The Cost of Marriage

Every relationship ends in one of two ways; either you break up or you get married.Unfortunately, the sharp wisdom of that understanding is lost on so many of us as we struggle to force compatibility where it doesn’t exist and suffer in prolonged relationships that should have ended long ago. Why do we do this?

Divorce is something that has been shown to have severely negative effects on everyone involved. As a society, it is costing us dearly.

Divorce has statistically blown up over the past century, seemingly out of nowhere. Considering its negative effects on society, we should be trying to figure out how to get marriages and relationships back into a healthy equilibrium. Some might argue that the reason divorce is so prevalent today is because women are not bound to unhappy marriages due to greater freedom and economic opportunity.

Prior to this, they would argue, women had to remain stuck in unhealthy and abusive relationships because they couldn’t survive on their own. There might be some truth to that, but the position seems exaggerated. Are we to believe that 50% or more of marriages from previous generations were abusive and miserable and that if they could divorce they would? I’ll admit, that we probably could have expected an increase in divorce with the liberation of women, but not nearly to the degree that we’ve seen.

My sense of it is that it has a lot to do with sex. The sexual revolution taught us that we could discard the shackles of commitment and enjoy sex within casual relationships and encounters without the burden of consequence. Since this was a new and untested belief, the claim that a culture that embraced sex before marriage could do so without consequence was a complete guess. I would call it wishful thinking.

The thing about sex is that it’s extremely powerful. It’s something that, when you let it out, it’s very difficult to control. One of the undisputed side effects of sex is that it creates intense psychological and emotional attachment, especially for women. Since we’ve convinced ourselves that we can have sex without any measure of commitment, this puts us at odds with our biology and our psychology. You might go on a date and decide that you don’t really like the person you’re with and could never see yourself having a long term relationship with them, but then you hook up anyways for different reasons. Suddenly you find yourself psychologically attached to someone you never would have chosen to be so with. This makes it hard to move on and I believe that it creates long term, dysfunctional relationships that never should have existed.

When my wife and I were planning our wedding, one of the prerequisites our Church had for us was that we do a marriage preparation course. It was a weekend retreat that involved listening to talks, having group discussions, and doing worksheets together. The worksheets took each couple through a series of questions to get them talking about things that were essential to the anticipation of a life long commitment. As my fiancé and I went over the questions together we found ourselves rolling our eyes more than we were gaining insight. We felt like the talking points were so basic and obvious.

But as we came together in larger group discussions with other couples, we learned that several of them were confronting these questions for the very first time and were discovering some pretty serious disagreements between them. One couple even admitted that they might be calling the engagement off. I was at a complete loss to understand how they could get so far into an engagement and marriage planning process without ever having these kinds of conversations.

I think the reason, in many cases, is because these couples put sex ahead of a committed relationship and this routine of sexual intimacy had built an extremely powerful attachment that convinced them they were desperately in love even though they were completely incompatible with each other. For too many couples, I think it ends up being too late and they get married only to discover their incompatibility after they’ve blended their lives in ill-fated marriages.

If couples waited to have sex, they would never fall for someone that they shouldn’t. They would see the incompatibility for what it is and move on. Sex is an expression of intimacy and intimacy is something that should only be shared with someone that has earned that level of awareness of you. I argue that putting commitment ahead of premature intimacy is how we fix families and reduce the catastrophic epidemic of divorce which is costing our society severely.