Summer is almost here, bringing day trips to the beach, lunches on the patio and, most of all, weddings. Every year approximately 2.5 million marriages occur in Canada. However, the divorce rate is also approximately 41 per cent last year according to Statistics Canada. You don’t have to be an expert to see that these aren’t good odds for those who are entering into matrimony. How is it possible that couples who once professed their undying love for their partner in front of their friends and family end up separated? Even more importantly, does marriage even matter and has it become an outdated practice that pushes us into feeling a sense of psychological imprisonment?
When I ask people why they are propelled towards marriage I get the following answers: “because I love my partner,” “I want to be with my partner forever” and “he/she is the only one for me.” A client once told me that if her partner of three years did not propose to her that year she was going to leave him even though he was an attentive man. So what is it about marriage that makes us so stir crazy to get to the finish line. For some, it’s a way to define personal success beyond their careers. Above all, people often grapple with the question of what not being married say about them.
There’s a common belief that if you truly love someone you will take the ultimate step. What can be better proof of your love than the institution of marriage. Couples want to show each other just how much they mean to each other by promising that there will never be another like them. In fact, the definition of marriage is when two people who love each other make their relationship public, official and legal. This legitimizes their love and commitment to each other and has historical roots functioning as a contract for the joining of assets. People also argue that marriage contributes to happiness and that children with parents that are married experience a more stable environment.
But it’s inaccurate to assume that couples who are not married aren’t legitimate. We also can’t assume that marriage is the only way to show love and commitment, and we certainly aren’t guaranteed fidelity or happiness in a marriage. Even the rise of prenuptial agreements before entering marriage challenges the functional rationale for marriage when it comes to combining assets.
Recent studies show that it’s not marriage that produces a stable environment for children but rather the level of conflict between family members. Scientists have even looked at biological differences between married and non-married couples. They found no difference in testosterone levels in males between the two groups. Marriage itself is not enough to produce happy couples. Happiness instead depends on the level of commitment by each partner.
You may be thinking that if commitment were the key to happy partners, then marriage surely would produce happier couples more often than non-married relationships. I would argue that happiness in marriage often has less to do with our romantic notion of what marriage brings and more to do with how committed we actually are. After all, married people can cheat, argue and divorce. Marriage does not shield you from heartbreak any more than a relationship can. Furthermore, divorce also holds all kinds of financial outcomes that lead to increase stress and conflict even with the protection of assets through prenuptials agreements.
Not being married can trigger many of our insecurities by leading us to question our self worth and desirability. Companionship is important for many and relationships can only go so far before people question “what’s next”? But I’ll tell you this much: happiness does not always lie behind marriage and it certainly is not the end of the road. The couples that walk through my door will be the first to tell you that marriage is not without a lot of work.
For those who choose to define their personal success and happiness with marriage, it can be unsettling when you’re still driving towards that destination. Love, commitment and respect are the foundation of a loving and long lasting partnership, which is not reserved just for those who are married. For those lucky enough to find a loving, committed and respectful relationship perhaps you’re already at the destination.
Amy Yew is a researcher and therapist. Tell us what you think and submit any questions you have to email@example.com. You can also tweet your thoughts on Twitter @AmyYew.