Why is there so much trouble with marriage? Okay, I don’t have easy answers. But I do have a thought about the societal structure of gender involvement (notice how I dodged the heterosexual versus homosexual issue?). And yes, naysayers, I am divorced. Consider this: Sometimes we learn more about our lives from the mistakes we make than what we do right—whatever “right” or “wrong” happens to be. In any case, I’m not suggesting I’m an authority, I’m suggesting that perhaps I’ve got an idea or two. In other words, if someone is pointing their finger in a particular direction, it might pay to attend to the direction more than the finger itself. So there!
First of all, we can certainly note that the institution of marriage persists, even if a near majority of marriages themselves dissolve. In fact, think about the importance we give the institution of being together, that lost as we might be, we make up incredible stories with little basis in reality, to enable connections to be formally formed. We know those connections are important, but we don’t seem to know how to really create and/or recognize them. Nonetheless, perhaps we marry because we are embracing, more or less, the hope and the promise that our lives will be easier and more fulfilled.
However, most of us are not sure, so when we find someone we can relate to on some deeper level than our normal relationships, and they with us, we may tend to think/feel that’s good enough. But inherent in that assumption is that there still may be another who is better. So, we go forth speaking commitments while retaining options.
I’ve heard it said that we should not marry someone we can live with, but the one we cannot live without. Okay, there are some crucial definitions involved there, but the point is how do we know the latter condition? In the former condition, we may actually commit to work to make the relationship one we cannot live without. In the latter, it already is or the work is completed. Should we wait to marry until it’s the latter condition? I don’t think that necessary. Certainly two people can try and work it out. If they don’t, they don’t. However, the idea that we marry for the rest of our lives is not inherent in the first condition in which we are trying to work it out.
So, how do we have a successful institution of marriage when we expect the couple, by virtue of having married, to just work things out? Given the divorce rate, clearly that approach is not working so well.
Do we expect that dating is the means to decide whether marriage is possible? The problem with dating as a means to work on a relationship is that while it may be recognized by the couple and others, there is no spoken, public acknowledgement. Let’s face it, the public end of it is important or people wouldn’t bother getting married in the first place, they would just live together until a default, of one kind or another, arose. The principle of making a public acknowledgement is to make the commitment public knowledge. This has the effect of making it harder for a couple to claim they really didn’t mean for the relationship to go any further. In other words, a public acknowledgement is an explicit contract that has to be publicly broken. That’s what brings commitment into the light of day.
Perhaps we should have two kinds of ceremonies to keep it straight: One is that we are getting together because we think the conditions are ripe to try and get to the end of “ifs.” Let’s call that ceremony “Agreements” or something like it. In this case, dating precedes a public acknowledgement that the couple wishes to now enter into the next step, or the “Agreements.” If “Agreements” works, then the couple has a second ceremony and we’ll call that one “Marriage” in honor of recognizing that the couple has indeed gone beyond “Agreements” and has reached the end of options—they know they are together regardless of what comes up—they are a “we” and it cannot be otherwise.
In such a format, I would suspect that there would likely be lots of “Agreements” that don’t lead to “Marriage.” But I would think there would be far fewer “Marriages” that lead to divorce.
Let’s look at it like we do in going to school: It’s a formal process and by laying the groundwork and proper foundation, we are likely to have a solid structure. Right now, we simply have a structure that allows marriage to be a kind of practice—the kind of practice that is about figuring out if the couple should be married in the first place. It’s a strange institution that grants such a decree when neither the couple nor the society knows if any expertise to succeed exists at all.
If we want the institution of marriage to be sacred, let’s put into place the steps that make it more likely to be sacred. It is not enough to simply say marriage is sacred and then expect people to remain married when they realize they never were in the first place. We cannot force people who are ill equipped and just plain wrong, to stick with something that is of little benefit to anyone. However, we can support the process of marrying by setting up an institution, much like schooling, that helps equip a couple to learn what it takes to surrender, to go to where marriage is freedom born from the end of options.
Hmmm. What about having and raising children? Looks like we’ve got to have yet another institution devoted to helping us be prepared.
All right, we’ve still got to look at what might lead to the necessary surrender to get to the end of relationship “ifs” in the first place. But that’s another musing for another time.