I got married almost a full year ago, and during that whole process a lot of our friends were scratching their heads:
- Why are you getting married?
- Why not just live together?
- What if things don’t go well?
- What if you’re not compatible (sexually or otherwise)?
- What if you’re not good room-mates?
- What if this list of questions never ends?
- What then?
By answering these questions, not only did I learn a lot about marriage and the purpose of marriage, but I also learned a lot about myself. Maybe my answer will be helpful to someone else. So let’s jump in!
This article is written with regards to healthy relationships. Abusive behavior should not be tolerated in any fashion; married or no. If anything, this article is a warning to all who would seek marriage as an easy solution to their relationship troubles.
Marriage vs Partnership
Marriage is pretty unpopular among many people, mostly because they’ve seen so many marriages turn into horrible, painful disasters. It makes sense to just chuck the whole enterprise. After all, these days we have a modern, safer alternative: living together as partners.
Marriage is permanent in the same way that super glue is permanent. You CAN separate the bonded objects, but it usually causes damage to one or both of them. Thus, if you’re concerned for the safety of the objects, maybe it’s just better to tie them with string so they are more easily separated later, but are still bonded; albeit in a weaker way.
“But just because we’re not married doesn’t mean our bond is any weaker than a married couple!”
First, let’s be clear: every relationship is different. There are terrible marriages and there are amazing partnerships, and vice versa. I’m not making a value judgement of anyone’s relationship. But, by definition, Marriage is a commitment reinforced by external forces (God, family, law, whatever), while partnerships are only reinforced within the relationship, That’s what keeps partnerships from being as limiting as Marriage. Either party can end it when they wish to. There’s way more freedom in a Partnership than in a Marriage.
Just Gotta Find “The One”
We have this romantic ideal of “compatibility”; a false notion that there is someone out there with whom you will have complete an total kinship. With this person there would be little fighting, you’ll understand each other implicitly, and everything will just flow and fit together. The hardest part is just finding the right person. After that, everything just kinda falls into place.
If that were true, then living together makes WAY more sense than marriage. After all, you just have to try out different people until you find The One. Maybe after a few years a person realizes that their partner isn’t The One, and it’s time to start the search over again.
I definitely subscribed to this mindset for a long time. When I went out on a date, I was constantly evaluating, judging, and considering different people. I made lists of pros and cons. Maybe this girl is funny and clever, but she’s a smoker, so I can’t be with a smoker. This girl is red hot, but kinda boring to talk to.
When I finally met Lauren (now my wife) I was still in this mindset. I had a list of problems and flaws that I was perusing through, thinking, “Is this is good as I can get? Could a find another girl with all of her benefits, but maybe without the OCD?” P.S. I was a conceited asinine jerk, as you can probably tell. But in the end, I made the call and decided to marry that girl, for one reason above all others:
I found someone I could work with
Here’s the secret to a good marriage: these limits and constraints force both people to grow, adapt, and change for one another.
See, the compatibility mindset tells us to keep searching, to keep trying to find the perfect person. But marriage reinforces the need for two people who can work through issues and change for one another.
“But starting a relationship to change someone is wrong and unhealthy!”
Of course it is! It’s a terrible idea! I wouldn’t want to marry Lauren so I can change her. I Married Lauren because she is willing to change. That’s a big difference. Both of us expect change, and we’re both willing to change. Let me explain, with an example from my perspective:
I am a Mess, and I make Messes
I am a huge mess. If I listed all of my flaws and problems it would fill this blog. One thing I am not good at is cleaning. I have a high tolerance for messes, and as long as nothing is evolving into a higher form, it can usually wait until next week to be cleaned. Before I got married I cleaned my place about once every 2 weeks or so. And that worked well for me. I was happy, I had a system in place. It was a part of who I was, and it fit in well with my laid-back attitude.
And then I got married to Lauren. After about a month, Lauren came to me and had a very serious discussion. “David”, she said, “As you know I suffer from anxiety and OCD. You may not know that my environment severely impacts my mental health. I can’t relax in a dirty house, and I can’t sleep if the sink is overflowing. I need you to help me clean daily; nothing crazy, just put in 30 minutes at the end of each day putting things away and helping me out.”
Is her request fair? Reasonable? Morally correct? It doesn’t matter. Whether I think her request is reasonable or not, I have an immediate choice to make. I can either:
Refuse, making it clear that I don’t see this as my responsibility. “After all, some of this stuff isn’t even my mess! If you care about it so much, why don’t YOU clean it up? Is it my job to make you happy at the expense of my own suffering? I am not good at cleaning anyway; I’ll just do a shoddy job and you’ll still be stressed out.”
Change. Swallow my pride, my free time, and say, “Yes, I will help. Please teach me how to clean well enough that you are happy.” This isn’t just a one-time decision. I’ll have to do this every day, spending a ton of time and energy on something that I hate. I will literally have to change a part of who I am in order to do this for Lauren. I will need a whole new mindset when it comes to dirt and cleanliness.
In the end, I decided that it is more reasonable for me to change that part of myself, than to expect Lauren to change her OCD. Lauren and I continue to make these kinds of changes every day, Sometimes we make the wrong decision, and 2 weeks later we have to have another conversation about it. Sometimes one of us will be stubborn for a long time before finally relenting. Sometimes one of us just has to deal with it, and that’s that.
But throughout all of this process, there’s one choice I can never make: Leave.
You can checkout out any time you like…
Now, this is a huge risk. When it comes to making a decision like the one above, the easiest option, by far, is to Refuse. That’s the easiest one. If I don’t want to Refuse, then the next easiest decision is to Leave. The hardest decision is to Change. If the option to Leave is taken away, then I have no middle ground. I must either Refuse, or Change.
In the example above, I presented the situation from my point of view. But Lauren had to make a change as well. She decided to teach me how to clean, to have patience with my mistakes, and to gently but firmly remind me when I forget to clean the bathroom. In every confrontation that we have, both of us have to be willing to change parts of who we are to make this thing work. If you want a good marriage, then both people need to be willing to make the hardest decision, every day, for every month, for every year of their lives.
This choice between Refusal and Change directly determines the health and happiness of our marriage going forward. After making these kinds of decisions every day for a year, Lauren and I have invested HUGE amounts of effort into this relationship. And it shows. She knows exactly how to make me feel better, just as she knows exactly how to hurt me.
Marriages fall apart as soon as one person decides that they are no longer willing to change. Go back and read the Refuse statement. Ever heard an argument go like that before? I sure have, time and time again. If Lauren decided to stop growing, and started being vindictive and hurtful, my life would turn into an absolute living hell. My marriage would become a torture chamber that I cannot escape from without severe pain.
But I take that risk every day, trusting her to use her powers for good, and she takes that risk with me. This is what makes marriage so dangerous, and at the same time so rewarding. The purpose of dating and getting to know Lauren was to determine if I could trust her with the rest of my life. Not to see if she and I were “compatible” in some nebulous way.
So Why get Married?
If you’re looking for the easiest relationship or the most freeing then marriage is a terrible idea. You get married when you find someone that you want to grow and change with. You get married when you find someone you respect and admire who can help you become a better person. You get married when you find someone you can trust with the rest of your life.
It is within limitations and constraints that a healthy marriage blossoms and flourishes. After almost a year of being unable to leave, and choosing to change, I barely recognize who I was before. I’m more patient, more considerate, more hard working, more loving, more in touch with my emotions, and more happy than I’ve ever been in my entire life.
It’s the hardest, scariest, most frustrating thing I’ve ever done in my life. But I don’t regret a single minute of it.