Marriage is in decline, no new news there. The question seems to have shifted from when and to whom should you get married to should you get married at all? Certainly there is no one simple answer to this questions. Looking at a brief history of marriage reveals that the societal and relational view of marriage has certainly changed over time. During several recent conversations about marriage and relationships I have found myself wondering if marriage is really necessary for today’s couple? Some of these conversations involved my spouse and I chatting with happily married couples and others with contemporaries who are as of yet foregoing marriage. In essence, these conversations have been an effort to interpret general beliefs about marriage and to try to understand why the institution still has value.
It seems to me that there is no argument about the practical benefits. In our society marriage gives you legal, medical, taxation and many other rights that unmarried counterparts may not have. There doesn’t even seem to be an argument about the commitment part. It seems those opting out don’t particularly like the word marriage. So what is it about the word that leaves a bad taste?
For some marriage is an antiquated system of patriarchal power that just ins’t necessary or valuable anymore. After all in 1769, American colonies law stated that, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.” So, there’s that.
Most marriages today have evolved into a more egalitarian experience. In fact, according to a 2011 poll by CBS/60Minutes/Vanity Fair, 67% of men and 74% of women said that an egalitarian marriage, that is, “one where the husband and wife both have jobs, both do housework and both take care of the children” is more satisfying. Even with the changes it is not hard to understand the perspective that marriage is an unbalanced and outdated institution.
For others the current debate about marriage equality has called into question the whole idea of marriage and led them to opt out. There is no doubt that marriage, especially among millennials is in decline. I can’t help but wonder if the whole debate leaves little interest in the idea of marriage itself.
What doesn’t seem to have changed is the desire for a partner in life and the desire to have children. Even among couples who choose not to marry, having children still ranks high on the priority list for some and not being married isn’t the road block it once was.
So, the question is, should we stop “should-ing” and focus on the quality of the relationships and encourage marriage when it feels right? Married couples, unmarried couples, people dating can all benefit from basic relationship skills. In fact, relationship skills will make the decision to marry or not to marry easier to arrive at. Couples who have strong talking/listening and decision making skills will have an easier time understanding each partners underlying concern and make decisions together.
One way to tackle this questions is with more questions. Here’s a good place to start, ask yourself these 9 questions. Rather than asking yourself should you get married, start by asking yourself am I in a relationship that is supportive, can I communicate with my partner, do we have a shared vision for our future?
Bottom line is that marriage has intrinsic value beyond the practical, marriage benefits children and your community. Making a lifelong commitment to a partner involves you and your partner, your family, your spiritual community and your heart. The decision of whether or not to marry is complex and not to be taken lightly. Focus first on the relationship and if and when you take the leap you will be prepared for success.