The institution of marriage has been misrepresented, attacked, rebelled against and dragged through the mud extensively over the past few decades. Our generation seems to have lost faith in the notion almost entirely. If “happily ever after” doesn’t happen, why should “till death do us part” be expected? Unfortunately, most of the discourses that shed negative light on marriage miss both the point and value of it to begin with.
Observing the number of miserable married people, the frequency and ugliness of divorce and the ever-rising rates of single-parent or common-law families that seem to be doing just fine, I would be tempted to agree that marriage is simply outdated and unnecessarily burdensome.
However, the sentiment that we’re better off without marriage entirely because of this reality breaks my heart. The relationships I observe that seem to be evidence against the importance of marriage are actually indicative of why we still need real, permanent marriage — and need it badly. Those relationships have often missed the richness of marriage entirely.
The weight of the vows a couple makes to each other is astronomical. They are pledging to love, cherish and support each other exclusively, regardless of poverty, illness, injury and disability or conflict, for the rest of their lives.
I would dare to suggest that most couples who divorce either did not fully understand what they were promising when they got married, or don’t understand when they get divorced that they are breaking the vows they made. Or maybe they do and it just doesn’t matter to them because their happiness is more important than some piece of paper they signed years ago while wearing fancy clothes.
If couples who got married really meant their vows and took them seriously, I can think of no relationship more secure and fulfilling than marriage. Both spouses would know — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that regardless of external turbulence, internal conflict or the inevitable changes that will happen over the course of life, they would still have someone in their life to value and love them. They may not be married to someone they like or who likes them every single day, but at the end of the day they can still count on the love that they chose to promise each other on their wedding day.
How is this more powerful than a relationship where you are “choosing to be there” each and every day? It is permanent. There is certainly significance in knowing that a couple is choosing, each moment, that they still want to be together. However, there is greater significance in knowing that someone chose to be with you for the rest of your life, for better or worse.
There is something very profound in committing the rest of your life to another person. I feel much more secure knowing that someone is prepared and has committed to love me, even as I change and grow. It is a little intimidating to know that if the person I marry changes into someone I don’t like as much, I’m still stuck with them, but if I’m not prepared for that possibility, maybe I shouldn’t be getting married.
Marriage is a very serious commitment that needs to be entered into by two mature, consenting individuals. The concept of only staying with someone as long as they’re both happy or as long as they’re “still in love” is very immature — it misses the depth of what love itself is.
Love is not a feeling, it is a choice. It is a choice to put someone else’s needs or wants before your own, to choose the highest good for the other person. If a couple getting married realizes this, I would guess that their marriage would stand the test of time because that is what they promised each other it would do.
If a couple does not realize this, I would argue that they aren’t fully consenting. It would be like when we all skim — or don’t look at all — at terms and conditions online and click “I agree.” We’re consenting without full knowledge of the depth or details of what we’re actually consenting to. Not a big deal when you’re entering a draw online that will be over in a month or two, but extremely important when you’re taking vows that are supposed to last your whole life.
The institution of marriage is not problematic in modern society, it’s our attitudes and maturity in relationships that are. Many people are very selfish in relationships. This is evidenced by the breakup line, “I’m just not happy/in love with you anymore.” Marriage cannot be a selfish act.
Marriage vows, in short, tell the partner, “I am willing to face times of misery and hardship to be with you for the rest of my life,” and if both individuals mean that, then a beautiful, stable, enriching, life-long commitment has been made. After all, it’s meant to be “happily ever after,” not “happily every moment after.”
Graphic: Stephanie Mah/Graphics Editor