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When to get married

People get married for various reasons. First, there are the bad, or at least questionable, reasons:
- for security;
- for money;
- for sex;
- they may not get another chance;
- pregnancy;
- their parents want them to;
- pressure from a partner;
- they want to move away from home, or escape an undesirable situation;
- to acquire citizenship;
- to have children;
- they are lonely;
- they need a mother or father for existing children;
- "If I don't get him or her someone else will";
- it is the expected thing to do;
- marriage is "romantic";
- for social status;
- their present life is dull;
- they need someone to structure their lives;
- they feel guilty about their single lifestyle;
- for peer, social, or professional approval;
- they are infatuated with someone;
- they have been dating someone regularly for a long time and it would be hard to back out of things now.

When you really get down to it and strip away the more acceptable rationalizations, millions of people have gotten married for one or more of these reasons. So let's examine some of these poor (and even very bad) reasons for marriage.

First, the issue of security. Dr. Ronald Thomas addresses this:
There is no doubt that personal security depends on our having a certain amount of structure in our lives. And marriage, with all its social norms, expectations, etc., can provide some of that structure.

The problem comes when one of two things happens: when we try to shift the responsibility or control of our lives to another person, or when another much more dominant personality succeeds in taking control... In both cases personal growth and even mental health can suffer.

When I counsel people considering marriage, I first try to determine if their relationship will be reasonably balanced and try to make sure that one person, in the words of Kahill Gibran, won't be trying to grow "in the shadow of the other."

Closely related to the issue of "security" is "money." We asked Dr. Nancy White about this:
There is no doubt that money... can make a man or woman more attractive as a prospective partner. The media would sometimes have us think that women often marry for money alone; but I really doubt if that happens all that much.

Generally having money involves a whole lifestyle... [and] I think it's largely lifestyles which attract people to each other...

What about "sex" or "lust" as a motivation?

Again Dr. White:
This was probably more true 50 years ago when sex between respectable, unmarried people was supposedly considered taboo. [But now]... I find that the vast majority of today's urban young people--the kind that I see--have enough experience with sex that they can see beyond it, so to speak.

We went on to ask Dr. White for her opinion on the wrong reasons for marriage.

Believe it or not, pregnancy is still a major one. It's hard to believe that in this day and age people can be so ill-informed and careless about birth control. In the majority of teenage marriages the girl is pregnant... and it's even a factor when people are in their 20's and 30's.

Pregnancy and the beginning of a marriage are not a good combination. I recommend that couples wait a year or two to let their relationship stabilize before having their first child.

We asked Dr. Thomas to comment on the bad reasons for marriage.

I find that many people get married because they don't know what else to do.... I remember when one of my clients came to me about a women he had been seeing for over two years.

Although he really didn't have any strong love feelings for her, he got sort of comfortable with the relationship and there was really no strong reason for...breaking [it] off.

After a while, like so many people in this situation, he reached a kind of point of no return. Barring the emergence of some major problem or disagreement, a luke warm relationship is often a one-way street.'s hard to stop or reverse things... Society just naturally assumes it will reach the ultimate goal of marriage.

The Fear Of Loneliness

After you scratch the surface and get beneath some of the more acceptable reasons given for marriage, loneliness, and especially the fear of loneliness, is often a major motivation.

Without a doubt loneliness can be one of life's most painful experiences. Even a less-than-ideal marriage seems better than the pain of being alone.

Even so, it is not a good reason for marriage. Again, Dr. Thomas:
To quote an often-used phrase, "no man is an island." Even just knowing that we have someone special in our lives--even when they are not present--can keep us from feeling lonely.

"Being single" does not have to mean "being lonely," just as being married is no insurance against loneliness. I know of many singles who lead such active social lives that they consider it a real treat just to get some time to themselves. I also know of married people who have existed for years as two "islands."

Dr. White also spoke to the issue of loneliness:
Loneliness is one of the major problems in today's society. But when you really examine the issue of loneliness you find that it is only partly related to the presence or absence of other people.

Being alone is not the same thing as being lonely... We can look at the biographies of some of history's most impressive figures and discover that many people considered them "loners." was just that their lives were filled with some passion--art, music, philosophy, religion, or whatever. You seldom heard them complain about their lives being "empty" or lonely.

Loneliness involves an absence, to be sure, but not necessarily an absence of other people, or even of one special person. Often when people get married to keep from being lonely, they end up just temporarily diverting attention from some inner need or deficiency.

Loneliness is more of an "inside condition" than an "outside condition." Sometimes a marriage will provide the atmosphere necessary for the psychological and spiritual growth needed to fill this deficiency...and sometimes it won't.

Bad Reasons For Not Getting Married

There are also bad reasons for not getting married: you don't want to risk failure; you don't want to share money or property with anyone, or risk losing it in a divorce; you can see flaws in his or her personality; he or she is not as (1) wealthy, (2) intelligent, (3) passionate in bed, or (4) as beautiful or handsome as Joe, John, Mary or Margaret--or whatever you may remember about someone from a past relationship.

If you are waiting for the perfect person to come along, you are going to have a long and possibly lonely wait. For many years there has been a shortage of brave, handsome, romantic prince charmings on white horses.

Just as fanciful is the perfect match of this month's alluring centerfold or the latest angelic film starlet.

According to Dr. Nancy White, a bit of "reality therapy" is sometimes necessary.

Actually the problem can go either way. Some people have such a low self-concept that they quickly settle for someone who has far less on the ball then they do. When a person like this does start to personally mature and see themselves more realistically, they can quickly outgrow their partner.

A kind of reverse problem exists with a person who has never been able to find anyone who meets their standards. Of course it's rather difficult to get someone to accept the fact that they have their sights set far too high.

The Two Sides Of Stability

Getting along with one person day after day, through "thick and thin" is difficult. When you add to this the need for mutual personal and professional growth, and top that off with the additional requirement of a reasonable amount of happiness and satisfaction, you end up with either one of life's biggest dreams or one of life's biggest challenges.

More Sobering Findings About Marriage

Studies have shown that the majority of married people in the United States are dissatisfied with their marriages. A great percentage of married people also say that, given another chance, they would probably not marry the same partner again.

Why do they stick it out?

Most continue in the marriage because of one or more of the following reasons:
- the children;
- the stigma associated with divorce;
- fears on the part of (typically the wife) about being able to make it on her own;
- fears on the part of the husband about being "cleaned out" financially;
- fear of being alone;
- fear of radically changing their social and financial lifestyle.
In view of these realities, we asked Dr. Thomas why the popularity of marriage is on the upswing.

Traditional values...provide stability. Recent years have pulled the rug out from under many of our cherished values--marriage, sexual values, the criminal justice system, US supremacy, personal and national security in a nuclear age, honesty and integrity of our national leadership, our economic system, you name it...

Throughout history, during periods of social or economic change or unrest, people almost always revert to earlier, more conservative values and behavior. Often this has little to do with the actual effectiveness or even the inherent desirability of these values.

So for a while at least, the so-called pendulum is swinging away from social change. We want to believe in some absolutes again; we need to regain some of the structure which tradition provides.

Marriage, Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

If you stop to think about it, our whole society is geared toward and dependent upon the institution of marriage.

First, there is the economic dependence. Marriage is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. Consequently, we are surrounded by subtle (and not-so-subtle) pressures to find someone to walk down the isle with.

Consider these facts:
Forty percent of jewelry sales involves engagement or wedding rings. We spend almost two billion a year on engagements and weddings and about a billion and one-half dollars on honeymoons.

The average new couple starting out a marriage spends close to $15,000 on home furnishings. Seventy-three percent of the sterling flatware and 59 percent of fine china sold is as a result of engagements or weddings. Modern Bride magazine reportedly carries more pages of advertising than any other US magazine. In short, our economy has a great investment in preserving and maintaining the institution of marriage.

Not unrelated are the social pressures to get married--especially the pressure from some parents. Cindy, who is 24, said:
I don't think a week goes past when my mother doesn't bring up "marriage" in some way. She either has cut out a newspaper clipping about an old high school friend who is getting married or engaged, or she has just met "this wonderful young couple" who have just been married and are expecting their first child....

The bias toward the marriage state extends into the work place. Although some studies indicate that single people tend to be more devoted to their work and even put in longer hours than married employees, many employers still feel that single employees are somehow less stable.

In the case of a young, attractive woman, an employer is often reluctant to make any long-range plans or investments because "she will probably find a man, get pregnant and leave."

In the case of a single man, there is often a suspicion that he is reluctant to handle the responsibility of a family. Or they may even feel uneasy about his sexual preferences. Kenneth tells of his experience.

I really wanted this job with this particular firm but I found out...that they were the conservative types who felt that it was somehow unnatural not to be married.

So when I interviewed I didn't mention my divorce. Instead, I talked about the wonderful woman in a distant city that I was engaged to. I described my fantasy woman in great detail. That seemed to make them happy and I got the job.

And now, since I have to visit "my fianceƩ" on weekends, I get out of weekend workI guess one of these days I'll either have to produce her or say we broke up.

Even though the single person in today's culture is confronted with a wide range of pressures to get married, our society is slowly changing. Offsetting the pervasive economically-motivated pressures for marriage is the new multi-billion dollar singles industry which includes singles resorts, tours, vacations and singles apartment complexes.

Although there are many advantages to marriage, singles should strive to separate their personal feelings about matrimony from the romantic, social-economic hype they have grown up with.

Is Marriage Good For Your Health?

Many studies have been done comparing the physical and mental health of married and never-married persons.

After age 65, the death rate for never-married males is 50 percent higher, and for non-married women 67 percent higher, than for married men and women in the same age group.

For divorced men and women these death rates drop to a little less than half that of the never-married rate.

Other studies have compared marital status with a wide range of physical and mental diseases. These studies have rather consistently shown a positive relationship between marriage and mental and physical health.

Such relationships can be deceiving, however.

For one thing, the marriage rate among individuals with mental and physical problems is far less than for married people in general. Also, there is a positive relationship between divorce and people who have mental and physical problems. So marital state, per se, probably has little to do with health.

In fact, at least one study has shown that married people tend to exhibit more stress than non-marrieds. When children are added to the equation the stress level among marrieds jumps significantly.

The Dimensions Of Love

Despite the many other reasons given, "love" is still the primary reason for marriage.

Not too long ago a survey was done among young people to try to break down and define "love." Although few people feel that love has ever been successfully defined, here is how the survey came out.

According to the study, 40 percent of "love" rests on a feeling of attraction. "Companionship," "compatibility," and "giving" each represents about 17 percent. And feelings of "security" constitute 8 percent of "love."

It is often difficult to separate "love" from "infatuation."

Consider this confession by Ted.

I fall in love every month or so. No, I'm not kidding. I'll meet some girl and she'll send me into a real spin and all I can do is think about her...

But then I can meet someone else in a few weeks and the whole thing will start over again and the other girl will suddenly take a back seat.

According to Dr. Nancy White:
For whatever reason, Ted is unable to get beyond what we might call infatuation. He may be "in love with love," or just enamored by and unable to see beyond the superficial appeals of a woman.

Like a kid in a candy store, he doesn't want to pass up anything... In any case until he is able to get beyond this stage, he is not ready for marriage.

A similar problem was spoken of by Wanda.

Everything goes all right for a few months and then I seem to start to lose interest [in the man]. It's happened a dozen times...

There's nothing really wrong; things just get a bit dull... [and] I just seem to lose interest...

Again, Dr. White comments:
Interestingly enough, I've found in my practice that women are often more interested in pursuing a relationship for its excitement value than men are. [These women]... will be attracted to men who represent some type of excitement--even represent a certain amount of danger. This almost always changes after they get pregnant and have their first child. But often these women quickly tire of a man after they find that things aren't as exciting as they first seemed.

With men it's sometimes simply the excitement of a new sexual relationship which attracts them. And this too passes. In each case I find that a bit of "maturing" is in order before marriage.

When Marriage Is Not A Good Risk

According to the experts, in considering marriage there are several definite danger signs.

Topping the list is alcohol or drug dependence. Next, watch for someone (including yourself!) who tends to hold a grudge, doesn't forgive easily and keeps anger, hostility or resentment inside.

Here are some other danger signs: one partner is very jealous and insecure; one partner has a so-called "wander lust," or a long history of brief relationships which suddenly end; or one person is irresponsible and just hasn't learned to assume responsibility.

Topping the list of "musts" in a successful marriage is "communication."

Watch out if your prospective partner will not talk about his or her feelings, is closed or even secretive about aspects of his or her life, or is not willing to discuss and talk through the problems and disagreements that inevitably arise in a relationship.

Age Differences

Although many people get married who are ten, twenty and even thirty years apart in age, this generally means that there will be extra--probably even major--adjustment problems.

If there is a significant differences in age, be certain that your lifestyles, interests and goals are compatible and that they are not just being temporarily sacrificed to establish a mutual meeting ground.

If one individual has been living alone for many years and has grown rather set in their ways, it is generally difficult for them to suddenly adjust their routines and lifestyle to accommodate another person.

This can be particularly difficult for someone who moves into the home of a person who has lived there by themselves for a long time. If there is a concern about this, it would probably be best if the couple moves into a new home or apartment so that new patterns of living can be jointly established.

Whirlwind Romances

Although some of the short, whirlwind romances work out, the odds of a successful marriage are far greater with longer courtships or engagements. Depending on how much time the couple spends together, it generally takes many months for them to really get to know each other.

In recent years the emphasis on professional advancement and success among both males and females has put increased strain on relationships. According to Dr. White, "Individuals who tend to put professional concerns and advancement ahead of the welfare of a relationship should re-evaluate their priorities before considering marriage."

Even though we've discussed it before, we need to mention the illusion of changing the other person. Although marriage will inevitably change some of the routines and habits of the individuals involved, at least for a while, ingrained personal attitudes or habits are extremely difficult to change. Generally "what you see is what you get."

The Advantages Of Marriage

Since our culture has long extolled the advantages of matrimony, probably don't need to dwell on this subject in great detail.

There are, of course, financial advantages to marriage--although few would buy the old adage that says "two can live as cheaply as one."

But beyond material things, our personal, psychological and spiritual growth depends primarily on the nature of our relationships with other people. Central to this growth is the deepening and maturing of our capacity to love.

Those individuals who maintain a variety of superficial relationships, or who cannot maintain a love relationship long enough to work through and master self-other problems, never learn this essential and enriching dimension of the human experience.

Someone once said that "it is in marriage we are most severely tested." Even though there is much pain and sacrifice in marriage, there is no other institution that can force us to confront ourselves--with all our strengths and weaknesses--like a committed marriage.

Although long-term, live-in relationships can provide many of the same advantages, marriage in our society still signifies an extra measure of legal, financial, and personal commitment.

Without an easy out when things get difficult, married couples tend to work harder at keeping a relationship together. And, as we know, good relationships don't just smoothly sail along through the years; they must be constantly nourished and "worked at."

The marriage state ideally expresses the feeling that, "I know that things won't necessarily be easy, but I'm willing to commit myself fully to you and this relationship and, despite problems, do what it takes to hold on to our love and mutual commitment."

For this reason a legal marriage can provide the security necessary to bring children into the world who need the stable environment of a dedicated father and mother.

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