Marriage’s fulfillment, happiness can’t be replaced by cohabitation

Column by Natalie Glover

A few weeks back, I wrote an article asserting that a dating relationship without marriage as a goal is pointless. This was too strong of a claim, and I should qualify that statement now by explaining that relationships planned to be temporary are fine, so long as both parties, in order to avoid unnecessary grief, establish that that’s the way it’s going to be.

This time around, though, I’d like to focus in on marriage itself — what it is and why it’s important and good.

A friend and I were having coffee last week and he said that he never wants to get married. I had no problem with that until he continued to explain that he didn’t think it was necessary for anyone. He said that besides tax benefits, there was no real difference between two married people and two people cohabitating with a promise to never leave each other.

Some people in the latter case (not all, mind you, but a likely majority) like having the chance to opt out in the future and perhaps avoid marriage so this chance will be a little easier for them. Many agree, but regard the opportunity to leave as a good thing. But who wants to join and separate with different partners for the rest of their lives?

Heartbreak sucks, and it’s not much of a stretch to see that eventually, an enduring commitment is best for a couple.

Realistically speaking, you just can’t take people at their word all the time.

The pro-ball player who promises to play for a team but refuses to sign the contract won’t fly. The couple who swear that they’ll care for and raise a child but don’t care to officially adopt don’t cut it. And your signature always goes on your Starbucks receipt to prove that you agree to the cost of your beverage. Formal contracts are often essential for validation, commitment and trust.

Like I said, people think a little more about legal decisions, about whether they’ll still want them in 10 years. In 50 years. And I understand that people change, that there are necessary and justifiable divorces. But if marriages were treated with more honor and entered into with more foresight, far fewer would be bad and broken.

Besides, marriage is more than a legal contract, more than a piece of paper. It’s a covenant so strong that it makes you and another person one flesh (Mark 10:8). Of course this is a metaphor, but it emphasizes the depth of unity that occurs, a bond that those with any religion or lack thereof should recognize.

Even if your commitment doesn’t involve God, it involves the person for whom you have an unconditional love (if you take your vows seriously). Some would even say it involves others because you’re making a public commitment — it’s a promise made not only to your spouse, but to the rest of the world.

It is with a solid and sacred foundation such as this that we can build a pleasant and functional society. Strong marriages lead to strong families, which lead to strong communities, cities and so forth. It’s hardly a stretch to see that what happens in the home resonates throughout the whole of a nation, and the more good marriages we have, the more prosperous the individual, and the nation, will be.

One thing I don’t take back from my previous article is my emphasis on commitment over emotion. Some get bored when the passion isn’t high, when the butterflies in the stomach flutter away, or when conflicts arise. What I continue to stress, though, is that this is all right.

Ideally, you date and marry because of who a person is, not because of how that person makes you feel. True love requires a loyalty present regardless of what emotions are occurring, and it’s OK to not be absolutely crazy about someone all the time. As the vows imply, there will be better and there will be worse, but a wisely chosen marriage will be worth the ups and downs.

Unlike a permanent (or not-so permanent) shack-up, a good marriage will produce more happiness, contentment and fulfillment than any other bond on earth.