It's National Marriage Week; wow, who knew!
Well, after looking at the totally uninspiring National Marriage Week website, I won't be celebrating. It appears to be just one more of those dusty, old organizations with a crappy graphic of matching gold wedding bands on its homepage, proclaiming that they want to 'save marriage' (or heterosexual marriage anyway). In reality, they may actually be doing more harm than good for their beloved institution.
The National Marriage Week website has the catchy little tag-line, "Let's Strengthen Marriage," followed by their top selling points: financial stability, better health, less troubled kids, greater happiness. Does that mean we should just go out and pick any random person to marry to improve the quality of our lives? Or that we should stay in a hellacious marriage for the sake of the kids? What does that mean exactly? To me, it sounds like promoting marriage as a commodity that we have to buy into in order to achieve those things, or as something we have to stick out, even if it proves to be unhappy. That is all just as ridiculous as it is damaging.
There is no question that a solid, committed relationship or marriage can bring added joy and benefits to our lives and to our children, but looking to marriage as the recipe for fulfillment or to a spouse "to complete us" is not going to bring any benefits to anyone, other than eventually to a divorce lawyer. The key point they are missing is that marriage doesn't bring us benefits, happy marriages do. According to a 2010 article in the Harvard Men's Health Watch, "Good marriages promote health and longevity, but stressful and shattered marriages have the opposite effect, especially for men."
Two fulfilled people who have created for themselves happy lives as individuals are going to have a lot more to bring to a relationship than two unfulfilled people, and will stand a much better chance of building a successful and solid partnership. If we are happy in life, we are more likely to be happy in marriage AND, if we are happy in marriage, we are more likely to be happy in life. But if we aren't happy to begin with, chances are, we won't reap any of the benefits of a happy marriage.
The myth that marriage as a magical place that will make life perfect is one that we need to stop promoting and replace with the reality -- we don't need marriage to make us whole and if we strive to become whole on our own, our marriages (if we choose to marry at all) will stand a much greater chance of success. Marriage is an entirely optional choice in life. Embracing this reality will stop a lot of young couples from getting married simply for the sake of "being married" even if to the wrong spouse. If we choose to marry with this awareness, we will be doing so thoughtfully and carefully and not simply because someone sold us the idea that marriage is something that we are supposed to do (if we are straight).
This week, while others are celebrating National Marriage Week, I'll be joining the celebrations for the real good news for marriage -- California's ban on same-sex marriage coming closer to its inevitable end and Washington State's new legislation set to allow same-sex marriages. Those things give me hope for the future of marriage as a whole because they are the true indicators that marriage is still alive and kicking and continuing to morph and evolve, rather than preparing itself to keel over and die next to a clichéd photo of two matching wedding bands.
Kate Schermerhorn is the director of "After Happily Ever After", a documentary film about modern marriage. It is out now on DVD and On Demand, including Vudu and Amazon Instant Video. Visit http://www.afterhappilyeverafter.net for more information and to receive a free list of ten secrets to marital bliss.