Where Logic Meets Love

Should Getting Married Completely Change You?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pin It Now!
Should Getting Married Completely Change You? | Faith Permeating Life

This past weekend I attended a friend's church in Dayton (more on my crazy travel-filled month in a later post), and the priest said something that both of us thought was completely inaccurate.

The priest asked whether our lives were different because of Easter, because of Jesus' resurrection, and argued that if they aren't different, then we don't fully understand Easter. In an attempt to draw an analogy, he mentioned that a couple had been married in that church the day before.

"If you don't feel different the day after your wedding," he said, "if getting married doesn't completely transform your life, then perhaps you don't fully understand what you've done."

He went on to say that in both cases, we had not an option but an obligation to live differently because of what had happened.

Leaving aside the discussion about Easter, let's talk about this perspective on marriage.

The friend whose church it was said she thought the priest was a bit biased because he's not married, and she may be right. How could he know what it's like to wake up the morning after your wedding? He understands marriage from a sacramental/theological view, sure, but in terms of talking about how it should make you "feel" to be married?

I'm not trying to downplay the importance of the marital commitment (which I realize means different things to different people). As you may know, my own wedding day marked for me a commitment of unconditional love for Mike, and it drew a clear demarcation for the physical aspects of our relationship.

But I've said before that I think it's dangerous to emphasize the wedding day too much, and I still believe that's true. Mike and I had been together almost five years by our wedding day, and I think the majority of the things that make us "us" were established by that point. I woke up the next morning still happy, still in love -- maybe slightly relieved that the wedding planning process was finally over, but not radically and fundamentally different. And yet this priest would have you believe that that's a problem -- that that means I didn't fully grasp what I had done.

In contrast, I think that if your wedding day constitutes a seismic shift in your life such that you feel completely and utterly different the day after than you did the day before, then I think there may be a problem.

Here are some possible radical attitude changes as a result of marriage that I don't think are all that great:
  • "Now everything is perfect!" This is the infamous "honeymoon period." Now that you're married, all problems have vanished and you are so in love that nothing can touch you. God has sanctified your union and you are now untouchable, unbreakable. If you wake up the day after your wedding thinking you will never be unhappy again now that you're married... you have some rough times ahead.
  • "Now he/she will change!" Making a promise to stay together doesn't make you or your partner into a perfect person, nor is it the magic bullet to get your partner to commit to make changes in their life. If you think that your messy, perpetually late, chain-smoking partner is going to become a neat, punctual non-smoker because "now we're married and everything's going to be different," you will more than likely be sorely disappointed. Change takes time; even if getting married does strengthen your partner's resolve to change (and there's no guarantee it will, or even that they'll feel they need to change), it will be one step in a much larger process.
  • "Oh sh*t, what have I done?" This is pretty much the antithesis to the other types of "radical changes." This is essentially waking up the day after your wedding feeling radically different because making a permanent commitment to the person next to you has suddenly made you see them for who they are. The giddiness of courtship had blinded you, and now that you've got a ring on your finger, harsh reality is setting in. Or maybe your partner does change as a result of getting married, but for the worse -- dropping the "charade" of wooing you and instead becoming rude or even abusive. That certainly isn't what this priest meant about your wedding transforming your life.

I like what Monday's What Marriage Means to Me contributor said: "I see getting married as a roadstop rather than a destination in two people's journey as Partners for life." Even if your wedding day is a big, flashy, massively important roadstop, it's still just one piece of the journey. And if you have a healthy, loving relationship before and after reaching that particular milestone, I see no reason that passing through it has to fundamentally change you or your life for it to be meaningful.

What do you think? For those of you who are married, did you feel radically different after your wedding? For those of you who aren't, do you think getting married would make you feel completely different?

16 comments:

  1. I think after marriage life changes - but that doesn't mean YOU change. Or at least completely. Yeah, being in a relationship with someone changes you because people rub off on each other. That's just life. But if I get married someday and the expectation is for my life to do a complete 180 the next morning - no thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, and maybe I didn't make that distinction clear enough, based on the some of the comments -- being in a relationship has certainly changed me, and continues to change me. But the act of marrying Mike didn't make me into a different person, at least nowhere near the way that being with him for almost 7.5 years total has changed me.

      Delete
  2. I don't believe you would feel totally different the day after your wedding, happy, tired, possibly excited, but different? Most of us nowadays have been with their partner for some time before getting married, your relationship is already established, it's not puppy love anymore but something more, something real. Getting married is just a way of saying to the world, this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with and I want to share it with my loved ones, that we are bonded forever. While I'm sure that's an amazing feeling at the moment, I assume once the wedding is over you go back to your normal way of life together.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think from this priest's perspective -- and this I can understand -- if your way of life with your partner is exactly the same before and after the wedding and you see the wedding as being for other people, then you may be missing out on the spiritual aspect of your commitment together. I realize not everyone believes in marriage as something spiritual or sacramental, but from the perspective of a Catholic priest I can see why he would want the couple to appreciate marriage as a sacred covenant. My disagreement with him is that I think you can place that kind of great importance on the marital commitment in terms of how you view your relationship, but not feel completely transformed as a person as a result.

      In other words, committing to be Mike's wife was, for me, a very serious commitment, but it doesn't mean that Jessica-his-fiancee was a different person than Jessica-his-wife.

      Delete
  3. If marriage makes two into one flesh then indeed a profound spiritual change has occurred. It might not manifest itself in a specific way or feeling but if nothing changes after marriage then I would suggest there might be an unde underlying problem preventing that change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My question is, if really "appreciating" marriage requires some kind of change, what does that change look like? If, as you say, it doesn't manifest itself in a specific way, can anyone really say that a couple wasn't "transformed" enough by saying their vows to have fully appreciated the commitment they made?

      Delete
  4. I spoke a little bit in my own blog in the entry about my engagement how getting engaged felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, that the missing 1% had clicked into place, and how being 100% certain of us felt so. radically. different than 99%. While I try not to "expect" to feel any one way or another at any given time (that just sets one up for disappointment, I think), I'm anticipating our wedding day to have a similar emotional impact on me. An emotional settling, perhaps, where I'll intuit the foundation of our relationship finally being cemented after years of standing on shifting sand, and this engagement period of pouring the cement and standing by waiting for it to dry. If you will.

    But. I am also a bit insecure, and so need constant rites and symbols and physical demonstrations to make me believe in ephemeral things like feelings and intentions. For people who aren't chronic doubters, they probably had their "day after the wedding" moment waaay earlier in their relationship. Perhaps the first time their partner said "I love you, too". And for religious couples who built their relationship on a spiritual foundation, being spiritually bound might not feel like anything new, because they had their moment the first time they went to a Bible study together.

    In conclusion: I think everyone does have these feelings of feeling different, feeling changed, but when they happen will vary from person to person, couple to couple. For some, the grand, dramatic act of Getting Married will be that moment (or at least, A moment), and for some, their moment(s) happened while they were dating, or might happen in the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a lot to think about here. I wouldn't want to say that every couple gets to that point where they feel their relationship is completely "cemented," but we definitely reached a point like that, and it was well before we got engaged. I knew that I could confidently commit to spending the rest of my life being a partner to Mike before he asked me to marry him.

      If I'd been unsure about that, I wouldn't have wanted to wait until my wedding day for that feeling to hit -- to my mind, to what marriage means to me, it's too big of a commitment to have banked on my wedding day being the moment I really felt secure in the relationship. I'm not saying this is the case for you, but if I hadn't felt 100% certain about being with Mike leading up to the wedding, I sincerely doubt that I would have felt completely sure after the fact -- or, if I had, eventually that uncertainty would creep back once the afterglow of the wedding wore off. That's why I say that if you wake up after your wedding thinking, "Now everything is perfect, now everything is in place," you've put too much stock in one day's ability to construct a solid, committed relationship, which truly takes time.

      In other words, for me, the wedding was the declaration of my commitment to Mike, not the creation of it.

      Delete
  5. I think marriage does change you but for the better. Obviously you have to become more compromising, learn to communicate better, and become selfless but these things are all a learning process. You're right on the fact that the priests is looking at it from a theological perspective. It's one thing to be married and another to study marriage in school or to be a casual observer.

    Vonae Deyshawn
    www.myvirtueplace.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess I didn't make this distinction clear enough in the post -- I see a big difference between marriage changing you and getting married changing you. My entire relationship with Mike, both the time we've been married and the time before we were married, has changed me into a better person. But the moment that I made a commitment to unconditionally love him and be with him for the rest of my life, while hugely important to me, didn't in itself instantly make me into a better, more selfless, more caring person. And I think if I'd relied on the act of getting married to produce those kinds of changes in myself, I would have been disappointed.

      Delete
  6. I agree with Cathi's point about the impact of cementing a commitment. You might say that you're absolutely committed to someone, but until you are married you shouldn't be, by both theological and pragmatic standards. Lots of people date someone seriously and feel like they're going to be with that person forever, but then it doesn't work out. Part of you should be evaluating the relationship and weighing whether it is right no matter how long you have been together. Being married is different, because you're "all in" and promise to be all in permanently. For the first time, you are fully free to love someone with total abandon, and you are fully responsible to love someone no matter what they do. Many people, of course, don't treat it that way--and for them, maybe marriage is just a ceremony. If you believe, though, that marriage is an unbreakable lifelong bond, then it marks the moment that you move from loving-but-considering to loving-no-matter-what and that will feel different for most people who think it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you read the post I linked above about unconditionally loving Mike, you'll see that how I view marriage is very close to what you're describing here: "the moment that you move from loving-but-considering to loving-no-matter-what."

      Where I disagreed with this priest was that I don't think my commitment to unconditionally love Mike made me feel massively different, because I couldn't have made that commitment if I didn't already feel able to do that. As I said to Cathi above, I would not have gotten married if I didn't already feel that I could be "all in permanently," as you described it. My future plans already included Mike -- or, indeed, were constructed with Mike -- so my life was not suddenly transformed by the fact that I now had a husband. My life, my plans, myself were transformed over time leading up to the making of our marital commitment -- not as a result of it.

      Delete
  7. I've heard about this kind of "complete change" for various areas of life, and it always sounds to me like something that happens to people who have been immature and are suddenly jolted by the realization that they have to grow up now. For people like you and me, who tend to be pragmatic and think ahead, that doesn't happen so suddenly.

    A number of people have told me that parenthood "completely changed" them from selfish, irresponsible people to good citizens; therefore, everyone should become a parent ASAP to minimize their selfish destructive effects on society. I can only respond (I struggle to say this non-judgmentally!) that it's great that they've improved themselves so much, but not everyone is selfish and irresponsible in the first place! Personally, I feel that becoming a mother hardly changed me at all. Is my life different because of knowing my son and because of the physical experiences and schedule changes and so forth? Yes. But is Nicholas's Mama a completely different person from the old Becca? No! It's more like I was always Nicholas's Mama but just didn't have that title yet. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, yeah, I definitely don't agree that wanting to become more mature is a good motivation to become a parent. I get the whole "there's no perfect time to have a child" and you shouldn't hold out until you're "perfect" to become a parent, but I also wouldn't bank on having a child making you more responsible -- there are definitely parents out there who are far from responsible.

      I hadn't thought about the parallel of parenthood until you mentioned it, but using that as another example where your life changes but you don't necessarily instantly change makes the priest's words seem that much sillier. Who would say to a new parent, "If you don't feel completely transformed at this moment, then maybe you don't realize what you've done"?? I expect that having a child will change my lifestyle, but I think that the experience of growing as a person as a result of being a parent will happen over time, the same way I've changed as a result of my relationship with Mike and every other person who is close to me. I hope that I will continue to grow in patience, understanding, and love, but I'm under no illusions that becoming a parent will suddenly transform me into this ultra-patient, understanding, loving person beyond who I am currently.

      Delete
    2. Who would say to a new parent, "If you don't feel completely transformed at this moment, then maybe you don't realize what you've done"??
      It was an unusually clueless/tactless but basically nice older man at church who said essentially that to me. The same guy saw me a few months later walking home after picking up my baby from the sitter on a workday and berated me for "carrying way too much stuff--like you think he's going to have to survive all DAY out of that diaper bag!" Well, uh, actually, he did. The guy just wasn't good at understanding that other parents' situations aren't necessarily exactly like his had been.

      Delete
    3. Oy, it never ceases to amaze me the things that people say to parents. I'm sure I will get to hear even more gems like that once I am a parent. I wonder if there's anything that opens one up to more unsolicited advice/admonishment than having children... that certainly seems to prompt quite a lot!

      Delete

Your thoughts matter, so join in the conversation! Disagreements are welcome, but please stay respectful and open-minded with your comments.

I reply to almost all comments, so check back here soon!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...