Is marriage outdated? Here are five myths about marriage that may surprise you.
Marriage gets a pretty bad rap these days. Celebrity bust-ups, high profile infidelity and a cohabitation takeover seem destined to put marriage into retirement. If it’s not already dead, it’s fast heading for extinction.
Or so you might think.
The truth is, despite these grim media representations, marriage is still rather popular. Weddings are at an all-time high and divorce has been in a steady decline (albeit slow) from its high of the 1990’s. Seems that the dream of wedded bliss is alive and well. It begs the question, is marriage objectively desirable or is it just nostalgia on a massive social scale?
Fortunately, we now have five decades of data that can shed light on this question. Social scientists have extensively studied marriage and family in all varieties – life-long married, de facto, divorced and re-married – and as it turns out, the benefits of marriage are real and significant. Here are five common myths about marriage that are contradicted by research.
Myth 1: Living together before marriage is wise.
Actually couples who live together are not only 4-5 times more likely to bust up than married couples, they’re also more likely to divorce once they do marry (by about 50%). The incidence of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and criminal activity are also higher among cohabitating couples compared to married couples. Why would this be so? For starters, marriage is a life-long commitment. By comparison, cohabitation is a weak commitment – it’s not for life, it’s for as long as we both want it. Cohabitation is not really a trial marriage at all, it’s a totally different relationship altogether.
Myth 2: Marriage benefits men to the disadvantage of women.
Wrong again! Both men and women benefit from marriage including mental and physical health. Men tend to benefit more, mostly because the health outcomes of single men are much lower than that of single women. Economically, men and women both do better in marriage: married men earn more than single or cohabitating men, while divorced women (and their children) are 20-30% more likely to live in poverty. Approximately half of single parents are on welfare.
Myth 3: Children do just as well in all family types.
Except in the case of domestic violence or severe dysfunction, children do better in a family where their parents are married to each other. This is borne out in measures such as educational outcomes, physical and mental health, suicide, alcohol and drug use, child abuse, teenage pregnancy and delinquency. Moreover marriage increases the likelihood that the father will be involved with his children compared to divorced or never married parents; a benefit that has been documented in more than two decades of research.
Myth 4: Children just want their parents to be happy.
Children really want their parents to be happy together. If they can’t be happy together, then unhappy together is the next best choice. We’d all like to think that our children care more for our happiness than they do for their own, but it just isn’t so. And as the adult in the relationship, it is the parent’s responsibility to prioritise their children’s welfare over their own needs. Being unhappy is not a good enough reason to tear a child’s world apart with divorce; there has to be a more compelling reason to justify the damage.
Myth 5: Marriage destroys your sex life.
Contrary to expectations, married couples report more frequent and more satisfying sex than singles or cohabitating couples. Why? Because sex outside of the committed relationship of marriage is more likely to be reduced to the mere activity of mutual physical gratification. Within marriage, it retains its proper purpose and meaning as a powerful body language that speaks the words of the wedding vows; a freely given promise to love the spouse totally, faithfully and fruitfully for the duration of one’s life. Married couples instinctively know this, especially if they avoided sex before marriage. Marriage transforms a couple’s sexual encounters from simple recreational sex (which will inevitably be vulnerable to boredom) into a profound statement of permanent and unconditional love.
It’s human nature to desire happiness.
We all love adventure and dream about being a free spirit doing whatever we want, whenever we want. The thing is, this kind of pleasure-seeking behaviour or hedonism, feels really good for a while but doesn’t last. It satisfies a superficial desire, but doesn’t nourish the deep hungers of the soul. People who make a career of pursuing their own needs and interests often end up lonely and isolated. They might be fun to be with at a party, but they make lousy partners.
The kind of happiness that endures and delivers real wellbeing is the deep joy that comes from being of service to other people and connecting with something bigger than ourselves. It’s the kind of happiness that flourishes in a healthy marriage and family life. When you live for someone other than yourself, not only will you be a better husband or wife, you’re more likely to take care of your health and work more diligently.