“Marriage is just a piece of paper,” we often hear from young people. “I don’t need to get married to have a good relationship. We love each other, and that’s enough.”
Marriage is one of society’s most fundamental institutions. Yet today, young people are more likely to live together than get married. As cohabitation rises, marriage rates continue to fall (half of couples who cohabitate break up, and people who cohabitate before marriage are more likely to get divorced).
Why are our marriage rates declining? There are many reasons people are choosing cohabitation instead of marriage, including loosened norms around cohabiting and premarital sex, a desire to avoid divorce, and a rise in secularism.
At the core of most of these reasons is the belief that marriage is an outdated tradition that’s no longer necessary. Unbeknownst to most young people, there are practical, social, and spiritual reasons for getting married. Here are some reasons why marriage is not just a piece of paper.
Marriage Solidifies Your Relationship
Many couples live together without the goal of getting married in mind. They think living together will be a good way to “test” the relationship. They want to discover any issues with the other person before they fully commit.
This is the desire to have your cake and eat it too: be in a relationship, but also be free to leave it easily.
Other couples are content to just live together indefinitely to “see where it goes,” and marriage isn’t given any consideration at all.
Cohabiting says, “Well, I’m here for now, but I reserve the right to leave you whenever I want!”
The trouble is, cohabitating is saying “I don’t have enough faith in this relationship or take it seriously enough to commit to it in full, but this is fine for now.” You’re communicating to the other person that you’re willing to risk hurting them — which is rather insulting! It’s having one foot in the door and one foot out. There are no solid boundaries around the relationship, and each person is free to leave at any time.
Built into marital vows is “I’m not leaving.” Getting married is an act of commitment and faith. You’re acknowledging publicly and officially that even though the person you’re facing is imperfect, you fully intend to stay with them regardless of their flaws and regardless of what happens. This is a lot more meaningful and special than what you’re saying when you’re only cohabiting — “Well, I’m here for now, but I reserve the right to leave you whenever I want!”
Getting married solidifies your relationship — it cements the bond between you and your significant other.
Marriage Strengthens Community
Solid connections between people create a strong social fabric. When people commit to supporting one another, it creates stability, not only for the two people getting married, but also for the broader community.
Marriage is a sacred bonding ritual that connects people to one another.
In a marriage ceremony, people make vows to each other in front of family, friends, and the government because marriage is a promise not only to each other, but to society. The couple is promising to support and care for one another through thick and thin. A strong society prioritizes taking care of each other. In a marriage ceremony, the community gathers together to promise to hold them accountable to one another and guard them against any forces that might undermine their union. This creates a bond and sense of purpose among not just the couple but the community too.
Marriage Is Correlated with Positive Health Outcomes
Study after study shows married people live longer and are happier and healthier than unmarried people. Married people have better mental health, fewer illnesses, and recover faster from sickness. Married men live 17 years longer than unmarried men (married men eat better and have more of a motivation to exercise). Married people have fewer strokes and heart attacks and are less likely to have depression. Married people have better and more intimate sex. There’s plenty of evidence that marriage increases physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Marriage Is Good for Children
With your relationship cemented by marriage, you’re in a much better position to bring children into the world. Marriage is the first building block to a healthy family — it helps bind you to your children. When you build a family from the foundation of commitment, you’ll raise healthier and happier children.
Marriage gives children the sense of security and stability they need for healthy development.
Studies find that children from cohabiting households are at a disadvantage: “Children born to cohabiting parents [have] less healthy household environments than those born to married parents. Children with cohabiting parents may experience more parental stress, more maternal depression, less social and economic support from fathers or other extended family members and more parental conflict than those with married parents.” Cohabiting parents have twice the break-up rate of married parents before children reach the age of 12.
Children from households in which their parents are married are healthier and happier because they know their parents are committed to each other and to themselves. Marriage gives children the sense of security and stability they need for healthy development. Plus, being a role model for commitment and faith in your loved one sets a good example for the next generation.
While marriage involves a piece of a paper, that’s far from all marriage is. Marriage has myriad social, physical, and spiritual benefits. It’s not an easy endeavor, but it’s a noble and meaningful one that, as G.K. Chesterton said, “no [person] of honor should refuse.”