The Case For Marriage

Posted on February 10, 2012

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In a recent conversation about marriage difficulty, someone asked me (somewhat rhetorically), “Why does anyone do this?”  It seems like a fair question.  Why do people get married?  Is there some benefit to being married that makes it worth the risks?  In prior posts, I discussed attachment and the human need for connection.  Something in our make up longs to have a close connection to another person to whom we matter.  Is this need for connection a good thing or is it somehow maladaptive?  Do we fare better in life by having a mate or do would it be preferable to work on getting past this need (perhaps this longing for connection to one person is just a sign of emotional immaturity)?  Further, is it even desirable to be connected and committed to one person for a lifetime?

This post is the first of a series.  My intent is to explore the questions above and eventually to look at the relative costs and benefits of marital therapy.  It would seem that whether there is any benefit to marital counseling first must rest on the answers to the above questions.  If there is no benefit to marriage and/or no detriment to divorce, then there could be no benefit to services aimed at healing marriages and enriching the experience of being married.

The start of this series seems a good point at which to insert a disclaimer.  For my readers who are single, this is not intended as an attack on your marital status or to make you feel less than whole for being single.  I have known a few people who have been quite contented and fulfilled in singleness.  For most of my single friends, this is not their experience.  Most indicate a desire to have a mate. For my readers who are divorced, this is not intended as a condemnation.  You already know how painful that process was for you.

Returning to the original question: Is there a benefit to marriage beyond a subjective feeling of loving and being loved?  Is there a way to quantify that benefit?  As it turns out, the research and analysis has already been done.  The data attest that there are emotional, physical, economic, and sexual benefits to marriage.

Here is a quick overview.  Waite and Gallagher (2001) observed that when compared to their single counterparts, married adults tend to lead healthier lives (pp. 47-64) and live longer (pp. 47-49).  “Unmarried (including divorced, widowed, and single) people are far more likely to die from all causes, including coronary heart disease, stroke, pneumonia,…cancer,… automobile accidents, murder, and suicide” (p. 48).  Married people have more wealth and assets (pp. 111-118).  The median married couples have a net worth about four times that of the typical divorced or never-married person (essentially, double on a per person basis).  Married people report a more satisfying sex life (pp. 83-89).  In a national survey married people (both men and women) reported more frequent sex than their single counterparts.  This is not a big surprise since living together provides opportunity.  Of interest is that married people also find sex more satisfying physically and emotionally when compared with cohabitating people (pp.82-83).  Married people are better and more dependable workers (p. 103), have a lower incidence of drug and alcohol abuse (pp. 53-55), and experience less depression and other mental illnesses (p. 67).  In virtually every area of functioning, married people fare better than singles.

In my next post, I will look at the next part of the question: Are there detriments to divorce?

References

Waite, L & Gallagher, M. (2001). The case for marriage : Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York: Broadway Books.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website www.scottwoodtherapy.com.  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats http://scottwoodtherapy.com/Page5.html.

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).

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