7 Things That Make Marriage Different From Seriously Dating

Contrary to popular belief, there is a thick NOT thin line between marriage and dating relationships.


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 a 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 marriage.

Oneness is dope too. Oneness speaks to sameness. Oneness speaks to union. Oneness speaks to affinity. Oneness speaks to 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.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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