Is Marriage Still Important or Does It Just Make You Miserable?

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Photo: Prashant Gupta, FX
In FX's "Married" all Nat Faxon wants is his wife and all she wants is to be left alone.
Because of the onslaught of positive reviews, I recently felt compelled to check out FX's summer sitcom Married. The plot, a married couple with children, is something I can most certainly relate to at this point in my life. Both of the show's leads, Nat Faxon and Judy Greer, are fabulous comic actors and deserve their individual days in the sun. Plus, Jenny Slate plays Faxon's wacky gal pal and I would marry/adopt her if she was willing. So I tried it, and it's pretty funny. Enough.

I don't often find sitcoms worth watching past their pilots, but I've already watched a few episodes of this show. As mentioned, the acting is good, the writing is fine, but there's something I don't like about it and it was hard to put my finger on at first. This married couple don't really seem to like each other all that much. They love each other in a Roseanne and Dan Connor kind of way - foibles and all - but unlike that real-feeling married couple, Faxon and Greer don't like each other. I don't understand why they are still married.

As a television sitcom whose focus is dysfunctional married life, FX has tapped into some new territory. But for a married woman with children, this has got me worried. Is this the obligatory path of the married couple; husband always wants sex, wife always has headache, kids are obnoxious, we can't afford the luxuries we really want. Can marriage be chalked up to just those things, and if so, why is anyone still getting married?

There are about a million research studies about the state of marriage and coupledom, many contradictory to another. Marriage makes you live longer, makes you miserable, married women are happier than single, married women are less happy than single, married men with hot wives are happier, the key to a happy marriage to for the wife to be thinner than her husband (weird), and the list goes on and on.

Recently, the topic of marriage du jour is related to the trend in millenials taking their sweet-ass time to tie the knot. More often, they are cohabitating for what is being described as a "beta-marriage," meaning something like a trial run. Tom Keane, writing last month in the Boston Globe is worried that all of this is going to mess up the entire institution of marriage and then where will we all be? Anarchy!

Are people happier after they get married and why do people get married anyway? It's certainly worth considering, especially in light of the current struggle for marriage equality. I can only speak for myself, and I am quite happy being married. But I was also pretty happy with my guy before we got married too. It's been five years now. I think it was the same, but I also forgot what I ate for dinner last night. So there's that.

Since we've had our children, though, I will say that things have gotten more difficult. Lack of sleep aside, we now have more to worry about, argue about, and drink heavily about. I wouldn't say that having children has put a damper on our relationship, but it has changed things a lot.

I decided to take this topic to the streets - or the interwebs - and ask some recently married couples and cohabitators how they felt on the subject.

Of the newlyweds I spoke with, Craig Hlavaty, who you may remember as being a writer for this publication, has been with his now wife since March 2010 and the two got married this past summer. Hlavaty is one of those millenials who are bringing the average number of marriages in the country down, but he chose to do the deed for that old fashioned reason: he and his wife are in love.

"Plus, saying "my husband" and "my wife" just sounds cool," he says.

But does he feel any differently about his wife now that they are legal?

"I feel somewhat different being married as opposed to when we were engaged or just dating and living together," Hlavaty continues. "I have a responsibility to my wife to be the best person I can be, and now my goals have another person in mind."

Monica Danna-Garcia, who works as the Chief Strategy Officer at The Black Sheep Agency, is another newlywed; she and husband made it official last fall after three years together. She echoes Hlavaty's statement about love being the reason for marriage. Like much of the research on the subjects suggests, younger people aren't not getting married because they are afraid of commitment, (I know, double-negative) they just want to make sure it's all going to go well. Understandable.

"I think it (marriage) was a great way to solidify our commitment..." she says. But she continues that it's not always easy.

"Something about making something official changes things. Some for better, some for worse," she continues. "I feel like after we were married, I felt more settled and complete, which allowed me to seek happiness in other areas like career or friendships, so in a way happiness expanded, but in other ways the "dating phase" happiness was gone, but placed with a deeper relationship."

But is the idea of feeling more responsible for another person or having a deepened relationship a product of our culture telling us that we should feel that way? There is a new school of thought that marriage is a little, well, outdated. Writing for Time magazine last month, Jessica Bennett cites research that nearly 40 percent of millennial respondents stated that the "till death do us part" model of marriage needed to go the way of the dinosaur. Couples are looking very differently at reasons for needing to get married and many don't think there is a reason at all.

Once such person I spoke with that feels the legal unionization aspect to marriage is sort of wacky is Sarah Schellenberg, who manages the Programs and Services at Fresh Arts. Schellenberg has been with her significant other for 11 years and feels their commitment to each other doesn't need any signed affidavit.

"Neither Michael (her partner) nor I feel like marriage would add anything to our lives," Schellenberg states, "but, I especially, feel like it takes some important things away. For me, I'm very uncomfortable with anyone, other than me and him, having a stake in our personal relationship."

She goes on to say that it makes more sense for her to be committed without an organization, government or otherwise, telling her how to do it. Without a piece of paper forcing the other person stick around, he/she is doing so because they just really want to.

What I found really interesting was that none of the people I spoke with mentioned having children as a reason to get married, if they even wanted them in the first place. This is a trend as well. A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that 64 percent of mothers gave "birth at least once out of wedlock," with roughly one-half of these women never saying "I do." Although many of these are single millennial mothers, not all. Twenty-eight percent of children born had parents that lived together, just not in a formal union.

"Kids didn't have anything to do with why we got married." says Danna-Garcia, "We do plan on having kids, but I would have been fine having kids not being married."

And Schellenberg and Hlavaty aren't talking about having children right now or if at all.
"We'd like to have vacations for now instead of kids," Hlavaty says, while Schellenberg doesn't see kids anytime in her future.

Despite the modernizations affecting marriage, this country still has an alarmingly high rate of divorce - yeah, still about half of all first marriages - so it's no wonder that the current generation feels like it all needs a refresh. But who is the happiest in all of these scenarios; married without kids, married with them or cohabitating? Who knows! It's been said a million times and I'll say it again: To each his (her) own.

Let's just hope that none of these mergers wind up like the couple on the show Married because they just seem miserable.

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9 comments
Militia Tiamat
Militia Tiamat

talking to "newlyweds" about whether they thought Marriage was important. How inspired.... :(

Anse
Anse

I waited until I was 37 to get hitched. My wife was 33. I don't know why people think it's so hard. I guess if you married an asshole it must be pretty hard. But I wouldn't have been very good at married life at 25, I'll admit that much. 


You have to reach a point in your life where you can discern the difference between pleasure and joy, and why it's okay if you must sometimes miss out on the one in order to preserve the other. It doesn't take long to realize that the stuff you thought was important really isn't all that important.

Margarita Chagolla
Margarita Chagolla

Only Followers would follow (Pop/hip pop: any Music I'm 33 and married living every experience with a Smile. Live life 4 U:))

carli.liles
carli.liles

As a recently married 22-year-old (I know, I'm a baby, move on) I throw off the typical millenial mold (though the marriage wasn't the first time that's happened). 


I'm blissfully happy (though I've been married a whole 3 months so who am I to talk right). Though I can say for my friends those of them who have taken the "there's no reason to get married" mindset have parents who had a rough relationship and the majority of those are divorced. Both mine and my husband's parents have been married 30+ years.


I'd be intrigued to see the stats on the marriage rates of kids of divorced parents. 


I mean all of us millenials are terrified to invest in the stock market cause we saw how much it screwed our parents so why wouldn't we shy away from marriage for the same reason? 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Marriage is grand, divorce is a hundred grand.


As far as my wife and I are concerned, we may kill each other; but, divorce, never.

brandonr22
brandonr22

Love is a commitment. You don't really love someone when you're too afraid to commit to them aka beta-marriage. Honestly its pretty selfish because in the end it's all about your preferences and desires. A marriage won't work when you love and are committed to only yourself.

cosmopolitician
cosmopolitician

@Anse I think it's interesting that you don't think that marriage is hard. As one of the quoted subjects in this article, and married at age 35, I DO think that anything worth committing to can absolutely be hard. and my husband is not an asshole. I actually believe that because I waited longer than most to get married, that contributes to making it "hard." I've lived on my own, my own way, my own wants and needs for 35 years. The "hard" part has been assimilation, understanding that another individual has valid opinions, even if they are different than yours. I also feel like the naivety of a 22 year old is lost on me. I'm not blissfully expecting marriage to be all rainbows and butterflies, so I feel I'm better suited to work on things when they don't meet my expectations. 


Marriage is a new process that until you do it, you've never done it. So it's a learning process. I am OK admitting when something doesn't come easy. i also feel like figuring marriage out, together, will make our relationship deeper and stronger. 


As a friend told me on my wedding day, "may today be the day you love each other the least." 

paval
paval topcommenter

@carli.liles 

Carli, as a divorcee after five years of marriage, to which I committed at a late age, I may seem a person bitter about marriage. However I still believe in it, as much as I did when I got married the first time. I was 30 at that time and my bride was 22. 

I would never sign anything that says that marriage does not work, nor would i sign anything that says you have to live first and get married then. 

For the fortune of all of us, humans are all different and due to that difference some marriages may last 50 years when people got married at 22 and some others may dissolve within five weeks when both partners already had plenty of life experience and thought they had finally found the one. 

Though for logical reasons it may seem a safer bet to put ones chips in on a marriage of two 30 years old than on your own marriage, love and interhuman relationships don't necessarily always respond to logic. Humans do a lot of illogical things all the time and as some fail, some also work. 

Since you used your personal example I will use mine too. My family is a interesting construction because it is large. So its almost a statistical sample. 

My parents, he 84, she 74, have been together for over 53 years and got married only 8 years ago. On the way they have raised 7 children, that with exception of 2 all made it to a PhD. of these seven, 4 are divorced, 3 not (yet?). 6 out of seven have kids. So if you would think that long lasting relationships in the parent generation lead to long marriages in the next generation, you would be statistically wrong. Additionally we would count to the "inteligentsia" of our home country, so normally more intelligent people tend to pair up with intelligent people and you would think that more intelligent people should get along better (no petty fights for instance that over long can deteriorate a marriage) and also choose better a suitable partner. None of that due to aforementioned illogical things humans do when getting partnered up. 


I hope my example makes it clear, that even though I still strongly believe in marriage and have strong desire to remarry, I also know that neither statistics nor logic count when it comes to predict a marriage's chances of lasting. But I do think that staying married is and has to be a decision of the two partners involved, ideally alone. The moment your channels of communication in the relationship deteriorate in such ways that you feel necessary to seek outside help (parents, counselor, etc.) is probably the beginning of the end (and even this is not always true). 

Luck, circumstances, are exterior factors that need to be considered as possible benefactors or detractors of one's marriage as well. 


Best luck, good circumstances and good communication in yours

 

paval
paval topcommenter

@brandonr22 Neither will any kind of intra-human relationship


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