Monday, January 4, 2010

Some thoughts on marriage

No soliloquy on marriage would be complete without that comedic one-liner; You know, the leading cause of divorce is marriage.

On New Years Day this year I ran a 5K event titled "What was I Thinking?" which was titled that for good reason. It was windy and 12 degrees. It made me think about what I have heard from many of my divorcing clients; "What was I thinking?" Marriage had been on my mind lately anyway.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss marriage with one of my girl friends. Actually, the most important one. She is the one whom I've had a relationship with like no other. We have complete trust in each other, have told each other our most intimate secrets which have never been revealed to any other and we don't know how or why we came to be so connected.

At some point we discussed what the pinnacle of our relationship could be. We decided we would rule nothing out and let the relationship take its own course. So, eventually we could get married and have children if that is where it flowed. From there that seemed to be the direction we were heading.

Then practicality entered the scene. That is one of the things I found most attractive about her; fun-loving, spontaneous, ambitious, thoughtful and practical. There were many things to consider for us that the usual couple wouldn't face. A substantial chronological age difference and opposition from parents were only two.

There were also many reasons why, at a different time and place, we would be ideal. Some of these reminded me of a few things in one of the many books I have about marriage, divorce and custody. So, I went back and read through that again. I also gave some thought to traditions, mores and philosophical motivations for marriage.

I in no way intend for this post to be a complete checklist or evaluation for potential newlyweds but as the title says, it is just some thoughts on marriage. I get into some of those in future posts.

I was married once. I tried my best to keep it intact but she eventually forced what was best but also what I didn't want to face. It simply was not healthy for my son to face the violence she committed against him and witness it against me, have to beg for her attention and to have a mother who he would never know if she would be home that night. She eventually abandoned us one day and went to live with one of her boyfriends.

It took some coaxing and help from extended family but she did eventually start taking our son with her for some visitation time. She then became extremely interested in having custody of our son once she hired a lawyer and filed for divorce. It was around that time that her recollection that I must have been the one committing acts of domestic violence became clear to her. So, that background is there for you to consider when reading my thoughts here.

My first thought is that no one is required to get married. Sure, the majority of people do. But are the majority getting married for some extrinsic reason such as familial expectations or religious mandates? Your mother likely first clued you into to these invalid reasons when she asked you during one of your risky youthful pleasures, "If everyone else jumped off a bridge would you?"

There should only be two people who decide to get married. Some cultures leave the decision to the parents of the bride and groom to be, which does have some merit, but I believe the two people who intend to marry should be the ones to make that decision. A baby in the womb is not a valid reason to get married. You may think differently but these are my thoughts.

My reason is that there are many happily unmarried parents providing a stable family for the children while at the same time there are likely more unhappily married parents providing an unhealthy relationship environment for their children.

Conversely there can be many people who decide for you to not got married. These are the ones most people in lust ignore. If the advice of family and friends in not to get married then pay very close attention. Few of them are having sexual relations with your intended spouse which may give them a clearer perspective.

Some people may still base their motivation for marriage of religious foundations that say it is improper for persons to live as man and wife or bear children outside the covenant of marriage. However, religions have always been malleable to the forces of society as that is how they maintain adherents and thus power. Society in large part no longer considers pre-marital relations a taboo and religion must adapt itself to this concept or lose the so-called faithful. So let's stick to the relevant factors of the parties involved.

Before getting married you should think about the most annoying characteristic of your future mate. If you can't think of one now it is only because you are lovestruck. Ask your friends for help. Now imagine this most annoying trait getting worse and becoming more annoying over the years. Make sure you can live with that without intentionally placing yourself at the mercy of mob enforcers making you pay up. My point is that you cannot change what you don't like about your partner. You must be able to live with the good and the bad.

Make sure you listen to each other. I don't mean try to placate your partner by pretending to listen attentively while he or she rants. My dear friend and I couldn't stop talking to or listening to each other, sometimes throughout the night. But we heard each other. We genuinely were interested in knowing the thoughts of the other; fears, wishes, experiences and desires. For months we did not go through any 12 hour period without talking to each other in person or, on the rare occasions I left town, by phone. Our conversations have always been uninhibited. If you can't do this then reconsider getting married.

This one is so cliche but here goes anyway. Beauty is only skin deep. Of course that all depends on what you consider beautiful. A little girl friend recently went up to another chick saying I wanted her phone number. I, of course, didn't but that is one of our juvenile ways of just messing with each other. However, the girl was quite a hottie with all the make-up and cute little garments that snugged her shapely body in all the right places. Always a red-flag to me. So, it was no surprise to me when my girl friend comes back and says, "Uh, she is a b@#$%" My dear friend, on the other hand, has a smile and look about her that accentuates her natural physical beauty which is only surpassed by her inner beauty.

Back in high school I once woke up next to a girl and practically said "Who are you?". I soon realized that the reason she spent an hour in the bathroom in the mornings wasn't an intestinal issue. I don't think this reflected much on her character but just goes to show that looks can deceive.

However, there are men and women alike out there that spend significant amounts of time and money in an attempt to improve their physical appearance in cosmetic ways. I believe this is usually to accommodate some intrinsic deficiency. Physical appearance is the means by which we nearly all first notice one another. It should not be the factor upon which a long-term relationship is built though. Physical acts shouldn't either but I will delve into that arena in a more in-depth post later.

I cannot deny that money is a factor in marriage if for no other reason than it will be if there is a divorce. But, first let me take you back to the beginning. Keep money in mind when choosing a partner. That's right. Consider the financial viability of your potential spouse and forget what the Beatles said. I have enough experience with couples to know a few certain truths. One is that financial despair is not healthy for a relationship or raising children. It is the fantasy of romantic lore.

Make sure that you choose a partner who can be a productive contributer to the partnership. This can be through deeds or earning ability. Don't rely upon existing wealth though. That can fade and once depleted so may the reason for marriage in the first place. It could be a fun ride but at some point it will come to an end.

Existing wealth may prompt the thought of a pre-nuptial agreement. Some attorneys advise it as a matter of course no different than advising a client to have a will. I believe it should be a cause for concern though. It says to me from the beginning I do not expect the marriage to last.

With the benefit of hindsight I would have drafted a pre-nuptial agreement before I got married. I thought marriage was for life and assumed that when someone makes a sworn oath to do something for life that, just as I did, she would affirm that commitment. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. Her motivation for marriage and child birth was purely financial. After I failed to comply with her $5,000 cash payment demand for the birth of our son she wanted no additional children with me.

Knowing I would have sought a pre-nuptial agreement tells me I should have doubted her commitment to marriage. Upon consideration of the warnings of others, including her brother, I would not have married her. But, I was young and lovestruck at the time. Eventually it cost me a few hundred thousand dollars in lost wealth. The greatest value from the relationship though is my son which has made all the pain and torment worth it.

This brings me to my closing thought. As women are more often becoming primary earners and the wealthier party going into marriage based upon prior marital settlements this applies to both genders. When considering marriage take a photo of your potential spouse and place it on one side of a table. Next, place your car keys, house keys and bank records along with other financial instruments on the other side. Then decide which you can live without.

If you chose the photo of your potential spouse, friends and family don't object, those annoying habits don't bother you, you have complete openness in conversation and you have relieved yourself of any sexual desires before making this assessment then go forth and get married.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is very wise. I wish that I had thought about this before I got married. If I had, I would not be in the circumstances that I am now.