What is Marriage?

Friday, Sep. 9th 2011 3:40 PM

I recently had a conversation with a close friend of my father’s about why fewer people are getting married (only half, vs. 72 percent 50 years ago). In true “Frank Love” form, I felt it important to get down to the basics of the issue – which meant answering the question, “What is marriage?” After all, how we define the word “marriage” makes a big difference when we start talking about statistics, which measure couples who are married in only one sense of the word – legally. Most people seem to believe that matrimony begins when two people have a ceremony (religious or otherwise), say some vows and sign a legally-binding document. I have a different opinion.

As far as I am concerned, two people are married as long as both participants feel like and say that they are married. As the Notorious B.I.G. noted on his classic album, “Ready to Die”:

I never felt that way in my life.
It didn’t take long before I made you my wife.
Got no rings and s*!t, just my main squeeze.

Coming to the crib, even had a set of keys.

“Marriage,” “husband,” “wife” – these are only words, and since they pertain directly to one person’s relationship with another, they can mean whatever the respective individuals say they mean. Two people who are not interested in a legally-binding relationship, but feel that their relationship is too meaningful and long-term to use terms like “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” (after all, I had one of those in second grade), may choose to call themselves married simply because they are partners emotionally, financially and/or parentally – because by their own definition, their relationship feels like a marriage.

Forget rings, vows and licenses. If a man and woman feel like husband and wife (or wife and wife, or husband and husband), and want to refer to themselves as such, that is enough for me. That is also enough for the many states that recognize common-law marriages (when a heterosexual couple has co-habitated for enough years that the government considers them legally bound, with or without the official documents). When my mate and I became partners, I was fine with simply declaring us married, without all the legal hoopla. Having been through a divorce, I wasn’t eager to sign up for that potential nightmare again. But after a number of years, our locality (which recognizes common-law marriages) would have been ready to call us “husband” and “wife,” so we took that step on our own terms instead.

Clarity around this issue is important when discussing the institution of marriage. While being legally wed may not change the nature of your relationship (especially if you’ve already been living together for a while) or the way you feel about each other (it didn’t for me), it often changes how other people perceive your union, especially those who are vested in hard-and-fast rules about what marriage is supposed to look like. But if you (like me) mind your own business and accept others’ relationships as whatever they choose to call them, the issue is irrelevant.

At the end of the day, who cares what the government or anyone else calls your relationship? It’s what you call it that counts. People are still having lasting, meaningful relationships, where they build homes and raise children together, even if fewer people are walking down the aisle. I respect that, believe this makes me a Powerful Person in a Partnership. But I may be in the minority. How do you define marriage? Please don’t open the dictionary yet. I want to know what you think. I’m listening.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

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Leave a Comment: Let Us Know Your Thoughts

How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

27 Comments on “What is Marriage?”

  1. Bear Says:

    I agree that being “legally married” is not important. What I believe is critical and a must is for two people to have a ceremony under god, in front of family, friends and the community to make a commitment to each other. This is important so that there is no question about the nature of your relationship and so that each individual is secure in what they mean to each other.

    What your commitment is, what the nature of your relationship is, can be defined by the two people in it. If the relationship is intended to be for life. The Ceremony to profess that and communicate that is a must.

    Just Married,
    Big Bear

  2. Anshul Saxena Says:

    A agree Frank, there are not fewer marriages, but the definition of marriage certainly has gone for a change with time….

  3. Sandy Naiman Says:

    Yes. is does.
    A marriage is a legal contract. It has nothing to do with wedding ceremonies.
    A civil ceremony has no aisle.
    As for marriage, pe se. Legally, a couple who commit and sign papers recognized by the “state” are married.
    A couple who do not, are not married.
    They are living in a common law state.

  4. Victoria Prestia Says:

    Marriage is having a wonderful soulmate, friend, lover, and listens to you.

  5. Kojo Odum Says:

    A marriage that is recognized by the state (common law included) is the only true marriage there is. Marriage used to mean more than a piece of paper. It meant a commitment to one another and to shared values. Now I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live their life, but don’t cheapen my legal marriage, because you (and not the state) consider yourselves married. Trust me; it is a lot easier to walk away from a committed relationship when only you recognize yourselves as being married.

  6. Second Thoughts on Marriage and Divorce Says:

    Marriage is a recognition of the law that you enter into a contractual agreement to co-mingle your lives into one entity. Those who have entered into these agreements in the past, and subsequently found themselves in divorce court, tend to be a bit more hesitant 2nd or 3rd time around. Commitment without marriage tends to be an acceptable course of action in mid/late life, especially if children have already been raised.

  7. Robert S. Forrey Says:

    It is the only relationship in which true intimacy and healing can occur. I’m sorry you haven’t experienced that.

  8. Yasmeen Khan, Psy.D. Says:

    Marriage is commitment.

  9. Elizabeth F Fernandez Says:

    Marriage is a ritual of two energies coming together in a biosphere of consciousness, to enlighten there lives and the whole world together. There infinite light in know as Ein-Sofi, the dawn of humanity.

  10. Sileah Grant Says:

    One would think this question was one in the same, but it’s not. My next door neighbors were schedule to get married yeaterday, I don’t know how it happened but I think they went to city hall and held the recetpion at a dance hall, I have yet to know. An associate of mine went to a wedding in a church last week, and the reception was held in a dance hall with an after party at the couples house. This question my depend on weather or not the couple aquires the monies needed to practice the preformance they desire to become one when deciding to get married.

  11. BB Says:

    This is the first time I felt compelled to respond to your blog which I have been following with great interest.

    I respect your perspective on “marriage;” I strongly feel that another dimension of that concept must be raised.

    I have been married for over 41 years and wish to share some of what I have learned during that time.

    Ultimately marriage is not a legal act or a partnership. It is a spiritual journey at the end of which the travelers come to realize and understand that their union is not that of two bodies or individuals bonded into one but that of two souls…and all that such a union implies and obligates.

    I was first attracted to my wife’s body…consumed by the beauty and sexuality of it. Notice that I referred to her body as “it.” I wanted “it.” Wanted to make love to and be with “it” for I was madly in love with “it.” Fortunately my wife was a more mature human being. She did not desire to give her body (it) to me until she was sure of the person who inhabited mine. So during the early stages of our relationship rather than touching, craving and screwing each other’s bodies we spent our time exploring and getting to know each other’s humanity. We got into each other not simply as physical beings’ but as human beings: mind, body and soul. We spoke with each other and intently listened to each other. Exposing our selves to each other’s value and belief systems. Sharing our life stories, dreams and fears. Discovering each other’s wisdom and sense of humor. We talked and talked and listened and listened and sometimes kissed and always held each other closely as if we were born to “slow dance” with each other.

    After six months we both knew we wanted and needed to be in each other’s lives for a lifetime. We made that commitment first to ourselves and our God. Then two human beings (not merely bodies or “its”) made love and two individuals became a couple.

    We lived with each other for six months and we learned more about each other as a couple and decided to share our private commitment with our families, friends and community. Thus we had a public acknowledgment and celebration of our personal commitment to ourselves and our God. We became “married.” It was during that celebration that I knew “marriage” was more than the coming together of two bodies or two individuals but the uniting of two families, two lifelines and all that entails and suggests.

    Our marriage did not become a legal contract until after twenty-five years, two children and many “growing in love pains” later. My wife was extremely patient: more patient than I was blind and dumb. There were tears, anger, disappoints and frustrations to go along with the laughter, the forgiveness and the joys of extreme fulfillment. My wife saw the best in me that I did not see in myself. In fact, if God is indeed the source of all love then I learned more about God from my wife than from any religion, theological dissertation or passionately delivered homily.

    It was not, however, until my mid-forties that I began to realize the true meaning and importance of marriage. I discovered that my wife was especially created for me and I for her. That marriage was much more than the coming together of two bodies, individuals, families and communities. At its greatest marriage is a spiritual journey at the end of which two souls become one. Through marriage my wife and I became soul-mates. Through marriage my wife and I discovered a love divine.

  12. Terry Karmel Says:

    Since my son and his girl friend have been living together for 18 months, your article is very true in today’s world! I liked this information.

  13. Jim Bouchard Says:

    A formal contract indicating a pledge of fidelity. Is that too clinical? 🙂

  14. ronna white Says:

    This could be a good discussion on Commitment. It means different things to different people. It is true a relationship is a relationship, with roles and responsibilities, etc., but a legal marriage is a legal marriage. Maybe it is true also that marriages may not always be forever; there is the divorce option. Divorced women in most cultures no longer face tragic stigma or death sentences. Why would people be fighting for the right to get married if living together is good enough? Ask why divorced people remarry, sometimes more than once.

  15. Karen McGibbon Says:

    I would want to clarify any possible commitment phobias. The fact that there are still several social (and even emotional) benefits to becoming legally married leaves me wondering – “why, then if you consider yourself ‘as good as married’ don’t you take advantage of all the legal benefits?”

  16. Barbara Currano, MA, NCC,LCPC Says:

    I don’t buy the idea that marriage is the same as a cohabiting relationship even if the parties claim a strong commitment. The fact is either can leave at any time. I suggest you all read the research.Try Why Marriage Matters, 3rd ed. (the Institute fr American Values National Marriage Project). The research states that marriage is good for physical, emotional, mental, and economic health. It is best and safest (to protect from abuse) for children to be raised in a marriage w 2 biological parents. Check it out. The research is in.

  17. Jessica Says:

    Great discussion, it definitely does not happen enough. Marriage is a sacred ritual that has lost its luster. piggy backing off another comment, I believe it has become an assumed privilege for heterosexual couples. In talking with my GLBTQ peers and friends, I have come to respect the sanction of marriage to a higher degree. For my friends who are unable to freely marry, I believe they have an appreciation for this act of commitment beyond anything I have witnessed, even from my own parents who are married for 30+ years. I simply ask folks to reflect upon whether their ideas toward marriage are hidden privileges or embedded fears circulating around “not being good enough” which a common vulnerability I hear in my office.

  18. VINCE H. Says:

    I suggest ask the kids why they have decided, or are deciding daily, to not marry.
    Commitment, obligation, social correctness, religious measurements, bottom line? “A marriage is great as long as it is great”, as one young couple said to me recently… “but a divorce is forever…”
    Can wed get them to report in, Terry?

  19. Terry K. Says:

    To tell you the truth, he is only 24 and she is 25, they’ve been living together for 18 months. I think they are too young to get married, so I don’t want to push it. Unless a child enters into the picture, I see no need to talk about marriage.

  20. Theresa J. C., MA, LAMFT Says:

    I think we are talking about changing paradigms, whereas many younger folks just don’t see the need for social or religious validation and I like it. I think it’s refreshing. My daughter and her partner do have a child. They have a legal partnership, and one of the most amazing relationships I’ve ever seen. They’re both in their early twenties, have been together since freshman at university, both have their degrees, and own a house. Why in the world do they need to spend their time and money to plan a ceremony? When our right and left hemispheres are integrated, we don’t have to rely on a rule based/role based schema to validate our lives, we just live.

  21. The Silverback Says:

    Frank, when I see this kind of vision when it comes to this topic, it reaffirms why so many women are frustrated with the mentality of some men. You are making us look bad Frank and 2011 is truly not the time for this kind of thinking. If that is how you see marriage, then now we all know why you aren’t married. I have been taught not to “half-do” anything. As men, how we see things is critical. So in reading this frail attempt to place marriage into some kind of box, I have to pray that no one reading this blog takes it seriously. Folks, this is truly only entertainment. How you feel is only one aspect of a marriage and is not how a real man defines marriage. We all liked Biggie’s music, but really Frank?! Rest his soul, but he is not the one to be using as an example for this topic. Since you brought the “hood” into the blog, I will use the old analogy and say, “Frank, you must be on two types of crack!” Seriously, I assume you are not on illegal substances, but I must say that after reading this blog, we should all see this blog as another reason why illegal drugs should not be legalized…..Long Live the Silverback!

  22. VINCE H Says:

    I believe we learned earlier though this very blog that the ORIGINAL intent of marriage appears to have been in order to establish records in order to trace the property rights and make sure the male child was really the son of the father etc.
    Life goes on, things change – and not always for the better, it seems.
    Smile…

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  27. Joshua Kerrigan Says:

    This is a great post, I think you should turn it into a 2 or 3 part series.

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