The Case for Staying Married (It’s still the best institution there is!)
It all comes down to attitude, doesn’t it? Cynics have called marriage the “old ball and chain.” Many happily married individuals disagree, because they don’t see marriage as slavery and bondage, where one’s natural instincts and desires have to play second fiddle to the happiness of the other half.
Happily married couples say that marriage has taught them to accept each other’s strengths and possibilities. They argue that by doing that, they transform themselves from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Marriage therefore is an “enabling” form of situation where it means the freedom to be who they really are, to reach for the stars and discover what they are meant to be without ridicule or rejection.
Marriage and Happiness
Many of us have read reports that drive home the message: married people are healthier and happier, and hence live longer than single or celibate individuals.
For one, there is the emotional support they receive when the going gets rough, and the fact that married life provides the opportunities to sustain communication between two people, even if one of the spouses just wants to vent out. In fact one of the reasons people say they like being married is the assurance that there is someone they can come home to at the end of a hard day.
For Better or For Worse…
“For better or for worse” is still very much a strong argument for getting – and staying – married. While some people would be too shy to admit it, the love and support in times of illness can speed up recovery.
People in fact like the “for better or for worse” aspect of marriage because it tells them that no matter what happens, someone will be around.
It goes beyond having a security or safety net. It’s the knowledge that they can count on someone when times are bad, and that alone generates a considerable degree of peace of mind and a sense of calm for the soul.
And here’s a romantic – but true – notion of marriage, to which happily married couples will agree: “Marriage moves us from ego to we-go.
The single self shifts from me first to the sacred union of us…values such as love, honesty, respect, fidelity and dependability form the engine of a good marriage. Little kindnesses are the oil. Without the oil, it will grind. With it, it glides.”
And how about the simplest reasons for marriage such as: silly little jokes, hugs and cuddling, traveling together, laughing together, quiet times together, mutual friends, sexual intimacy, pillow talk, kissing and making up? Can anyone really put a price tag on these simple pleasures? Don’t they echo the saying that the best things in life are free?
Oh yes, there is love in relationships, but there is deeper love in a marriage that is on its way to its 25th or 50th year. Sir Arthur Wing Pinero sums it nicely: “those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.” So did James Thurber: “A lady of 47 who has been married 27 years and has six children knows what love really is and once described it to me like this: love is what you’ve been through with somebody.
People who have remained happily married are those who realize gradually that there are actually two marriage contracts, not just one.
The first contract is what everyone is familiar with – the one that the priest in a wedding ceremony makes official. The second contract is what couples call the silent contract. It is secret, implicit and largely unconscious. It is this second contract that specifies standards and behaviours our partner should fulfill.
The distinguishing characteristic of this contract is our secret belief that our own feelings, needs, and sense of what is right are most important. One’s expectations of the other can carry risks and can lead to clashes, which couples try to resolve among themselves.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, these conversations are rarely objective or fruitful, given that individuals rarely ask if their expectations are fair and reasonable – they just complain endlessly. Happily married couples are those who understand this second silent contract and all of its ramifications. Happily married couples are those who continue to invest in the marriage, knowing that for love to flourish, it takes hard work and substantial amounts of creativity.
Love and physical attraction may take the backseat, especially when the children arrive, but fulfilled couples know that they must stick it out, through thick and thin, for the sake of the emotional well-being of the children.
When couples think of others and not just themselves and make a continuing effort to make the marriage work, they’ve made the best investment they could ever make and they firmly believe in this.
The need to make the partnership work is often the secret of happy marriages. As Masters and Johnson said, “Although these marriages may be loveless, they are not necessarily bad. Even good marriages are susceptible to a disappearance of love.”