What Is Marriage?
Has someone recently proposed to you—or are you considering proposing to someone else? If so, you may be wondering what exactly marriage is. For some people this may seem like a pointless question, but for others it’s a very meaningful one which should be carefully considered before committing.
Suzie from El Paso, TX says:
“Recently my boyfriend proposed to me. I wasn’t sure what to say. I know that marriage is really important to him, but it’s never really been a big deal to me. I’m trying to understand why it’s so important to him and to so many people. What is marriage? How is it different from just living with someone, or just being boyfriend and girlfriend?”
There’s really not much in the way of one single, simple objective definition for marriage—aside from its implications as a legal contract. To many people it has social or religious significance, and for many it also represents an additional emotional commitment. There really are no hard and fast rules, though. Some people get married because their families and friends expect it. Others get married because it is a deeply fulfilling emotional event in their lives. Still others get married because their religion recognizes it as a pivotal life step. And others marry for practical reasons relating to finances. Many people get married because children are on the way or they hope to have children soon and want a legal framework for their family.
Marriage varies a great deal by society. Some people participate in arranged marriages, though in the US most people don’t. Marriage is largely a heterosexual/heteroromantic institution and has been one throughout history (there are and have been exceptions however). Generally the historical and legal implications of marriage have been 1-to provide exclusive sexual rights between two partners; and 2-to establish legal responsibility for children born to two partners and incorporate that child as an official legal citizen of the parents’ country. The definition as pertains to children still applies in all cases. In an era which increasingly includes various forms of open relationships, the latter may vary depending on the couple.
Cheating on a spouse can certainly influence the outcome of a divorce settlement. Many partners have complex prenuptial agreements which lay the terms for their marriage. If this contract is violated, the consequences are often listed as well. A prenuptial agreement is a legally enforceable document. Marriage in the US is a monogamous agreement. For some people–but not all–it is a prerequisite for cohabitation (this has also changed a lot in the modern era). In terms of finances, spouses may choose to share their property (“community property”) or keep their property separate. Marriage partners tend to become jointly liable for each others’ debts, and many married partners file a joint tax return. So in some ways marriage can create liability—in other ways it can create a legal safety net.
This is a very broad answer to a very broad question. It may help you to figure out what marriage does or doesn’t mean for you from an emotional and practical point of view, but it likely won’t shed a lot of light on your boyfriend’s views of marriage. You’re going to need to ask him what marriage means to him before you can know whether it’s the right choice for both of you!