Anyone who knows me has heard me say, shoot, at least a dozen (times two) times that I think one of the most underrated causes of divorce is the fact that too many people "act married" in their dating dynamics before ever jumping the broom. Another way to look at what I'm saying is, the way a lot of us act in before-I-do relationships, it actually teaches us how to divorce rather than how to remain in a marriage until death parts us from our spouse (more on this in a bit). And you know what? I actually think that's a huge part of the reason why so many folks dismiss the sacredness of the marital union and instead, take on the attitude of, "I mean, if it doesn't work out, just end it and find someone else"…because that's what happens when we date. RIGHT?
While being in a serious non-marital relationship is nothing to be flippant about and it indeed holds a lot of value, for the sake of doing all that I can to prevent future walks down the aisle from turning into two individuals later standing before a judge, I wanted to take a time to shout the magnitude of marriage out. For those who are considering it. For those who are engaged. And for those who are married, so that we all can bring the beauty, purpose and gravity of marriage—back.
1. Marriage Is a Contract
I'll never forget something that a husband of over a couple of decades once told me. He said, "One of the hardest things about being married is trying to see the relationship as sexy when your spouse is also your business partner." Listen, I was just recently talking to some men who tried to pull that "Why do I need to marry my girl? Marriage is just a piece of paper" line when they were talking to me about their girlfriends. I loathe that statement just about as much as that, "If you like it, I love it" thing that a lot of people say.
Umm, the title to your car isn't "just a piece of paper" and neither is the deed to your house—and you definitely would flip out if you didn't have those. A marriage license brings along with it some responsibilities that no one who is just dating or living together is expected, even by the government, to uphold. Plus, there are consequences if you don't uphold those responsibilities too.
That said, I will say that it is definitely well worth your time to do some research on how marriage licenses came to be. Long story short, we didn't even use them in America until the 1920s and it was actually to keep tabs on interracial couples (the more you know, right? You can read more about that here). That's why some people prefer to go with a marriage certificate than an actual license. That's another article for another time. For now, though, since an overwhelming majority of people go the marriage license route, and a license, by definition, is "formal permission from a governmental or other constituted authority to do something" and "a certificate, tag, plate, etc., giving proof of such permission; official permit" and then since a contract is "an agreement enforceable by law", this definitely tops the differences between having an official spouse vs. dating someone on a serious level. Marriage comes with a contract. Signed contracts are nothing to take a casual attitude about.
2. Vows Are Heavy Promises. Very.
If you're someone who is a bible follower, it's worth checking out what Matthew 19:1-12, I Corinthians 7:10-11 and Malachi 2:13-17 has to say about God's views on divorce. And when it comes to vows specifically, Ecclesiastes 3:4-5(NKJV) is pretty sobering. It says, "When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—better not to vow than to vow and not pay." That said, how many times have you sat in a wedding service and heard the pastor or officiant say, "What God has joined together, let no man separate" (which is also in the Bible, by the way. It's a direct quote from Matthew 19:6)? This speaks to two people being joined, by God, in marriage. This means that the vows they are saying to each other, they are saying to him as well. This means that if they break said vows, it's not just to their partner. God is in the mix too. That's pretty heavy.
Yet even if you're not a bible-based person, vows are still a really big deal. It's literally "a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment". Some of y'all might remember India.Arie's song "Promises" from back in the day. The hook says, "A promise, is a promise in my eyes/Can't say you're gonna just to compromise/The very thing that keeps two hearts intertwined/A promise is a promise you can't deny, there's no way." Indeed.
A promise speaks to more than intent. It's a commitment. It speaks to one's character. One's maturity. One's focus on honoring their word, even when they may not want to or feel like it. A promise is all about integrity. That's why I like that a wise person once said, "People with good intentions make promises. People with good character keep them."
Speaking of character, when it comes to honoring one's marital vows, it's been reported that atheists are better at it than Christians are. When I once discussed this fact with a married atheist couple they simply said, "We don't need religion to keep our word." And won't that preach? So yeah, marriage is quite different from seriously dating in the sense that, while you should always do what you say you're gonna do, marriage vows take that up a few notches. Then add tax. Spiritually and as far as one's character goes.
3. Marriage Consists of Obligations That Dating Doesn’t
Yeah, while some of y'all might not sit well with the word "obligation", that doesn't make the reality any less true because when you're obligated to something, it means that it's "something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc." Did you see that "law" word again? There is definitely a sense of duty that comes with the custom of marriage. No doubt. There is the obligation to remain faithful. There is the obligation to make each other the top priority, no matter what. Husbands traditionally have an obligation to provide and protect. Wives traditionally have the obligation to be their husband's strong support system and partner. Spouses don't do this stuff just because they feel like it; it comes with being married.
If in your mind you're like, but I am seeing someone and I do these things too—I get that. However, you aren't obligated too. For instance, if the understanding in your relationship is that the two of you aren't going to see other people, that is a choice, not exactly an obligation because if your partner finds out, all they can really do is break up with you. A divorce is far more complicated than a break-up.
Then there are the rights that come with marriage. Married couples can file joint tax returns. If a divorce transpires, alimony typically comes into play. Spouses can inherit their spouse's property should they die. Should they pass on, they can also collect their spouse's Social Security, pension, worker's compensation, or disability benefits. This is because a marriage license basically obligates the government to uphold these kinds of things. A dating dynamic never has these kinds of things coming into play. Another thing that makes the two statuses worlds apart.
4. Spouses Can Legitimately Make Certain Requirements
I do strive to be a bible follower myself, so something that I take no issue with is submission (umm, because it is biblical. Ephesians 5, Titus 2, Colossians 3:18, I Peter 3:1-6). It's a part of the reason why I don't consider myself to be a feminist; I am a complementarian (also another discussion for another time). However, what I will say is I'm not an advocate of women submitting to someone that they date. For what?
Submission is a gift that is given in marriage to a man who is also pledging to be your provider and protector for the rest of your life. It's my personal opinion that no man deserves something that special without that level of commitment. Yet once that commitment is in place, there are requirements that both husbands and wives can make with one another. Another word for requirement would be boundaries.
A requirement is a request made that comes with a certain level of authority and yes, I think that applies in marriage. "Husband" and "wife" aren't just cute words; they are titles. When we see someone with a wedding band on, it signifies that there is someone in their life who comes before all others and with that understanding, they are things that they both can ask for that no other kind of relationship can. I'm not gonna get into what those things are because every marriage is different. What I will say is if you ask any husband or wife you know if there are obligations in the relationship, I'd be shocked if they said "no".
5. Marriage Necessitates Sacrifices That Dating Does Not
Unfortunately, something that I see far too often in some of the marriage sessions that I have are people who don't want to make sacrifices to make their relationship work. It's like the moment things get too difficult, they're out—again, like their spouse is a boyfriend or girlfriend rather than a husband or wife. I don't know one marriage that has lasted for longer than the traditional seven-year itch that hasn't made some major sacrifices. It could be professional, financial, ones that are related to in-laws or friends—the list goes on and on. Shoot, sometimes the sacrifice is wanting to end the marriage and yet deciding to stay in it for the sake of the kids (yet one more discussion for another time). Maybe it's wanting to live in one state or country and not being able to do it because the spouse isn't interested.
Let me tell it, one of the best things about being single is there aren't continual sacrifices that have to be made for the sake of another person (unless you are a single parent, of course). That's not saying that I don't respect the sacrifices that are made in marriage. After all, a sacrifice is "to surrender or give up, for the sake of something else". All I'm saying is, singleness provides the opportunity to be more selfish—in the solely focused on yourself sense—than marriage ever allows. And if you're not emotionally mature enough to see how sometimes giving up what you want for the greater good of someone else and the relationship that you're in with them is necessary, you are far better off not getting married. Until you do.
6. Sex Is a Priority, Not Just an Activity, in Marriage
Speaking of selfish, I know A LOT of sexually selfish married people. Yep, I said "selfish" and that's the word I'm sticking with because being selfish is all about being self-consumed—and that is something that you can't afford to be in marriage, including in the bedroom. As I once heard someone say on a television show (that escapes me at the moment), "When you get married, you exchange 'I' for 'we'" and that will preach a thousand sermons. And it's definitely one of the things that we have to keep in mind, should we choose to be sexually active prior to marriage.
Here's what I mean by that. Remember how I said that the way a lot of us date—meet someone, "fall" in love, give our all, break up, rinse and repeat…over and over again—teaches us how to divorce because it desensitizes us from what it means to see marriage in a totally different light? Sex can do that too, if we're not careful. We'll be out here, single, having sex solely for our pleasure (and sometimes if our partner wants to), without really thinking about the purpose beyond sex other than our own personal gain. Then, once we get married and realize, "Oh, sex should be a staple in the relationship", we will find ourselves struggling. It happens all of the time.
That's a huge part of the reason why I wrote articles for the site like "10 Wonderful Reasons Why Consistent Sex In Marriage Is So Important", "8 'Kinds of Sex' All Married Couples Should Put Into Rotation", "7 Spiritual Principles About Sex That Married Couples Should Never Forget", "Bible Verses That Remind Married Couples To Explore Their Erotic Sides" and "What 5 Men Had To Say About Married Sex". It's to help drive home the point that if marriage kicks a relationship up some notches, sex in marriage most definitely does too.
Sex is to be a top priority in marriage. Sex is a responsibility in marriage. Sex is more than physical pleasure in marriage as well. It's an act that helps to solidify oneness between married people which makes it special and sacred in every way. This brings me to my final point.
7. If You Are Spiritual, There Is True Oneness in Marriage
Let's end this on a biblical and then spiritual (for the non-biblical people) note. When it comes to the Bible, there is only one relationship in the Good Book that defines it in the form of oneness—and marriage is it. The Bible clearly says it in Genesis 2:24-25(NKJV) when it states, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." The Bible doesn't see dating in this fashion (there actually isn't dating in there at all; just betrothing). The Bible doesn't see friendship like this (although Jonathan did love David "as his own soul" in I Samuel 18:3; it wasn't marital oneness). The Bible doesn't even say this about parents and children. Nope. Just husbands and wives. So yes, while the sexual experiences you have with someone you are dating can bring about a certain level of oneness (I Corinthians 6:16-20—Message), the holistic kind that God permits is only within the confines of marriage.
Oneness is dope too. Oneness speaks to sameness. Oneness speaks to a union. Oneness speaks to affinity. Oneness speaks to an agreement. Oneness speaks to uniqueness. Every couple, once they decide to get married, whether they realize it or not, signed up to strive to complement one another in the sense of getting on the same accord, being unified, having a profound affinity for one another, working in agreement and being unlike any other married couple who has made the same commitment to their own partner. This is a huge part of what the Bible speaks of when it refers to oneness and, even if you're not a "bible person", the words that I offered up for oneness are literal definitions. Marriage is about putting forth the effort, daily, to join one's lives together to create a kind of oneness that no other relationship could ever do.
I've loved men before. I once had a fiancé who I still grieve, 25 years later. Yet none of my experiences have been comparable to marriage. Still special. Still real. Still impactful. However, the more I work with married couples, study marriage, and come to understand what it is designed to do, it really is galaxies away from dating dynamics. The more we accept that, hopefully, the more we'll respect the marital union—and the more cautious you'll be, if you're single, about getting married someday. Amen? Amen.
Featured image via Shutterstock