Last week we talked about divorce. Today we’re going to answer the gazillion dollar question should we get married in the first place? This question alone can mean so many things.
Is the institution itself sound, sane, meaningful, successful, necessary, beneficial? Is it a con by the government, one of many avenues to exert control? Is it a politically motivated, capitalist indoctrination; a means of ensuring productivity and the upholding of the fabric of society. Is it the patriarchy dominating, keeping women small or in their place? People small and in their place? Non gender-conforming small and in their place?
Legal marriage is a joint venture-ship and so it does offer protections to the parties involved. The fruits of your labours are meant to be shared together. Your roles are equal so what gets earned by your team gets shared by your team if you separate. And there is some protection if you gave up earning potential to contribute to the venture, some accounting for taking on the less economically rewarded role, vis à vis society. There are privileges, legally. Shares-ies on taxes and dues, all kinds of rights and rewards. Better rates at the gym. If one of you commits murder your spouse can’t be compelled to rat you out (at least in some places and times, this blog is NOT legal advice!!!). Fun stuff.
Culturally and socially there are benefits to being married that many of us desire. We bathe the married in respect and legitimacy. The status of wife or husband conveys secret knowledge, a pact, a degree of intimacy that is greater for it’s declaration by status, and ceremony and covenant and legality. Sex is more legit. Because legal marriage is the way we have, for a while now, legitimized relationship. And family. And sex.
While legally marriage protects the venture, the motivation for legitimizing the relationship is historically and presently less financial and more about norms and mores. We protect the commitment in the relationship and simultaneously protect society from lack of commitment, lack of structure around family, promiscuity and general moral looseness. It’s a win-win, right?
As individuals most of us make a choice to get married for emotionalreasons. We have found romantic love in some manifestation or another, and we want to both celebrate and protect our commitment. We want to expand our joy and we want to feel safe from threats to our joy. For some of us we want to protect our relationship from infidelity with solemn ceremonial swearing. Maybe our partner’s, maybe our own. We know that life can get tough and we are getting a step ahead of that tired, weary future version of ourselves who might be tempted to mercy kill our soulmate love during a particularly disorienting rough patch.
In some ways marriage functions like the New Year’s resolution. If we scream it from the rooftops for all of our friends, family, third cousins thrice removed to the power of three, vow it to the gods, toast to it with ample wine and speeches, smash cake in each other’s faces, throw flowers and garters, and get the whole immaculately dressed and decorated thing on video, we too will have a shot at keeping love alive, and not using relationship as a drug, an escape, a novelty just to be rinsed out of our hair and repeated every time some sweet talking thing comes along. If we swear it, there may be a hope that we will stick to the diet that is being married.
We are set up, taught this BOOT CAMP mentality in life. I’ve written before how ineffective fear tactics are for motivating us. If I promise it I’ll be shamed into sticking to my promise. What a relief! But then what? What happens to the biggest loser after the taping ends?
I’ll tell you what! All of the emotional reasons for eating, lifestyle, habits, dependencies, traumas, compensations –they are still there, but now we are down the thousands of units of brute force that held them all at bay! We don’t have the program, the TV production, the audience, the menus, the singular focus, the sheer drill sergeant provoked willpower to overcome.
We kinda set up marriages the same way. Not everyone marries to fix a relationship or hold onto a dying one at the outset, but we ‘I DO’ pre-emptively. We take arms against the ravages of time and the strain of the world on our love-in. I would venture that most of us expect and want the structure of marriage to at lest enhance our commitment, to make it more likely that we will hold on to our love, to add meaning, depth, stick-to-it-iveness.
Don’t get me wrong, structure can be a wonderful thing. It can serve our relationships. Lift them up.
Exactly because of the symbolic heft and cultural reverence, there is an intimate beauty to the title of husband or wife. A marriage can be a capture of this intimacy, as much as a wedding can be a creative expression of love, a depth of sharing with family and friends. And because of history, a relationship without the ceremony of marriage can feel or seem temporary and less fully realized.
There is nothing wrong with wanting marriage for any or all of its protections, celebrations, structures.
But we need to take the resolution out of the vow.
In place of the love-drunk promises to BE GOOD no matter what life throws at us, to go to war against our compensations and traumas armed only with the brute force of our once starry-eyed convictions, WE NEED SOME ACTUAL RELATIONSHIP HELP.
We need insight and tools for understanding ourselves and for RELATING, which is the thing we are doing in the RELATION-SHIP. We need to answer our compensations and traumas and hungers and fears. We need to understand our relationship as a living breathing entity, what it needs from us, how to protect it EMOTIONALLY, how to do life together, how to answer each other’s needs, how to build and collaborate and say things out loud and how not to rip each other apart in a murderous rage. Vows can’t hold us together any more than boot camp can rewire our emotional eating.
Because I work with many affluent clients, I hear a lot about prenuptial agreements. We are being smart and writing up prenuptial agreements. It’s not wrong per se to spend some lawyering making the division of assets in a divorce easier. To feel safe that resources are not on the line. To keep our family money, keep both of our big piles of money separate, or agree ahead of time on what is fair. But the hilarious, funny not so funny thing about it is so many of us give less to our marriage success than to its efficacious dissolution.
Prenups can help us make an easier financial exit from a marriage. But they don’t solve for why we want it, or need it. Sign one if it suits you and if your money is complicated. But your prenup is no stand in for nurturing yourself and your marriage.
Marriage is a container that can be a warm embrace or a barbed wire fence.
If we want marriage to be a warm embrace that we don’t need to hold together but that deepens and holds our love sacred?
We need to invest our time, effort, bravery and finances in supporting our relationship, not in funding, fighting or fearing its dissolution. And if we are not doing this, we might as well skip the whole roulette game that happens in the middle and save ourselves some sweat, diapers and tears.
So should you get married??? Versus a less formal relationship progression?
My answer is this:
You should get married! (And if you do you should definitely invite me because I love weddings!!!)
If you want to.
If you’re not getting married to prove that you can do it right this time.
To make up for the first time or first dozen or that horrible thing that happened that you are ashamed of.
To spite your ex.
Because you need rescuing from life.
If you’re not getting married to appease the expectations of your family or the world.
Because you wanna wanna, wish you felt it, wish your connection was marriage worthy.
Because you feel like a failure in everything else.
Because you’re tired of being the single one.
Get married because you love the celebration of partnership, the intimacy afforded by the structure, the tradition, the commitment.
Put a container around your beautiful magical love, but don’t give it structure without substance, nurturing, help, support, and then punish yourself for not having the strength to hold it up when you have never built the muscle or had the knowledge to. Don’t crown yourself the biggest loser in love.
Invest in your relationship, not your divorce.
Invest in your ability to thrive rather than your promise to endure.
A willingness to get some support and do the work –well that is a two carat promise you can slip on my finger.
P.S. If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling sometimes a few sessions of support can make all the difference. Reach out and we’ll find the solution that is right for them.
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.