To Marry or Not to Marry
by Phil Costello
To marry or not to marry? For many, that is the question. Are there pros and cons? Does it just all come down to who the individuals in a relationship are, their personalities and values and opinions? Does marrying even matter anymore, has it become outdated, if not actually obsolete?
Well, here’s a statistic that quite surprised me: there are 2500 marriages in the greater Wellington area every year and nearly 20,000 across the country. Petty big numbers, I thought. It’s safe to say, then, that lots and lots of people continue to find more reasons to marry than remaining in a de facto relationship. But what are these reasons and do they produce any real benefits or advantages?
Thankfully, we’re well past the idea that two people in a relationship are morally, culturally and socially expected to get married. We’re now free to choose who we live with, what their religion may or may not be, how long the relationship lasts and what legal status it will have. As well as that, the bigotries associated with a marriage ending appear to have almost completely evaporated.
I know someone who divorced in the 1970s and copped the sharp end of these prejudices, with bank managers (back in the days when you could talk to one) refusing her a mortgage because she was a female divorcee. She also got the cold shoulder from her church, and a general tone of disapproval, if not actual blame, from people she knew.
Marriage is a Choice
So, now, we’re free to choose, yet the lure of matrimony remains potent. Someone once offered the idea to me that there is an inherent risk in being too rationalist in our lives, that we are still very much emotional beings and to ignore this fact risks a lingering emptiness and discontent. He was talking about our transition away from a being a religious society to a secular, science based one.
It has occurred to me, though, that perhaps the same could be said of relationships. Ignoring a tradition that has existed for so long in so many cultures, one that formally and publically unites two people in a loving relationship, also ignores the very real and valid emotional drivers that gave rise to this custom in the first place.
Does Marriage Still Mean the Same Thing it Did Before?
Being married is a declaration of intent that is fundamentally emotional in nature: ‘I want to be with you and no other, forever’. It is entirely possible, of course, to make this statement in a de facto relationship, but it’s not a built-in requirement. In marriage it is, and we have a name for it: a wedding.
The benefit of making this declaration is self-evident. The old management adage springs to mind, ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’. Declaring your love and commitment on your wedding day is a summary of your plan and ambition to stay true to the mission statement of being together forever. It’s a business plan, of sorts, and all relationships of any kind - commercial, platonic, intimate – can only benefit from both parties stating unambiguously that they share the same ambitions, that they are on the same page.
Marriage and Emotions
There are emotional considerations as well. Very few would claim to have never felt insecure at some time in their lives. We’re never at our best when beset by that all too human condition with its associated self-doubts. Marriage in this respect helps substantially if our aspiration is to create a secure emotional environment for ourselves.
It’s not a panacea for insecurities, of course. I’ve known some people in a headlong rush to get married, almost to anyone, didn’t matter, as long as they were married. Not surprisingly, the insecurities that compelled them were still very much alive once married… and once divorced.
The benefit here is, instead of a deep unworded yearning, marriage provides both the stimulus for acknowledging this desire and then an environment for it to become realised. The open declaration of your commitment to one another through the wedding tradition works to allay nagging doubts and assuage insecurities. It is, though, the beginning of this process, not the end.
Marriage and Unromantic Realities
I also remember one wedding where the groom, in his speech, described his wife and himself as being ‘good partners in life’. The phrase puzzled me at the time because it just seemed a bit matter-of-fact - where was the emotion?
But the reality is that it’s not just advisable to think about the practical components of compatibility with another, it’s necessary. You might ask:
Do you both tend to make good financial decisions together?
What are your professional aspirations, and are they aligned?
Where do you see yourselves geographically and financially in ten years?
This is what the groom meant by ‘partners’; that they shared the same outlook in these areas… and, of course, they were both in love.
Marriage and the planning of a wedding unavoidably raise many important questions like these, as well as, ‘who are we as a couple, what do we want, where are we headed and how are we going to get there?’ It is this very essence of marriage - a future together forever - that engages us in a discussion which might not have occurred otherwise.
If it sounds like a means to an end or a fringe benefit, it might just be. But if the net result is an improved chance of success, then surely the end must justify the means.
Marriage, Grit, and Having a Support Network
Finally, no relationship is a walk in the park. Fortunately, we can bring to bear our empathy, compassion, selflessness, great communication and listening skills and our reading of the billion or so ‘How to Have a Successful Relationship’ blogs out there (whoops, fell into that one) to get us through…well, that’s the ideal.
Back in the real world, we need all the help we can get and marriage and weddings provide this assistance.
At a time when things aren’t going well - you’ve tried everything and a separation is being considered - it’s my view that the idea of a traumatic divorce might just offer enough incentive to stop and consider the situation again. In and of itself, it’s not going to resuscitate a lifeless relationship but it just might offer one more reason to ‘give it go’. It reminds me of the unending pain when I cycled up the Takaka Hill in Golden Bay - a million twists and turns, suddenly a plateau, the relief, only to discover it wasn’t the peak and there was more pain to come. I don’t think of the pain any more, only the sense that I succeeded and thankfully didn’t give up when it got tough.
Additionally, weddings - or equivalent rituals - offer an opportunity to include something important that I wouldn’t think are typically part of a de facto relationship.
As a celebrant, I suggest to couples I’m marrying that we include ‘Guest Vows’ in their ceremony. Quite simply, this is me asking all their gathered friends and family if they will continue with their love and support of the bride and groom, offer counsel when asked and always be there for the couple.
The response is always an enthusiastic chorus of, ‘we will’ and thus another resource has been created - or, at least acknowledged - to assist the couple on their journey into and through marriage.
I don’t mean to be dismissive of de facto relationships - clearly they bring much happiness to many. And I don’t mean to set marriage up as an exclusive club full of bliss and harmony.
I do believe, however, that weddings and marriages are a very human experience, created out of a deep desire to be with someone forever. With the relative ease with which we can create and end relationships these days, achieving that goal has become harder.
Weddings offer unique opportunities for a couple to create benefits that flow through positively into their marriage. If you love someone and want to be with them forever, I can think of no better way to put these feeling into words and actions than the timeless tradition of celebrating your union with those you are closest to in this world: your friends and family.