Shrink Wrap

What we can learn from the trials and triumphs of celebrity relationships.

Brad and Angelina: What Does Marriage Mean?

What we can learn from the trials and triumphs of celebrity relationships.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie certainly waited it out. While they were clear that they had a specific political reason for remaining unwed, the public has been fascinated by the couple’s intense connection—seven years and six kids—without making what some might say is the ultimate pledge. But that has changed. The superstars announced their engagement this week and they are giving their children credit for their change of plan. They had long said that they would not become legally married until all gay and lesbian couples could as well. That hasn’t become a reality yet, but they told the press that their kids had recently started to ask them to tie the knot. Apparently they couldn’t say no. It begs the question, what does marriage really mean?

In a word marriage symbolizes commitment. Does that mean that Angelina and Brad weren’t committed to each other before now? Of course not, but it is the ultimate vehicle to show that you are tied to one another in a traditional, social, and legal way for life. So why then does it become such a hot button issue for so many couples? Trying to change the social and political landscape aside, what is it about the official aspect of marriage that is so intriguing for some and so repellent for others?

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If two people are committed to each other but agree that marriage is either not important or not for them for some reason, then they can continue on happily with their lives as they are just as Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have done so successfully. But what happens when one person wants to get married and the other doesn’t? Avoiding the possibility of future pain altogether can’t be the answer. If you are living with someone and you break up, the dismantling of that relationship wreaks as much emotional havoc as if you were breaking up a marriage. What you are able to avoid, however, are the legal and financial repercussions. And that could be one of the many reasons someone might be afraid to take that plunge: if he or she has already been through a bad marriage and knows how hard it is to get out; if somebody was raised with parents who had a bad marriage and witnessed the fallout; or, if someone is getting married later in life, they might be trying to protect their accrued savings.

Even under those circumstances, people might still be looking to share their daily life and their heart with a companion. And that is why the problem often arises in which one person does not want to get married but the other does. One might say, “We are just fine, why rock the boat by getting married?” While the other feels it is the socially acceptable route and the other person’s not wanting to do it is a personal rejection. If that’s the case, with help, the reluctant party can work to figure out what is holding them back, what they need to do or what might need to change in the relationship in order to feel ready to get married, and then put tools in place to make them more comfortable. The goal is for the person to face their fears and insecurities—whether they are about trust, finances, or failure—so that they can take the next step down the aisle.

Despite the reluctance and avoidance, a good marriage is all about security, stability, and safety. Hopefully Brad and Angelina will find that. And so will their children.

 

 

Jane Greer, Ph.D., is a Marriage and Family Therapist, author of What about Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship, and radio host of Doctor on Call.

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