What Does It Mean to Be Married?
So many of us today drift into marriage. We date. We move in together. We make a baby. Then we marry.
Or we make a baby, so we move in together and, if we can find the time, date, hoping to kindle enough of a fire to want to marry.
Or it's our second time around. We will make no more babies. We date. We live together to save time or money. Eventually we marry because one or both grow tired of being a couple without the status and protections offered to married couples.
Often, we take these routes because we have seen marriages (even our parents' marriages) fail. We hope to avoid this. We imagine that living together will give us a clue as to how well we'll work out as a married couple. Unfortunately, research says it's not much help. Those who jump in without knowing do at least as well as those who test the waters first.
Marriage, it turns out, changes very little about our relationship with each other. What it changes is our relationship with everyone else. It changes whether our mate's family considers us family or temporary guest. It changes whether folks hoping to socialize with one of us automatically include the other. It changes the reception we get from our mate's conservative religious friends and colleagues.
Unless we take legal steps ahead of time, it changes what the ICU nurse allows when our partner is in life-threatening circumstances. It changes who makes the decisions while the person we love lies unconscious on the brink of death. It changes what money we're entitled to when our mate retires and what's ours when death parts us.
It changes what we owe the tax collector, both while we're together and while we are grieving if we outlive our partner.
It changes what questions we must answer in court.
It also changes who decides who owes what to whom if the relationship ends.
What marriage does not change is our differences of opinion, our misunderstandings of each other's motives, our expectations, or how well our spouse meets them. It does not change anything about the push-pull of wanting to both be together and be ourselves. It changes nothing about our fear of abandonment and the unhappy choices we make when we worry our relationship is unraveling. It gives us no new rights or authority over our mate while married.
Getting married is about choosing to play a particular role in society together. It is a very important role worthy of great respect. If you hope to play it for the rest of your life, don't count on your wedding day helping much. Instead, learn everything you can about how to nurture your relationship. Practice daily.