Marriage

A Debate: Is Marriage Worth It?

These pros and cons may help you decide.

Posted Jul 16, 2015

Alex Ramos, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Alex Ramos, Pixabay, Public Domain

Among our biggest decisions is whether to marry.

Of course, such decisions are in part made emotionally—You meet Mr./Ms. Right and your gut says "I want to spend the rest of my life with this person."

Conversely, if you've had a series of bad relationships, perhaps including a clawing divorce in which you were taken to the cleaners, you might think, "Never again!"

Perhaps as a supplement to your emotions, the following attempt at a clear-eyed internal debate on the pros and cons of marriage may help you decide whether, at least at this point in your life, marriage is right for you.

Person: Especially with life ever more challenging, it feels good to go through life's slings and arrows with a Special Someone.

Alter-ego: But you can have a long-term relationship without marriage. 55% of marriages end in divorce and many of the other 45% are, as relationship expert Warren Farrell says, psychologically divorced, far from heavenly.

Person: The goal isn’t heaven. It’s about making a wise choice that works on earth. Remember that the bonds of marriage—both the legal one and the public proclamation of your commitment—help avoid a premature breakup.

Alter-ego: I don't want the government to affect my decision whether to stay together. If I'm just living together and break up, my life can go on. If I marry, I may well face years of expensive, lawyer-inflamed fighting.

Person: You're ignoring the psychological and even spiritual benefits of marriage. There's something very special about intending to stay together for life.

Alter-ego: Fine. Intend to stay together for life, but legal shackles are more burdensome than the benefits.

Person: You're being emotionally tone-deaf to the fact that there's a big difference between a private commitment to each other and affirming it before your family, friends, the courts, and perhaps God.

Alter-ego: With that 55% divorce rate, isn't it a bit silly to make such a definitive, public, and expensive commitment?

Person:  You're focusing too much on bad marriages. I’m likely to be glad I married if I’m wise in choosing my partner, for example, not letting lust dominate all other factors—kindness, intelligence, ethics, emotional well-being, not to mention likelihood of contributing significant income during the marriage.

Alter-ego: But as you well know, like many people, you may not be able to be that rational in choosing a spouse.

Person: Fine, so I'll be extra careful to choose wisely.You're ignoring that kids benefit from marriage's bonds, making it more likely a couple stays together. Many studies have found that kids turn out better in a two-parent family.

Alter-ego: Those studies suffer from a correlation/causation problem. A recent Brookings Institution study found that married people on average have more income and better parenting skiills. It's those things, not their being married, that causes their kids to turn out better. Perhaps the person was such a pain that s/he couldn't find someone to who wanted to raise a child with him or her.  Or s/he married, but the spouse couldn't stand his or her temper, depression, irresponsbility, or substance abuse, and so divorced the person. So it's not singlehood that makes kids turn out worse, it's who the parents are, their income, and their parenting skills..

Person:  I could cite other studies, for example, this review of the literature by Brett and Kate McKay, that concludes having a father in the home is crucial. Besides, you’re ignoring the compensating advantage of raising kids as a couple. Parenting is difficult and dividing the parenting, income-earning, and home-maintenance makes good parenting more likely. And in a heterosexual relationship, there’s the extra plus of the child having both a man’s and a woman's influence.

Alter-ego: The increase in how long a couple stays together because they married is likely small relative to the aforementioned often torturous dissolution process.

Person: Big words but you're ignoring that emotional and spiritual feeling that marriage brings to a relationship. Married people live longer and report being happier.

Alter-ego: That's also a meaningless statistic because of the correlation/causation problem. People disproportionately choose healthy people to marry. And healthier people are more likely to be happy. So it's not that marriage makes you healthy and happy. It's that being healthy and happy make you more likely to be married. 

Person:  What about the tax benefits of being married? You can't claim that's subject to a correlation/causation problem.

Alter-ego: The tax benefit may be eaten up by the cost of just a few hours: the wedding.

Person: Most people have mundane lives. Their wedding day allows them to be special––For once, to live a bit of a fantasy. Are you so cold as to deny them that?

Alter-ego: It's not cold to suggest that the tens of thousands of dollars that many couples spend on a wedding might more wisely be spent on a home or even relieving some of their worrisome student loans.

Person: You can be married without a fancy wedding. That's hardly an argument against marriage. Let's not lose sight of the fact that at the core of marriage is love. As Shakespeare wrote, "When love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony." Or much more recently, Leo Buscaglia wrote, "Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life."

Alter-ego: Yeah and Plato wrote, "Love is a serious mental disease."

Dear reader, of course, your decision about whether to marry is personal and dependent on how close to your ideal lifetime mate you meet, but is there one or more arguments made in this article that you'd like to keep in mind?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net .