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Young People in US Expanding Boundaries of Traditional Marriage

These days, in the United States, wedding ceremonies range from the traditional to the exotic. But it is not only in the ceremonies that there is greater variety. When and how young people choose to get married and whom they choose as their partners is changing, as well.

On any Saturday or Sunday, men and women across the United States sign marriage licenses and exchange vows of love and commitment to each other. Those are generally the basic elements of any marriage. But how and where couples exchange vows is open to interpretation, whether it is under water, dropping out of airplanes, or in a sports stadium.

When it came to planning their recent wedding, Nick Bundy and Maritza Maxwell were looking for something different. And they settled on exchanging vows aboard a boat near the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, with no friends or family present.

"It all sort of happened at the same time. We both knew we did not want the traditional church wedding, where you walk down the aisle and have 100 people staring at you. That made us both sort of uncomfortable," Maritza said. "So, we just decided all at the same time, we wanted to do something different."

And, it is not just the ceremonies that have changed. So has the way people choose to make a commitment to each other, which may not involve marriage. And, says, family counselor Sandy Malawer, so has the definition of 'couple.'

"Really, in the last 20 years of practice, I have seen different trends, and that includes some couples living together and not making it legal, gay couples, and couples - it used to be where the man was traditionally two years or so older than the woman, now I see women who are many years older than men," she explained. "You have to be open to difference. The world is not what it used to be."

Malawer says another change is timing, as more people stay single into their 30's.

"I would say that, generally, the young people today are waiting. I think, the high divorce rate of their parents is influencing the decision to either not marry, or marry much later," she noted.

That is partly true for Christine Dzieciolowski. She says her parents' divorce made her think hard before deciding to marry her boyfriend of four years, Brian Coffey. The ceremony is planned for June.

"I think, for me, I am not the person that wanted to get married right out of college, anyway. I would have preferred to kind of know myself more, because I changed so much in college, I changed so much after college, and, for me, it is really important to kind of know yourself before you have to get involved with knowing someone else. While it was not in my plan, like [thinking] 'I want to get married when I am 28 years old,' but I think that, for me, it is pretty natural that it happened this way," said Dzieciolowski.

While few expect a marriage to be perfect, many young couples are taking steps to relieve some of their concerns. For some, that means living together before marriage, and for others it means seeking counseling with their future spouse.

Fayola Wolfe is studying counseling to help couples before, or after their marriage.

"I believe everybody should receive pre-marital counseling. You have to be educated on these things. I think, it will cut down on divorce rates, if people that want to get married receive pre-marital counseling. They would, hopefully, learn how to communicate, how to resolve conflict, how not to have false expectations of the other," said Wolfe.

Sandy Malawer, the family counselor, says she is seeing more couples before they get married.

"It does not have to mean that you are deeply troubled, or you have deep psychological problems. It could just mean you need an objective third party, who can listen and give you some feedback," she added.

No matter where a marriage begins, young people hope the ending is a long way down the road. Their promises of love and understanding are something that really has not changed for generations.