If you have already decided
on marriage and are more interested in the practical considerations involved in
preparing for or planning your wedding, try part one of this article.
But if you need help in deciding whether marriage is right
for you, continue reading.
I will assume you are already in a serious
relationship, perhaps you've been living with your partner for several months
or years, and now you're wondering whether marriage makes sense. You've probably
heard horror stories of couples who have lived together happily for several years,
decide to get married, and shortly after they "tie the knot," their
relationship falls apart. Surely you don't want this to happen. Rest assured.
I find such stories are the exception that proves the rule. It's far easier to
get married than to get divorced. So you do want to be sure that marriage is right
for you, not because getting married may end your relationship, but because you
don't want to go through the pain and disappointment involved in divorce.
So how do you know whether marriage makes sense at this point in your relationship?
In my own mind the most important reason for marriage is wanting
to raise a family. As long as your relationship involves just the two of you,
there isn't any particular urgency in making this commitment. But if you are thinking
of having children, then the added sense of security and stability that marriage
entails becomes critical. The ebb and flow of your relationship will be felt by
your children. And the more you can surround your children with a sense of emotional
security, the better off they will be. Being married, and including in your family
the extended relationships of grand-parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins,
and, I would add, the stability of a loving church community, can be an important
part of what will make your new family work. So the most compelling reason for
marriage is your desire to build a family.
Next, I would say from personal
experience that a good marriage is a great foundation for personal growth. I hate
the expression, "tie the knot," as a way of referring to marriage. Ideally,
marriage is rather a context in which you can experience your freedom and creativity.
There is no one who supports my own creativity and growth more than my spouse,
and I try in every way to be supportive of her growth as well ... personally,
professionally, spiritually, intellectually. I do not see marriage as a matter
of putting one's personal interests on the back burner out of deference to one's
partner, rather I see marriage as providing a strong, nurturing and supportive
setting in which you and your spouse are free to be and become all that you are
meant to be. I will add that it's the same about fidelity in marriage. Being able
to trust your partner emotionally is conducive to a statisfying phsysical relationship,
especially one that deepens and grows over time. A one night stand, or a love
affair, can be exciting ... but neither can be as fufilling and as deeply satisfying
as a love that is lived out emotionally, spiritually and physically across many
years, enriched by the layers of memory and experience that are part of a relationship
that continues to deepen and grow.
Finally, marriage can provide a good
platform from which to reach out and engage with the wider world. Having a strong
personal relationship with a spouse who shares your deepest values can mean that
he or she will encourage and empower you to become involved in community activities
beyond the home. Having a secure primary relationship means that you will have
time, energy and encouragement to reach out through volunteer activities ... in
schools, church, or voluntary organizations of countless varieties. The fact that
you no longer need to show up at the singles bar on a Friday night may mean that
you can volunteer that time to help build a home for a homeless family in your
community through Habitat For Humanity, for example.
In sum, as a foundation
for buiding a family, because it can provide support and encouragement for your
personal growth, and because it can empower you to make a contribution to the
wider world, marriage may be right for you. In the end, of course, all of this
depends upon whether you can envision your relationship involving all of these
dimensions. If so, then the answer is clear: go for it.
you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call: 917-439-2305
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.