The past looks something like this, ‘We have all of this history together. I don’t want to start over, again.’ This outlook considers the relationship more an investment where the aim is maximizing a return. Marriage isn’t thought of as a first step on a grander journey but deemed a lesser evil and better compromise. In other words, marriage is less an intentional act and more a pressure valve; with heat coming from the partner, family expectations, maybe it’s age and ticking clocks, or it might be driven simply by a fear of losing the other person. Regardless, we trip into marriage with the past and profit as our selling points.
This stumbling is most likely to occur when couples live together. In a recent Fatherhood Wide Open conversation about the future of marriage with Ball State University professor Dr. Scott Hall, he uses this same analogy in describing a pitfall cohabiting couples regularly experience.
“People often have different standards for who they will marry versus who they will live with. So if they move in with someone they would not intentionally marry, but the relationship evolves over time; say they have a kid together, or a pet, or a couch…they may begin to feel, ‘I’ve invested three years and I don’t want to start over’. Those couples have a disadvantage over the couple who says, “I choose you because I want to spend the rest of my life with you”.
I dated my ex wife for three years before getting married; much of it long distance. Within months of her graduating college and moving to Atlanta, I started feeling pressure to take our relationship up a notch. She gave no blatant ultimatum, but talking about friends’ engagements and marriages suddenly took on a more urgent tone. Innuendos were routinely dropped and whispers overheard while she talked with family and friends. I can still remember telling my roommate, who would later become my best man, “if I walk away now, all my time and energy would be for nothing and I will have to start all over again at square one.”
In hindsight every reason I had for that marriage was backward facing, on our past experiences. There was not the first consideration about our future. I was merely trying to solve a problem. Sincerity was lacking in my motivations. Instead of marriage being the tangible reflection of our hidden bond, and the highest form of desire by one person for another, it seemed more the exasperated acceptance of an inescapable obligation.
Today, it’s easy to see how jacked up that was.
Anytime we feel coerced or pressured into a decision there’s a strong chance we will grow to regret that choice and resent the person we think responsible for it. The feelings of bitterness may take time but typically surface during a difficulty, especially problems in a marriage. With marital turmoil that animosity and anger can quickly be kindled. It becomes easy to say, ‘I really didn’t want to marry you in the first place!’ and mean it.
A future or forward facing outlook with marriage is far different, ‘I choose you because I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want you to be a part of my future.’ Notice the radical change. There is an intentionality and exuberance that is entirely lacking from when marriage is more a trade-off. The past will influence the decision to marry but isn’t the sole basis for it. By looking at marriage with a future outlook removes all uncertainty. This way is a scorching conviction, the other is a tepid consolation.
The most glaring difference in deciding to marry the Queen now and the ex wife then is my motivation. Unlike that first marriage, I don’t feel pressure this time. Expectations and any perceived fear of ‘losing my investment’ are nonexistent. In my first marriage, our past served as the only justification for my ‘getting on with it’. My past with the Queen only confirms what we both already know. Marriage is how we want to share our future together.
While an urgent step, I don’t believe enough couples stop and really consider why they are getting married. This is particularly so with couples contemplating second marriages. But once we do answer why, we must then ask if our motivation feels more like a justification rooted in history and experience. Or are we choosing to marry for something better and our history is simply an endorsement of that grander ideal.
When considering remarriage, we must ask ourselves what is different this time? What is the motivation for getting married again? Do things feel forced? Is there pressure coming from inside or outside the relationship? If these answers are ‘yes’, we must wonder if marriage is truly the right decision. Data suggests that second marriages fail at a higher rate than first. So if we hope to not add another percentage point we mustn’t expect the same choices for the same reasons to end in different results.
When choosing to remarry, it is for us to determine if our second time will be a marriage of the past or a marriage of the future.
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