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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Marriage is Forever

In our society marriage is the structure people use to create a stable family unit. A man and woman marry with the intention of staying together for life. Within that bond they usually have children and raise them. This arrangement is good for the children. It guarantees that the two parents are totally committed to the children and to each other.

I can remember thinking as a teenager that marriage would be natural and easy. You fall in love and then you get married and you live happily ever after. Right? It turns out that that view of the world is a little naïve because it leaves out the most important part. To my teenage mind marriage was about love. To an adult, marriage is about commitment. It is about staying in love and staying together for a lifetime despite the fact that both partners are individuals who change over time. Marriage itself is easy. Two people can get married any time they want. The challenge of marriage is making it work for a lifetime.

The question you might have as a teenager is, "What could possibly be hard about being married? What could possibly be ‘challenging’ about it? Once I find a person who I am madly in love with and who is madly in love with me, marriage will be easy. Our love will keep us together no matter what happens." What I would like to do in this chapter is suggest to you several reasons why marriage can be challenging, and show you why marriage is a big step that should not be taken lightly.

Understanding the Challenge of Marriage

The first few months of most marriages is easy. This phase is called the "honeymoon phase" and may last up to a year. The honeymoon phase exists because the couple is enjoying the significant advantages of being married: living together, being together constantly, looking toward the future as a team, planning a family, sexual intimacy, trust, closeness and so on. The honeymoon phase is also aided by the effects of romantic love, which tend to mask problems and differences. The honeymoon period starts to end as the couple comes to the realization that marriage lasts a lifetime. Let’s look at some of the things that make a life-long marriage interesting:
  • Marriage is a lifetime commitment. This commitment can have a tremendous number of advantages: stability, financial strength and unity, infinite trust, etc. However, it can have a paralyzing disadvantage if one or both parties decides to abuse the commitment. Imagine a person who is told, "We are giving you your job for life—you can never be fired." Most people will continue to do a good job, but a few people would take that message as a cue to become extremely lazy. Marriage can cause the same effect. Both partners have to work hard to avoid complacency.
  • Marriage means that everything is shared. Sharing means that every major decision involves a team decision. If both parties do not agree, then conflict arises. Most people enjoy having a certain amount of freedom in their lives. Marriage instead forces a great deal of compromise. If two people have different spending habits (i.e., one likes saving money and the other likes spending it), it can cause immense strain.
  • Marriage involves being with the same person for long periods of time. While the couple is still "in love," this is easy. Once romantic love’s effects wear off and the relationship is driven more by friendship than sexual attraction, however, little habits can become irritating. Imagine living in an RV with your best friend for 10 years. After awhile even your best friend can become annoying. Countering this natural effect requires skill and creativity.
Marriage is something like a big amplifier. When things are going well, the team effect of marriage makes them go very well. When a marriage works it is a source of infinite peace and joy. However, when things are not working marriage tends to amplify things in a negative direction. It can make bad things worse because it can create a trap.

Have you ever noticed that many married couples spend a lot of time fighting? Have you ever wondered why that happens? It happens because at any given moment the two people in the marriage may want to do two different things that are mutually exclusive. For example:

  • You want to go to your best friend’s wedding while your spouse wants to go to "the big game" on the same day.
  • You want to go to church but your spouse wants to stay home on Sunday morning.
  • You want the house to be neat but your spouse does not care.
  • You want to buy a new car but your spouse wants to save the money and continue fixing the old one.
  • You want to live close to your family but so does your spouse, and the families live 1,000 miles apart.
  • You want to buy a new riding lawn mower but your spouse wants a new sofa.
  • You want to paint the house blue but your spouse prefers yellow.
  • You want to spend extra time at work but your spouse wants you to be home for dinner.
Imagine facing one or two situations like this every day, day in and day out, for 50 years. That is what makes marriage challenging. That is why you want to pick a good marriage partner. If you can find someone who will work with you daily and love you enough to solve all of the "little problems" that arise naturally in a marriage, then you will have a successful marriage that brings you joy throughout your life.

Finding a Good Partner

Because marriage is so strongly tied to family, because it is so permanent, because it is such a big step and because the cost of entry and exit is so high, adults put a lot of emphasis on it. So does the community. When you and your spouse get married, you are both proclaiming to the community your lifetime commitment together. You also are declaring, to some extent, your adulthood, your independence and the start of your household. The community understands how big this step is and responds with wedding gifts intended to make it easier to start the new household. You can imagine a young couple getting married in a small town 100 years ago. The couple starts its household and its family, and the community of adults chips in with wedding gifts to make the startup easier. Recall from Chapter 1 how expensive it is to get started. Wedding presents help you get over the hump.

You can now see that marriage is a big deal. It is not a party one weekend—it is a lifetime commitment to your spouse. Your parents want you to choose the "right" person:

  • A person who will help you to make the marriage work
  • A person who is stable and kind
  • A person who is slow to anger
  • A person who is a good worker and who has a good job
  • A person who will be a good mother or father
These qualities are universal. Here are some of the attributes of a good marriage partner:
  • Trust—When both partners trust each other implicitly, they are able to go through life with a tremendous amount of confidence and freedom.
  • Loyalty and commitment—Trust is built on a foundation of loyalty and commitment between the two partners. Many people get married with the concept that, "If I don’t like it, I’ll sleep around or get divorced." This is a recipe for disaster in any marriage. Marriage is about total commitment to your partner.
  • Helpfulness—Partners in a good marriage help each other constantly and accelerate their lives that way. Married life can be much easier than single life if both partners work together.
  • Friendship—Partners in a good marriage are good friends and gather strength and joy from that friendship.
  • Kindness—Partners in a good marriage are kind to one another out of love and friendship.
  • Patience and understanding—Partners in a good marriage understand and forgive each other for the mistakes that come from being human.
  • Acceptance and support—Partners in a good marriage accept one another and support each other constantly.
If a couple can maintain these qualities within the marriage, then success is much easier. Maintaining those qualities, it turns out, takes quite a bit of discipline. If one or more of these fundamental qualities is missing, then you can say with some certainly that the marriage will fail.

There are quite a few things that can cause a marriage to fail:

  • Disagreements over money—If one person is frugal and the other is free-spending, the conflict that arises can be extremely difficult to manage.
  • Laziness—If one partner is not willing to put in the effort required to make a marriage work or keep the household functioning (financially or operationally), then the conflict that arises can cause a lot of stress.
  • Stubbornness—If one or both spouses refuse to compromise, then the marriage likely will not survive. Marriage depends on compromise.
  • Infidelity—The fundamental contract in marriage is "lifetime commitment to a single partner." If one partner breaks this contract, the marriage is over.
  • Disagreements over children—If one spouse wants children and the other does not, you simply should not be married. It is impossible to reconcile this difference because one partner is guaranteed to be dissatisfied.
  • Physical or mental abuse—The partner being abused should leave to maintain his or her own health and safety.
  • Addiction—Alcohol or drug addiction will destroy any marriage.
As a teenager thinking about marriage you probably do not have all of this complexity in mind. How could you? However, it is important that you come to this level of understanding and take marriage seriously. When you get married you are committing to your chosen spouse for the rest of your life. You are making that commitment, generally, in order to start a family. Keep that in mind and you can understand why your parents see dating and marriage as such a big deal.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Marriage

Having discussed all of this, you can see that there are advantages and disadvantages to being married. The advantages include:
  • Unconditional love, stability and consistency—You don’t have to worry about dating, breaking up, etc. There is one person you love and will love you for the rest of your life.
  • Lower cost of living—A married couple tends to have more free time and/or more money because the cost and work of a household are shared by two.
  • Confidence—It is very reassuring to know that there is a person who loves you and only you no matter what and who lives to be with you. That sort of commitment can give you a tremendous comfort and confidence.
  • The potential for children—Inside a stable marriage it is possible and extremely easy to have and raise children.
There are also disadvantages:
  • You are locked in with a single person—If you like to be with a different person every week, marriage is not for you.
  • You give up a great deal of freedom—Every decision will now be a compromise between two people.
  • You are going to have to work to maintain and build your human qualities—Trust, loyalty, commitment, kindness, patience, etc. are not easy. You have to work at these skills every day in a marriage to become better at them. If you are not willing to put in the effort, you will fail in the marriage.
If you find that you cannot deal with one or more or the disadvantages, then that tells you that you should not get married.

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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent