Marriage isn’t the problem, the people in it are.

Anthropologists calculate the institution of marriage, or something you and I would recognize as such, to date back almost 5000 years. The earliest known marriage certificate, in this case a marriage contract, involving one woman and one man occurred in 2350 BC in Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq. Over the ensuing centuries marriage evolved, influenced through culture and religion, to become what you and I know it as today. Matrimony’s inclusion early on among the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church speaks to it’s historic significance, and there’s no denying that marriage between a man and woman is a cornerstone of human civilization.

Yet with five millennia of historic precedent lending credit to the idea of life long marriage between two people, why is the noise regarding its necessity and predictions of its future demise louder than ever before? Is there any remaining rationale for marriage or are we simply kidding ourselves? Has marriage finally met its end?

In my last post on sexless marriages a commenter responded:

“This article reaffirms my opinions on marriage. WHY do people get married? If you’re not religious, what the %^$* is the point?”

Unfortunately many share this same pessimistic view of wedlock. It’s as if getting married is like someone trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, like we are being asked to become something we’re not. We’ve gotten to the point we now ask, biologically speaking, if humans are even capable to being monogamous to one person for life. The naysayers cite high divorce rates, unhappy marriages, and cohabitation in lieu of matrimony as evidence enough that marriage is circling the drain. While paying little attention to the fact (depending on your age) that our parent’s, grandparents’, and great grandparent’s generations were incredibly successful at it.

So what is the immediate response? Like everything we simply question the institution itself. “Does marriage work anymore?”,  “Is it necessary to marry?” , “Why bother?”, “What’s the point?” We act as if what has worked for fifty centuries has, in the last week, suddenly ran its course and now it’s time for a change!  There’s even a new term in the national lexicon which attempts to answer, if not reinvent, how humans relate to monogamy. Now, instead of simply being monogamous we are ‘serial monogamists’ or when an individual is loyal to one mate for a given amount of time, then moves on to the next. This conveniently  keeps humans atop the evolutionary tree above an amoeba and spider monkey and we finally have a scientific answer for why we want to sleep around.

•♦•

I couldn’t seem to get the comment out of my head as I began to seriously contemplate this idea of ‘’till death do us part”.   Is marriage now a waste of time? Are we indeed trying to get blood from the proverbial turnip? Has marriage become overrated? Is the current divorce rate and seemingly endless tales of adultery, unhappiness, and lack of fulfillment in its confines an indication that lifelong monogamy has become a practice in futility?

The more I thought about her response the more I became convinced that the institution of marriage by itself has been and remains completely flawless. Believing anything otherwise would be like saying the wheel is suddenly a bad idea. The hope that one man and one woman can create, nurture, and sustain a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bond for life is a desire etched into our very DNA. Even within the most adamant marriage opponent resides a longing for a commitment with one person, whether they choose to admit it or not. Even if they’re convinced the basis for marriage is flawed they still yearn for the opportunity to connect intimately with one person, to allow guards to fall completely and just ‘be’ with someone who knows their inner workings better than anyone else. And regardless of how independent they may be, no one wishes to die alone.

One needs to look no further for proof of this than the number of divorcee’s who remarry. If there were anyone with legitimate reason to question marriage it would be the person who has already tried and failed. However the numbers say otherwise.  Yet if marriage were the problem why would any of them ever consider trying again? Even looking through the lens of their own marriage catastrophes they still hold out hope for something better. It remains a risk well worth the reward.

•♦•

Within the precepts of marriage lies the very foundation of our humanity – the family.  If you were to take that stitch away the entire fabric of civilization unravels. Any divorcee, especially those with children, will admit that regardless of how miserable and malcontent their former marriage was, even in the worst cases of physical, mental, or verbal abuse there remains a deep desire to regain what marriage represents. I’m fully convinced that humans are not only capable of  – we are designed for –  life long commitment to one person.

Marriage isn’t the problem; the people in the marriage are the problem.

America has the highest divorce rate of any country on the globe at almost four times the world average. Our Canadian neighbors are only two times more apt while our Latino friends to the south are four times less likely.  So let me ask, if the institution of marriage is the core of the problem wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would all share similar divorce rates? I mean no matter if you are from the US, Russia, Japan, or the Island country of Nauru aren’t we all the same sharing similar dreams, ambitions, and desires – isn’t that what the song says?

No marriage isn’t the problem we are the problem because of the expectations we have placed upon it. We’ve unknowingly molded marriage into something it wasn’t designed to become. To it we’ve attached our identity, self-worth, accomplishments, and most importantly the basis for complete happiness. We’ve come to believe that marriage should eliminate all of our problems, that getting married will keep him from sleeping around, and will cause her to stop abusing drugs. Marriage will complete us and make everything better, or so we believe. But what or who could ever live up to those expectations? What we have placed on marriage, and by association the other person, are requirements that we could never meet ourselves.

And therein lies the problem with marriage, those beautifully flawed people who enter into matrimony along with all of their issues, baggage, narcissistic tendencies, and insecurity. Yet because we are suddenly married we have the false belief that all of the bad habits should go away without ever having to perform any of the heavy lifting ourselves. And when it doesn’t happen and our past rears its ugly head humans get this nasty habit I like to call ‘avoidance’.  We like to avoid real problems by laying blame at the feet of something or someone else. It’s so much easier to talk about our friends’ train wreck of a life than to look in the mirror at our own. It’s more fun for me to point out that speck of dust in my spouse’s eye than work on the branch in mine. And instead looking to the people involved for why the marriage didn’t work we would rather criticize marriage itself so we don’t get a splinter. Does my ex-wife deciding to cheat on me make marriage, by itself, a bad idea? Don’t I, more than most, have every right to paint marriage as the ultimate culprit, putting blame on it for why she had an affair and in so doing concluding it a pointless endeavor? Of course not, that’d be like saying because my truck broke down automobiles in general are useless and everyone should walk.

•♦•

My children are in the unenviable position of being the first in my family raised in a broken home. I immediately recognize how their life is so drastically different from that of their cousins whose parents are still married. Their childhood experience of family will never be like mine. But I’m certain that when my daughter dreams about her future it will not include serial dating, child support, visitation, or separation agreements. No, she will be dreaming of a white knight riding in on his magnificent stallion, sweeping her off her feet and riding her into the sunset where they will live happily ever after. And she’ll do so because something inside tells her that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

 

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16 responses to Marriage isn’t the problem, the people in it are.

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I had the same situation with my ex and I still long for that commitment to one person. I envy people in good marriages. I have no bitter feelings about marriage either.

    I understood that you needed to roll your sleeves up every day and work at it. Unfortunately, I was alone in that notion. lol That said… That doesn’t mean that the institution is faulty. It’s (like you said) the people in it.

    I can only hope that my daughter dreams of a knight in shining armor and not some one with “health benefits” or a great “credit rating.” I think we as divorced parents hold an extra responsibility to point out how and why good marriages work.

    Great post as always!

  2. I don’t think you mean this to sound like the white knight would be riding her off into the sunset “…sweeping her off her feet and riding her into the sunset where they will live happily ever after.”

    The prince charming story is not realistic. The truth is, things don’t always work out like a Disney story–in fact they rarely work out like a Disney story. Reality is that we need to learn to be happy with ourselves before jumping into a marriage that society says needs to occur by 25. It worked for our grandparents to marry at 13 because divorce wasn’t an option unless you wanted to be banned from the church and sent to hell for all eternity, and set out on the street with 15 kids, no job and no income. Surely you know people who have lived and died hating the person they married but couldn’t deal with the repercussions of divorce. That’s why no one divorced. Not because the marriages or relationships worked better.

    On the other hand, I agree with you in that now we’re at the other total extreme and just jump ship over anything. There may be a happy medium but instead people are realizing that the institution of marriage is not a requirement for a healthy and happy relationship and are just deciding against it.

  3. Papa – Author

    Are you going to be the one to tell your daughter not to dream of knights and white horses? Of course not. Life has a way of setting us straight and I’m going to let her dream that dream until otherwise.

    As far as our grandparents are concerned. Who knows how their relationships worked. The proof is in the pudding, as far as I see it. Better marriages are relative to the individuals involved.

  4. T

    Interesting theory and interesting points. I just can’t think of any situation in which we don’t have expectations. There definitely needs to be some communication around those because I don’t see that changing.

    I do think we all long to be a part of a committed relationship. I just think that putting that on a “committment” like marriage isn’t the answer. I believe it’s much more spiritual than that.

  5. I agree with Christina about marriages way back then. My grandma told me, long after my grandpa passed, that he cheated on her with several different women and fathered children with some of those women. She told me that several of her friends husbands had also cheated on them and that that was the norm back then. But, back then you just didn’t leave. You stayed by your man no matter what because if you left, you had nothing. Most women didn’t work, they stayed home and raised the kids. They didn’t have their own money or have any work experience. She also told me that she’d be frowned upon in her Catholic church if she left. Times were just a lot different back then then they are now with respect to marriage.

    I agree with you about the expectations we’ve placed on marriage. I had these expectations and therefore married the wrong person the first time. A person whose flaws I thought would change when we married. Boy was I wrong. Though I’m happy I went through that first marriage because without it, I wouldn’t have learned as much about myself, what I want out of a life partner, and what I expect out of a marriage. I’m also thankful that it didn’t ruin the whole concept of marriage for me.

    Where do you think these expectations come from? Movies? Media? Do you think it’s contradictory to say we have these expectations and then hope that your daughter dreams of the knight on the white horse?

  6. My parents were married for 66 years and in love for 73. Marriage can work. It takes a lot of luck though. It’s an “ideal” and ideals are great to hope for, work for, wish for, and teach our kids. Not every kid will play professional sports but why shouldn’t they strive for it if that is their wish? Same for kids/peeps that want to make a career of music. The odds in sports and music are much higher than the failure rate of marriage. I’d say a 50% success rate for marriage is DARN GOOD. Heck a 350% batting average is a baseball STAR!

  7. I think it’s funny that while we all discuss (and by “we all” I mean all of us a culture) and debate whether the institution of marriage is dead, the bridal industry is showing no signs of slowing down. Meaning, no matter what, we still believe in marriage.

    I think the reason marriage fails so much in our country is two fold. First, most go into marriage blindly, without examining what they want from a partner and whether he or she is the right person to provide that. Second, I absolutely agree with you on the expectations part. It’s not that we should not place expectations on our spouse. It’s that we expect the relationship to always feel good. And it won’t. No relationship always feels good.

    I think that is where marriage in our country fails. When the relationship feels bad we run away, instead of wondering why it feels bad and what about us is being triggered and needs to be healed, so that the relationship can feel good again.

  8. Papa – Author

    Rinatta, your point is taken about ‘feeling’. We are all about feelings, whenever something doesn’t feel right, as you said, we want to run away.

  9. Charismaga

    This post, like so many others, was very thought-provoking for me. It never occurred to me that we are wired as human beings to want to be with another partner for life, but reading your post, it is so clear that it is true. It’s almost like a biological necessity of ours. I have really come away from this post with a lot to think about. Thank you so much.

  10. “Even within the most adamant marriage opponent resides a longing for a commitment with one person, whether they choose to admit it or not.”

    I had to laugh at this. As a marriage opponent I can honestly say I have no desired to get married and chain myself to one person for the rest of my life. Why would I? I like myself, my freedom, sexual variety, and don’t need to use another person as a crutch. If a woman wants to be with me then she’ll respect my lifestyle choices and stay around. If she doesn’t she won’t. None of that requires me to sign a binding legal contract that: represents a huge financial liability to me, and will be adjudicated in an institution that has shown overwhelming hostile towards men.

    “One needs to look no further for proof of this than the number of divorcee’s who remarry.”

    This is an example of sampling bias. Of course divorcees’ want to get remarried. They comprise a group of individuals that have already demonstrated that they value marriage. A unbiased sample would be to take a look at the total adult United States population, and examine how many of them are single. If you look at that data, then you’ll see that the latest census revealed that the United States has more single (unmarried) people then at any time in our history.

  11. Jennifer

    Marriage is a holy commitment (covenant) to another person. Just as the LORD has called us to be with HIM. If people view marriage any other way then it’s at risk of failure, because you should see it as a treasure. I come from a home that I thought was stable but then suddenly fell apart when I was a senior in high school. I was naive at the age of 19 when I got married & then divorced at the age of 25. My ex-husband cheated on me when I was 4 months pregnant with our second son. I went through the rest of my pregnancy alone & heart broken. It took me 3 yrs of being separated to finally let go. Then my ex marries only months after getting divorced. My boys would ask me when I was going to remarry & I didn’t know what to tell them… They would always asked me what with their dad & I told them when they were mature enough then I would tell them. I didn’t want them to use the excuse that one of my brothers used for not getting married…”because of my parents divorce then I’m not getting married”. I praised the LORD because after 10 yrs my brother changed his mind. So my son turned 12 last yr & I told him why. I don’t want my boys to be scared of getting married. I am ready, but that “MAN” hasn’t come yet, but I’m still praying! Because “HE” won’t only be for me but my boys… They love their dad & no one can replace him, but they are also need that “MAN” in their life. Only a part of me is scared of getting re-married because I’ve been alone a long time…but my heart longs for that companionship, love, partnership & commitment that I know I can give again!

  12. Papa – Author

    Thanks Jennifer, I’d be interested in your thoughts on my post “Till death to us…Divorce, Sex, and God.”

  13. Milda

    On a side note whenever there are issues or problems in a relationship or marriage, both the partners need to take effort to know the other partner a lot more with each passing day. Usually imposing and controlling views along with acts will simply lead to a lot more issues and also conflicts. Approval and acceptance has to be generally there from either sides in a relationship. Thanks for the post & Have a wonderful day.
    thanks!

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