Chapter 19 Love and Marriage

Chapter 19 Learning Objectives

Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:

  • Discuss the benefits and burdens that living together can bestow on a loving relationship. While marriage brings various legal rights and responsibilities, there are also considerations that need to be given to the daily strains of living together and to moral rights and responsibilities that law does not necessarily reflect.


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Contrary to statistical studies, married people probably do not live longer than single people; it just seems longer to them. — anonymous

For most people, the notion of marriage involves mainly the idea of being able to live together legally and being able legally to have sexual intercourse. Marriage is a kind of sanctioned social relationship. However, it is important to remember that marriage is a legal relationship that entails other legal rights (such as next of kin rights), duties, forfeitures, and consequences in general, that may differ from state to state, country to country, and time to time. I do not wish to concern myself with these other consequences except to mention about them, and I will touch only briefly on the sexual aspect. It is the nature of the living together aspect that I am most interested in here; so many of the ideas will equally pertain to people who are living together without being married.

First, sex: suffice it to say here that a legal right to sexual intercourse is not thereby a blanket moral right. In the section on moral aspects (that is, right- and wrong-making aspects) of sex, considerations are discussed which justify whether sex at a particular time is right or rational or not. For example, if one’s spouse is not in the mood or there is some other reason not to have sex, then just being married by itself does not override that reason. Marriage allows sex legally; it does not mandate sex morally. Coercive or forced sexual behavior in marriage may be legally permissible, but it is not thereby morally right.

Living together

I have already mentioned a friend of mine’s puzzlement over why people wanted to live together without being married, or why they would want to live together if they were not married. Certainly living in the same house can be economical, efficient, and convenient in many ways, he knew, (you don’t have to drive back and forth to see each other, use the telephone to talk with each other, pay two sets of household bills, etc.), but he believed that continually being together without much choice about it was the hardest part of being married.

Certainly, there can be problems. Living alone may sometimes be lonely, but it also allows privacy when the mood or situation warrants. (One can be lonely in marriage or a crowd too, when others do not share the moods or interests one has at the time; one comedienne, Joan Rivers if I remember correctly, once said you have not really known what it was like to be lonely until you have been in bed with her husband. In fact, when all is not well in a relationship, or when the partners are apart for whatever reason, then because one is not totally free to seek other companionship, marriage can sometimes even be lonelier than when one is single or not going with someone.) Privacy in the sense I am speaking of it is being able to be alone when you want or need to be. Not all the moments of our lives are ones which we wish to share with others. One does not want to have to be well groomed or well-dressed, pretty or handsome, cheerful, serious, appropriately behaved or appropriately conversational all the time; yet one also does not wish to have a loved one endure one’s foul moods or unkempt manners and appearance, even if they do not mind. In daily living together you do not always see someone at their best, nor do they see you at yours. Often that does not really matter, but sometimes it does, and privacy would be nice. This may also be true to some extent when you live apart and simply date. But then at least there is the opportunity to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and fashionably to be in your partner’s company when otherwise you are not feeling quite up to it or are not in the right frame of mind. Dating, as opposed to marriage, tends to allow time for preparation for, and recuperation from, each others’ company.

Different people require different amounts of privacy or private time (for example I need to be alone to read, and sometimes to write or just to think) and some couples can work out times of privacy for each mate without making it a time of privation for the other. They may have a place of their own at home where they are not likely to be disturbed — a small den, workshop, or sewing room; one may be able to escape to an office; they may have a second home on the beach, in the mountains, or in the country that can serve as a retreat. As long as each understands the other’s need for some private times, as long as one partner is not unfairly neglecting the other, and as long as each can tactfully seek private time without the other thereby feeling neglected, some problems that arise from not having enough time or space for oneself can be avoided.

However, people who want or need some privacy are not always fortunate enough to be able to get it. Not everyone has a room for solitude, a second house, an office of their own at work, or a mate who understands the need for private time; and not everyone has the time to spare from other responsibilities for the privacy they might desire. Children at home can decrease even further the amount of time (and energy) parents have for each other and for themselves.

Besides just needing some private time, there will be times when you would like to be together but your moods and/or interests conflict; and there will probably be times when one or both of you are unhappy, angry, or disappointed with the other and do not want to interact. One of you may be interested in a sporting event on television when the other wants to have a serious conversation about something; one may have had a melancholy day and be in the mood for viewing deep drama while the other is in a giddy mood and wants to attend a light musical comedy. One may be in the mood for sex; the other, not. One may be wide awake and in the mood for conversation or going out while the other is exhausted and ready to turn in for the night. There are better and worse, and more and less understanding, ways of resolving these differences in moods and desires. I will discuss some of them later in the ethics section. In terms of anger or disappointment, it is amazing how many different things a person can do that can be upsetting if you are not in the frame of mind to find them cute, overlook them, or ignore them. Some days that frame of mind is difficult to attain. In any roommate situation — sibling, college, camp, army, marriage, or whatever — friction can occur over almost anything at any time. One partner is compulsively early for appointments or social engagements; the other late. One believes in scrupulous sanitation; the other lets the cat eat out of their plate at the dinner table. One person seems to always find some reason to be busy with church work, civic tasks, career, or friends when the other feels it is time to spend some time together or with the whole family. One person seems to the other to spend too much time and energy on their mother or father. One partner tampers with, moves, or puts away the other’s fragile treasures in a manner that the other does not consider careful enough. Etc., etc. Many of these things are not important when all else in life is well; but unfortunately all else is not always well, and so sometimes even minor irritations can take on monumental proportions to even the most forgiving, tolerant, and patient partner. And many partners, not being so patient nor forgiving, do not require much cause to become annoyed. Until you live with someone over a period of time, it is difficult to imagine both how many different things about them could please you and how many could irritate you. (I know one man who, when he meets unmarried adults asks them since they are not married what they do for aggravation.)

Differences in mood and disagreements of any sort can arise at any time, particularly when there are outside forces that pressure and provoke one or both of you and that drain your energy, sap your strength, and weaken your ability to cope with minor, even otherwise unnoticeable, irritations. If both partners face such pressures, say at school or at work, chances for at least temporary conflict, irritability, and/or disenchantment may multiply. Some partners or couples can find their homes a haven from external daily problems and can grow even closer in the face of workaday vexations; but others cannot prevent, sometimes even with a sense of resolve and commitment, those outside irritations from intruding into their home lives and undermining or eroding its foundation.

The point of this is that living together, whether legally or not, can be, and too often is, not necessarily as glorious and as unremittingly romantic as some would think, so there are things to consider before marrying or moving in together that are just as important as, and perhaps even more so than, simply considerations of how you feel about each other. Love in terms of feelings may be unconditional, but living together is not. It may be easier to love from a distance than it is to love in unrelenting proximity when you cannot get the distance you need to let loving feelings override the other person’s bothersome or bad behavior.

Living together allows for the companionship, closeness, convenience, and spontaneity one wants in a loving relationship, but there are other things in life just as important as (and at times even more important than) convenience, spontaneity, closeness, and sheer physical companionship. Even loving feelings, particularly when they cause inappropriate jealous behavior or inordinate domineering behavior for the loved one’s supposed “own good” (that is, paternalism), cannot overcome all problems and may even contribute to them.

The point when considering marriage or living together — especially if one is planning to make a firm commitment (rather than a trial arrangement of a short term, optionally renewable contract) is to at least ask the question of whether the two of you will be satisfying enough and good enough for each other under such circumstances that the relationship is likely to stay a good one. Apart from sex and romance, just how well will the two of you likely get along as roommates? What kinds of things do you really like to do and what kinds of things do you really hate to have roommates do? If there are differences in life styles, how will you accommodate each other so as to cause the least friction and the least disappointment? Do you see people with different ideas and values as therefore inferior, bad, or weird, or do you just see them as interestingly different? How well are each of you able to say something pleasantly or tactfully about a disturbing matter before it builds into a problem out of proportion that provokes an undeserved attack? (I know of two separate couples who each had a terrible fight over one of the partner’s casually changing a dinner seating arrangement in order to better accommodate guests. Their spouses felt slighted and instead of calmly saying they would also like to change their seats so they could remain next to their mates, they took their partner’s seat change as a sign of dislike for them, let it fester, and really blew up in anger later, totally surprising their mates who hadn’t meant anything at all by the seating rearrangement other than to improve the evening’s comfort and companionship for everyone.)

And in terms not just of immediate daily living, but of longer range attraction, satisfaction, and good, it is important to ask, not do you love the other person enough (in terms of feelings alone) to get married now, but are there enough other elements in the relationship to make it likely to stay a satisfying and good relationship. What kinds of interests, goals, and dreams do you each have that you want to work to achieve? Does your partner share those desires? If not, will they come between you? If so, will you be a help to each other or not? If not, will that matter? Are you at a place in life where you are likely soon to meet someone with whom marriage could be better and more satisfying? Or have you looked around sufficiently to know there is unlikely to be a better mate for you, and are you philosophical enough and comfortable enough with yourself and your partner that, if by chance, someone does show up who might have been a (slightly) more suitable mate for you, you will not have regrets or have to pursue the new relationship at the expense of this one? Is this relationship strong enough and good enough, not just romantic enough, so that even if someone else terrific were to come along, there would be no need to break the commitment to your mate. One may trade in one’s car for another that one sees and likes better, but it is not fair to treat people that way. Even if one does not have the perfect marriage, one should not treat one’s partner unfairly or be uncommitted to him or her and shopping around for someone better for you. That is to treat people callously as if they had no feelings and required no consideration. And it is to make a mockery of commitment and obligation.

Commitment demands at least the reasonable attempt to make one’s marriage better by improving the relationship, not by changing partners. Commitment does not mean keeping a marriage of poor or mediocre quality that resists improvement, but it does, I think, mean not abandoning, or at least not readily abandoning, one above a certain quality just because a potentially better one seems to come along. How high a level the quality of the original marriage should be to maintain it is not easy to say and it depends in part upon whether there are children or others who might be affected, and a great deal on how one’s present mate might be effected. It is easy to imagine circumstances in which both would be better off separating or divorcing, but that is a separate issue from the one of just one partner’s being better off outside the marriage; one can understand and sympathize with someone who wants out because a relationship is irreparably detrimental, but there is justifiably little sympathy for a person who hurts his or partner by leaving a good relationship just because he or she thinks they can form a better one. The time to wonder whether you can do better — that is, have a better relationship, more loving feelings, better satisfaction, and be better for each other — with someone else is before you get committed to someone, whether the commitment is marriage, serious living together, becoming engaged, pinned or going steady. These last three are progressively weaker commitments that require progressively less reason to dissolve, but even the last requires some good reason to end, otherwise there is no point to being a part of it in the first place — why go steady if there is no commitment at all involved in it.

Also one must consider whether there is any need or rush to marry or live with someone at all instead of continuing to live alone. One need not compare a present relationship with the probability of some better future one but can compare marrying the present mate with living alone instead. Particularly if one is likely to find a more suitable mate soon enough for one’s desires, there would be no need to get involved in a temporary or somewhat undesirable relationship if living alone is not that terrible in the first place. There are plenty of fish in the sea, and though you will not find them all attractive, nor they you, and though not all of them and you will be enjoyable for or good for each other, generally there are sufficient numbers you can meet who you will like, who will like you, and with whom you can have an enduring, satisfactory and good relationship so that you need not take on a commitment you are not certain will be sufficiently romantic, satisfying, and good to want to keep — particularly if living alone is good enough that there is no good reason to take on such a commitment in the first place.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Marriage is a legal relationship that bestows certain rights and obligations which may or may not always coincide with moral ones. And marriage usually has ‘roommate’ benefits, burdens, joys, disappointments, and strains that can accompany any living together relationship whether involving love or not.

Key Terms

  • Commitment demands at least the reasonable attempt to make one’s marriage better by improving the relationship, not by changing partners.

Chapter Review Questions

  • Question: What is marriage?
  • Question: What are potential benefits and detriments of living together?

License

Chapter 19 Love and Marriage Copyright © 2017 by Richard Garlikov. All Rights Reserved.

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