults in England and Wales are married or in a civil partnership (49.4%), the Office for National Statistics has recently revealed.

This decline is playing out in many Western countries. We effectively have an aging marriage and civil partner population, with the age at which people marry steadily rising.

The younger generation in particular are less enthusiastic about the concept of marriage than in previous times and are prioritising plutonic relationships over romantic ones.

A monogamous relationship between two people sits at the top of the relationship value hierarchy. But polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships – where broadly more than two people are consensually involved romantically and/or sexually with each other, are on the increase and challenging the normative boundaries of what it means to be in a relationship.

relationships attachment

One in five people surveyed recently in the US and Canada have experience with non-monogamy and last year Pew Research reported that 51 per cent of adults aged under 30 in the States believed that open marriage was ‘acceptable.’

A recent study in the UK has found that 11 per cent of women and a third of heterosexual men were open to having more than one spouse or long-term partner.

The rise in solo living challenges the traditional idea of what it means to be in a long term relationship, with more couples becoming part of The Living Apart Together (LAT) movement – choosing to live separately and viewing this as a very healthy aspect of their relationship.

Friendships and attachment

Living alone is no longer viewed as a precursor to loneliness with single-occupied homes in the UK hitting 8.3 million in 2022, which represents around 30 per cent of all households. The percentage is similar Stateside and has doubled in the past 50 years. In some Scandinavian countries single-occupied households occupy nearly half of all homes.

Solo living for many single people isn’t a temporary stop towards a destination of co-habiting or being in a romantic relationship.

In the USA nearly 50 per cent of adults (over-18) are single and half of them are not looking to be in a relationship.

For many it’s a lifestyle choice and this growing demographic, both across the Atlantic and in Britain, is often very active in the community and cherish close friendships.

We all know about the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day but the biggest shopping event in China is now Singles Day on 11/11/11 with brands catching on to the growing market of single people.


As an attachment-informed therapist, it’s important for me to recognize, respect and understand these changing social attitudes and demographics.

The application of attachment theory to practice can often be through the lens of traditional concepts about relationships, marriage, and family – failing to see past a couples-centric society, the idea of co-habiting and the nuclear family.

But this starting position can be harmful for individuals as society reshapes the way we live, who we live with and what it means to be in a relationship, or not.

I learn more as a therapist through being in a room with my clients than I will ever do from reading a counselling textbook, and the diversity of relationship and lifestyle choices individuals are bringing into my therapeutic space is something I embrace.

The job of all good therapists is the help people craft their own story, whatever the cultural narrative or messaging. And as society evolves, how I work and think as a therapist will evolve with it.

Further reading

It’s love and commitment that makes a relationship, not a shared space.

The rise of living alone: how one-person households are becoming increasingly common around the world.

Non-monogamous relationships seem to be on the rise. Is that surprising?

Why So Many Single People Are Flourishing.

Proportion of married people in England and Wales falls below 50% for first time.

Gen Z are prioritising mates over dates.

Are Gen Z more pragmatic about love and sex?

Single 101 – An introduction to the Solo Movement.

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