A quick Google search of the question “Why Get Married?” will offer up an array of thoughts, opinions, and research on reasons why people should get married: health benefits, mental health benefits, etc.
My goal here isn’t to revisit these questions when there’s an abundance of resources on the benefits of being in a lifelong committed relationship. I’ll offer some links to those at the end of this blog post if you’re interested.
Instead, I’m leaning into a more provocative question: If you hope to be married in the future or if you already are married: why? What’s your motivation for spending the rest of your life with someone else?
You may be tempted to think this is an obvious or silly question. However, in practice I’ve found people can experience great difficulty answering this question, or their answers reflect something disconnected from their values and healthy motives.
Here are some examples of answers I hear when I ask clients why they want to be in a committed lifelong relationship:
I guess I’ve never really asked myself that question before.
I’ve just always pictured myself being married someday.
That’s what my parents always taught me to pursue and I never questioned it.
I really want to have kids and I need a partner to help me parent.
For those who are considering marrying the person they are currently in a relationship with, I’ll also hear responses like this:
He’s the one for me; he’s my soulmate.
I can’t picture my life without this person.
I’m so in love with her I just want to wake up every morning with her.
To all of these responses and more, I usually follow up by asking: why?
Why we need to ask “why”
Sometimes it can come across as though I’m just trying to stir up discomfort by asking why. It’s not like the idea of getting married is some unconventional or preposterous idea. Most people do marry at some point, so why question it?
When we make major life decisions without being in touch with why we’re making those choices, we have difficulty staying motivated to our commitment and putting in the work needed to stick to our commitment. And if ever there was a decision that requires daily motivation, commitment, and work, it’s marriage.
Given how huge of a commitment marriage is and how out of touch we are with why we choose to marry, it’s no surprise how many marriages are unhealthy or end in divorce. We are not capable of willing ourselves into doing something good for so long when we’re not sure why we’re doing it to begin with, or our reasons are too fleeting to sustain a lifelong commitment.
Yes, Marriage is good
In case you’re concerned I might be sounding a bit anti-marriage here, let me backpedal on my words a bit. Healthy marriage is a wonderful thing. Two individuals committed to each other for the right reasons through thick and thin can have a lasting and fulfilling relationship. Not to mention all the physical and mental health benefits associated with marriage.
However, I believe people don’t always have great models of healthy marriage to strive towards, so people often end up filling in the blanks and building a relationship based on unhealthy motivations. And I know the damage of that can be devastating.
Even for those who have a clearer sense of why they are choosing to commit to someone, if left unchecked they can lose touch with those reasons. Successful committed relationships require that both individuals have a sense of why they are choosing to commit to the other person as well as consistently returning to these reasons, adding, and revising them as they go.
How to answer the question of “why”
So how do you go about finding out why you are interested in marriage or being in a lifelong relationship with a specific person? To this I suggest beginning by putting your 3-year-old thinking cap on and asking “why” about everything you do know already. Really what this does is make us aware of our assumptions and the areas where we don’t know why. It may feel similar to that moment a 3-year-old asks why the sky is blue: there may be an initial reaction that this is a silly question, followed by a wave of realization that the question may not be so simple to answer. And hopefully, there is a third wave of curiosity: hm, I really wonder why the sky is blue. Let’s find out.
I’d like to emphasize the importance of not judging yourself for not knowing the answers to “why,” but instead to allow curiosity to come in: what an interesting question. Why do I think he is my soulmate?
Couples counseling is most effective early on
I love receiving phone calls asking if it’s weird to see a therapist as a couple when the couple is not yet engaged or married. To that I usually respond: I wish more couples would come in sooner. I’m glad you called.
If you are considering a lifelong commitment to your partner, I encourage you to consider couples counseling, whether pre-engagement or premarital. It will be much less work to catch potential conflict areas and nip them in the bud rather than waiting for them to build up over years when the layers of resentment, bitterness, and contempt have set in, making it much more work to change habits and rebuild trust.
Of course, if you have been married for awhile and tensions have built over the years, it’s never too late to get the help you need, and you can benefit from marriage counseling if you and your partner are willing to put in the work.
As a final disclaimer, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.