May 01, 2014

Marriage - is it more about being in love or creating a dynamic team?

It's not really a question I would have asked myself...or anyone else for that matter. But, a nearby local radio station DID ask it this morning and drew quite an interesting response from listeners.

Apparently, one of the D.J.s read a story on People Magazine's website about why Diane Keaton never got married.

It's a pretty lame article, really. But, I guess the concept behind it...and behind the radio station's question appealed to me, because it gets at how we define human relationships - which are always evolving and impossible to pin down.

Like all human connections, marriage is different for every couple. It serves particular objectives and fulfills various needs. And it's pretty much impossible to explain in any other terms than "an agreement between two people to be united." Some people do it because they plan to have children. Some people find comfort, guidance, and expectation in the tradition. Others believe in marriage as a religious union. And still others look forward to the financial and social benefits provided by a documented partnership.

For most of us "married folk" in the U.S., it's a choice, though in some cases it may be required or expected by our families and religions if we plan to live together, be sexually involved, and have children. For me, it wasn't...but it did afford me a measure of comfort and expectation. For one, it's a lot harder to just "walk away" in times of disagreement or discomfort if there is a legal connection. That can provide some time to take the whole situation into account before prematurely severing ties. Secondly, it affords us certain social and monetary benefits (taxes, wills, property, parenting, medical agreements).

Notice, nowhere in all of this have I mentioned love. Or passion. Or romance.

It doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be a part of marriage...but, in my opinion, and apparently a whole lot of other people's, it isn't the central facet. It appears that, according to research, compatibility, mutual respect, division of labor, and emotional support beat out love and passion over the long haul.

Love changes. Passion waxes and wanes. Sexual desire comes and goes. But, companionship and teamwork remain hallmarks of a successful marriage.

To me, love and passion are illusive. Neither need marriage to exist. But marriage can be made better and stronger by both, even if the passion is transient.

That being said - of course I love my husband. But is our relationship centered on hot, wild sex? Well, it used to be...before we were married...maybe even in the very beginning of our wedded bliss. But, then we became tired parents. And we slipped into a comfortable routine.  And we got to know a lot about each other - all the little idiosyncrasies and habits and annoying tidbits.

If this graphic is to be believed, those of us who commit have to do just that to reap the rewards of our commitment. The stress of raising children successfully, competing in the the workplace, planning financially, owning a home, and getting our kids off to college or career are hard work. Maybe that's why, when those things have been accomplished, married couples who have weathered the storms have a great sense of accomplishment. They can sit back, look at what they've done together and celebrate all of the ups and downs that got them there. That satisfaction may even be what causes the upswing and the eventual "second honeymoon". And the benefit is that, at the top of the hill, we have someone to share the celebratory champagne with. Maybe that's the greatest reward.

That might sound depressing. Maybe enough to make those who aren't married rethink the whole prospect. But, ultimately, it was and is a choice for us. Sure we're tired. We work hard at our jobs and at raising a happy, secure, independent child. We have pets, a house, a yard, and other outside responsibilities to ourselves and others. And we struggle to keep our "love life" from sinking underneath the weight of it all. Finding mystery and newness in the person you have been sleeping next to for years can be hard.

I wouldn't trade it though. And that seems to be the overarching consensus among married folk. But then...those are people who got married and stayed married. Ask divorced and widowed individuals, and you might get a very different picture of just how happy marriage does or does not make a person. And since most studies on marital happiness only deal with people who are currently married, they make for pretty skewed results.

I don't think marriage leads to happiness or well-being. Maybe security and comfort. But, it can cause stress just as much as it alleviates it. I also don't believe that parenthood makes us happier. Almost all evidence points in the opposite direction. So why bother?  Well, over time, it seems that marriage and parenthood can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and life concept. I guess that means that, as we age, having raised a family with a willing and helpful partner gives us comfort and satisfaction.

And maybe that's why the People article on Diane Keaton resonated with the radio station D.J.s and so many of their listeners. There seems to be a resounding fear of growing old alone. It isn't so much that we are all pining for wedding bells and diamond rings.  It seems more likely that we are all just normal social beings seeking to find lasting companionship.

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