Here’s a depressing number: In a survey of over 4,000 British couples, over 50% of married individuals said they had felt regret about getting married. Why is marriage so hard? Why are couples so unhappy??
Despite the attention grabbing headline of this article in the Daily Mail, the truth isn’t as bad as it sounds. Only 6% of couples interviewed said they spent most of the time feeling that they had made a mistake. The majority (26%) felt regret about their marriage only once or twice throughout their marriage; 19% felt this way “sometimes”. The top two regrets were the lack of independence and general boredom of married life. Lower on reasons for regret were believing they had married the wrong person, being attracted to someone else or not finding their spouse attractive anymore.
Here’s why I’m not too concerned about this finding: marriage is a big and very permanent decision–it’s natural to feel a bit uncertain about it once and while, especially when times are hard. Luckily, this doesn’t mean that %50 of Brittons are stuck in an unhappy marriage.
Despite the slightly misleading introduction, the article poses some good answers to the question everybody is asking: why is marriage so hard these days? The first two reasons for regret mentioned above may hold the key to the mystery.
Lack of independence
In previous generations, marriage was part the natural progression of life, tied into an accepted social order and buyoued by strong religious faith. The fact that we even are asking the question “why is marriage so hard?” is a marker of how differently we see marriage these days. In the past, marriage and anything that came with it were natural and unquestioned–plus, it wasn’t a choice. People these days are more socially and financially mobile, and expected to make their own decisions about life. “We’re not accustomed to settling any more, in any area of our life,” says Rosie Freeman-Jones, who initiated the survey. ‘Take into account also that the majority of British people are not very religious, and have a heightened interest in constantly upgrading and improving their lives, and it’s easy to see why people regret tying themselves down.”
It’s also easy to see why, when totally in charge of your own fate, you may regret your decisions: you can never know if it is the right decision. Questioning or uncertainty is not as much of a problem when religion and cultural expectations guide your choices.
Why is marriage so hard? A more revealing question is “Why do we think marriage shouldn’t be hard?” Marriage is an analog institution in a digital age. It requires patience, time, and careful nurturing. It’s fallible and difficult. This doesn’t mesh well with a society that expects constant change, instant gratification, and perfection and considers our personal happiness and fulfilment as–if not more–important than societal and community concerns.
Many people have disregarded marriage as obsolete for this very reason. I believe this is exactly why it is relevant. Marriage provides a beautiful counterbalance to our constantly moving, hectic and self-obsessed lives. It reminds us to slow down, invest, and care about something outside ourselves. So why is marriage so hard? Because the best things in life require you to fight for them.