Revision Note: Originally, this post was called ‘All About Marriage.’ As I went through personal growth, I don’t believe I’m saying all about it but only stating some basics. So I rewrote the title and revisited the content. Have fun reading.
The following thoughts are something I often discuss with someone that is about to get married. Not to discourage them, but to help them gain some perspective. This post summarizes my learnings from married life (mine and others) and the analysis of its dynamics.
There are all kinds of romantic people in this world, and I’m one of them, even if it’s hard to admit. I believe in love as described by Shakespeare in the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style. In this type of love, someday we meet someone that we go crazy about and simply can’t avoid wanting to be with them at all times. If we’re lucky, it will be reciprocal. That’s when we’re willing to die for one another!
I’m fortunate that this has happened to me more than once, and, to be honest, I love it when it happens. However, saying it happened more than once also tells that it hasn’t been forever! I still haven’t taken my life for anyone (whew.)
Infatuation happens when someone enters into our poetic memory in the words of Milan Kundera; this is, we get passionate. We see them close to perfect and shiny and fantasize about future idealized love.
Over time, passion turns into affection, and so now what? Soon enough, we’ll face the question: should I marry that person?
Let’s pause to analyze what happens on the affective side: If we define our sentiment as a combination of passion and affection, in the long run, we can approximate their intensities like in the following chart.
Passion is the initial force that pushes the relationship forward, giving a chance for affection to grow. If it does, it will make the couple enjoy a lasting bond that will keep them engaged. We build a foundation of trust and intimacy during this process that will set the stage for planning a future together.
This phenomenon happens in any kind of human relationship. If we removed the passion component, we’d have something that looks like friendship. But this tells us very little about whether we should spend our lives with the other person or not. The way I see it, affection is necessary, but not enough for a marriage to be successful. Passion by itself can be deceitful, as humans build their rationales to justify their emotions. Under the effects of passionate feelings, even the craziest ideas make sense.
So why should I get married? The answer depends on other factors. We have to understand is that getting married is to assume a compromise of executing a joint life-project. And this project should align with what we want for our own lives. Thus, first, we should ask ourselves some questions.
- What do I want from my own life?
- What are the shared life goals I have with my partner?
In my post’s original edition, I wrote that having kids is not a valid life-project to get married. I have changed my mind on this. Having kids is likely the most important reason to get married, certainly our biological one. We need to form a strong partnership to take care of a fragile human baby, and we are wired for that. But we need to find ways to remain together after the kids leave the nest.
One big mistake I see many people make is ‘making the sacrifice for your partner’ to prove your love. While altruism might feel noble and right, the relationship must produce a larger result than its components. Both sides of the partnership must clearly see the benefits. If you’re sacrificing for the other, you might fall into the trap of not feeling appreciated and most likely will not be sustainable over time.
So now, it should be clear how projects and trust are the foundation of marriage. The moment either is gone, there will be no strong reason to remain together. Companionship is a compelling reason to remain in a partnership, but it might not be compelling enough for lone wolves. There is the argument of growing old and alone might be wrong, especially as we will lose part of our independence with age, but arguably money could bridge that gap and keep the lone wolves alone.
Now I’m going to end by discussing a controversial topic: cheating. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that passion and affection are not enough for a successful marriage. I also said that we might get attached to multiple people. So why should it be different after having signed the partnership contract? After all, neither our nature nor our hormones have changed. Thus we shall not see infidelity as something to be condemned for but as something natural. But there is a nuance to it. We build trust in our partners through a shared set of principles and virtues. If we cheat, we might crack the foundation of our partnership.
Infidelities are not the only thing that undermines trust in the project. There are also other factors, such as lack of interest, disrespect, violence, and more. It’s vital to pay attention and not enter an unhealthy couple dynamic.
Finally, here are some notes about conflict. Conflict is not only normal but healthy. It’s an indicator of emotional investment and leadership. But it requires work and communication to be overcome. Not many have those skills, so it’s key to develop them and be effective. We can angle every problem to achieve a favorable outcome for both partners, but it requires work.
In sum, building a partnership and a marriage is a key step toward a personal life goal. As a pre-requisite, each of the partners ought to have clarity or a vision of what they want in life and expect from a partner. It’s worth nothing to start a purposeless relationship because the sum might be lower than its components. Yeah, some tactical companionship is fun, but let’s not fool ourselves. I recommend being alert to key success metrics and question the purpose of the marriage. Doing so at regular intervals can help solve potential problems before they become destructive. You need to strive for the union and be open to the idea that sometimes, going apart is for the best.