Amid today’s new norms, should you participate in that venerable institution?
Posted November 26, 2017
Few decisions have greater import than whether to marry.
A previous article focuses on the decision of whether to marry a particular person. This article addresses the institution of marriage amid today’s norms, which are a-changin'.
Indeed, in an interview, comedian Sarah Silverman, not joking, called marriage “barbaric ... gross and f–king crazy.” That’s something that not long ago couldn’t have been said even in jest.
So given today’s realities, how does the institution of marriage compare with a relationship that isn’t legally, and perhaps religiously, encumbered?
Economics. Countless companies merge, because it yields economies of scale. That, too, is a justification for marriage, even in an era in which both sexes have significant economic viability. On the other hand, if you’re not in the 50 percent of married couples who stay together for life, the decision to marry obligates each of you to pay for each other and any offspring for years after the dissolution. The question is what’s right for you: Do you think the economic benefits of marriage outweigh the liabilities?
Monogamy. Marriage encourages monogamy. People are more likely to remain sexually faithful because they’re aware that sex outside marriage increases the risk of divorce and its concomitant financial, temporal, and emotional costs. And monogamy yields other benefits: It can deepen the relationship and decreases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, false paternity claims, and unwanted pregnancy. Even in today’s sexually permissive society, many people feel that monogamy's benefits outweigh its precluding fresh sexual partners. But how about for you?
Risk of a spouse changing after the wedding. Every marrying couple vows to stay together in sickness and in health and for richer or poorer. Yet many of us know at least one couple in which when one spouse develops a serious disease, the other exits. Even more of us know people who leave when their spouse stops bringing in that reliable paycheck. Still more of us know couples where, after the wedding, one of them changes (for example, becomes less kind to their partner or gains a ton of weight), which motivates the other spouse to exit. Or we know of couples in which one spouse leaves, because “We’ve gone in different directions.” For example, one partner rises on the career ladder, while the other rises using mind-altering substances while slumped on the sofa. Again, what counts is you: Do you assess the risk as acceptable that a spouse might change after marrying?
Children. Stability is good for kids, and marriage’s legal, and perhaps religious, encumbrance encourages stability. On the other hand, a fighting married couple staying together only for the kids or to avoid divorce’s pain probably isn’t good for kids. The previous decades’ stigma of being a single parent or coming from a “broken home” has largely faded — and along with it the certitude that, if one wants children, marriage is required. If you are considering having a child, do you feel the need to marry before doing so?
Despite our social norms changing dramatically, a majority of people (although that percentage is shrinking) still aspire to marriage. In light of the above, and any other factors you want to consider, how about you?