People vow to live with each other for the rest of their lives, giving little thought to whether, in the long run, marriage really makes sense. Not surprisingly, most marriages end in divorce or disappointment. People select a mate based to a large extent on physical attraction, yet physical attraction is only a small part of what is necessary to sustain a long-term, day-to-day relationship.
Most people do not have the virtues necessary to sustain a happy marriage. Intelligence, a variety of interests, a sense of humor, character — all these abstractions become quite real when living with someone day-to-day. Put simply, marriages cannot be any better than the people who are married.
Despite omnipresent evidence about the difficulties inherent in marriage, most people still get married. For those who intend to have children, this makes great sense, as children need two parents: The marriage vow indicates the agreement, or at least intention, of husband and wife to stay together and fulfill their role as parents.
What accounts for the continuing attraction of marriage, even among those who don’t intend to have children? Some would cite the influence of family, morality, or religion. But I believe an additional force is important — the desire to create the illusion of permanence in an impermanent world. Many people believe that the legalities and formalities of the marriage ceremony make their relationship more permanent. This may be true from a legal standpoint, but no ceremony can permanently bind people’s affection, or attraction, to each other. In fact, the illusion of a binding tie may have the opposite result, by lessening the incentive to be attractive, physically or otherwise, to their mates.
Marriage creates legal and/or religious bonds, but it can’t create the bonds that will make for a happy partnership between two people. As in any other situation, potential participants should ask themselves how the institution of marriage will help them create value. Far too often, marriage is motivated by economic interest. If people seek to create economic partnerships, they should do so without cloaking those arrangements in the language of love. However, even if the romantic tie is genuine and strong, the expectations of each partner in the marriage should be clearly defined; love is not an excuse to be foolish.
For those who simply seek romance and companionship, there is little reason to marry. If the objective is to raise children, this should be agreed on prior to marriage. As in all things, honesty should be foremost; each party should be clear as to their expectations. The institution of marriage can help people create value, if both parties clearly define their expectations. For instance, marriage can provide the structure and discipline some people need to enhance a permanent relationship. Most importantly, marriage can define each party’s responsibilities in the ultimate act of value creation — the creation of a family. Marriage is important not only in starting a family, but in helping to define relationships within the extended family.
Will marriage help lovers create value?