Marriage Helps Us … By Hurting Us
A new study shows once again that marriage is really, really good for you. So why aren’t more people getting married?
My theory: We are seeing a record decline in marriage for the same reason we are seeing a record decline in department store shopping, hanging out in neighborhood bars, and talking to people face to face.
We are so afraid of the unpredictable parts of human interaction that we miss all the benefits of it.
It is astounding how much marriage improves your life.
A University of Michigan study published July 28 reveals the latest health benefit of marriage: Married people are less likely to develop dementia.
Add that to the list. Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, MD points out that married people:
- live longer
- have fewer strokes and heart attacks
- suffer less depression
- are more likely to diagnose cancer early and survive cancer longer
- survive major operations more often.
It is also astounding how scary marriage is up close.
There have always been jokes about marriage — like the one where the M.C. at an Irish wedding reception announces “I would like all the married men to please stand next to the one person who has made your life worth living” … and the bartender is almost crushed to death.
The difference now is that the jokes are real. The #whyimsingle hashtag collects some of the reasons people give for not marrying:
- “I value ‘me’ time over ‘we’ time.”
- “So I never have to share the remote control.”
- “I like to sleep diagonally in my bed and don’t want any interference.”
What the jokes and these reasons miss is that the difficult parts of marriage are exactly what makes it effective. Marriage rubs your nose in your own selfishness and your own inability to change your priorities to embrace someone else’s — and betters you.
You are used to coddling your ego. Marriage toughens it up.
One recent book points out that coddling destroys us and confrontation can save us.
In Coddling of the American Mind, authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt make the case that sheltering people from challenges weakens them:
- Children carefully exposed to nuts are much more likely to overcome their nut allergies than children carefully protected from nuts.
- Kids who play outside can battle microbes far better than those who hide inside.
- And kids who mostly interact through social media are more stressed and suicide prone than kids who interact with other kids in person through sports or other activities.
Surely this is true of adults, too.
Those who live alone are able to build defenses around themselves so that nobody challenges their assumptions or invades their space — and they therefore never have to develop the tools that deal with the inevitable hardships of life. Isn’t it possible that one reason married people are less likely to get dementia is the constant reality check marriage gives to their brains?
To get the benefit of marriage, embrace its small but constant struggles.
The song “Being Alive“ from the musical Company teaches this lesson. We all need “Someone to need me too much, Someone to know me too well, Someone to pull me up short, And put me through hell.”
But Jesus Christ teaches it better.
Blessed are those who get bumped and bruised by others in life, he said — the meek and the merciful, those who mourn and those who are persecuted. Love one another as he loves us, he said — enduring rejection and misunderstanding and mistreatment. And love your enemies, he said — watch how he blesses the just and unjust under his roof, and do the same for the just and unjust under yours.
Don’t get me wrong — we are neither required nor advised to stay in a genuinely abusive relationship; that won’t make us happy or healthy. But enduring the everyday ingratitude and irritations — and joys and triumphs — of marriage will.
So spread the world of what marriage does for you.
It’s an emotional workout that leaves you stronger. It is an adventure that asks small sacrifices but gives big gains.
In our day, it may be possible to do life on your own — but skipping the short-term difficulties will only bring long-term problems.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Robert Clark, Flickr, Bride and Groom.