Within marriage, there is often a struggle between intimacy and separateness. You want to be close to your spouse, yet maintain your own individuality or separateness. There are times you want to be alone and times you want to feel totally connected. You may even use terms that express oneness when referring to the connection that you seek The therapist Erich Fromm made this observation concerning mankind, in his book, The Art of Loving (1956).
“Man-of all ages and cultures is confronted with the solution to one and the same question: the question of how to overcome separateness, how to achieve union, how to transcend one's own individual life and fine at-onement ” (p. 9).
One of the ways you may overcome separateness is joining with another person through marriage. When you do use marriage to overcome that separateness, you hope never to be alone again. Marriage in such a case becomes insurance against being alone. A growing concern with this mindset is that it sets the stage for serial marriages to occur. In serial marriages, you may be in and out of a series of marriages. When one fails, you find another person to take the place of the missing person in your life.
You may consider marriage as merely a matter of living with another person, or having a roommate with special privileges, with has no other deeper or special meaning. Marriage in such cases, becomes a box you check on their tax returns and describes your present living arrangement. Another variation on this is when marriage describes the main person you are sleeping with. It does not mean that you are bound to them or that they have special claims on you. It means that you have a legal backstop so that you always have one person to keep your bed warm, even though you avoid any claim of exclusivity, which is often termed as an ‘open marriage'.
You may be one of those for whom marriage serves a deeper purpose. For you marriage is having a special deep relationship with another person. It is about having a special sense of connectedness and union. This is more that just overcoming your separateness. You want and desire having a special closeness with someone else. You believe marriage is joining two people as one on many levels at once.
So when you hear others talk about marriage, it remains unclear which kind of relationship they are talking about. Although they all use the word ‘marriage', what they mean when they use that word differs greatly.
With all the misunderstandings about marriage, many couples miss this deeper purpose of developing intimacy, and instead think that the marriage itself is the whole purpose of the institution. They go through the ceremony for societies' approval, to give their children two parents and for special tax status. When they make marriage the whole end purpose of going through the ceremony, this misunderstanding leads to many people re-evaluating marriage in terms of its importance.
Rather than marriage being a special event, it becomes nothing more that another business deal. A factor contributing to this situation is the movement away from the church sanctioning of marriage to the legal sanctioning of marriage. In previous ages, there were no marriage licenses. Marriage was not considered as being under God rather than the authority of government. Governments role in marriage was limited, therefore, no license was needed. The government had no say so in who was married. It was the church who decided whether or not a couple married. With marriage in the church, the specialness of the ritual and ceremony was upheld.
The question “Is marriage losing its importance?” can easily be answered with a simple -NO. Marriage is very important to people. Many citizens of the US are clamoring for Congress and their State legislators to pass bills concerning marriage. The importance of marriage seems to be increasing.
The underlying reason for such a question and what is meant by the question is an intriguing area to explore.
The concept of marriage and family are changing. Although marriage is more important than ever, what people mean by the term ‘marriage‘ is changing. In Biblical times, marriage was a blood covenant. Being a covenant, the joining of the two people was a long term commitment. In a covenant, the two parties joined all their resources and the arrangement was life-long. Not only was it life long, since the covenant was blood based, it extended beyond your lifetimes.
Even during those times, there was controversy as the covenant minded people dealt with those who were influenced by the Ancient Egyptian culture of that time. In Ancient Egypt, the term ‘marriage' was used for indicating who you were currently co-habitating with. It was more of a current status term. In the royal families marriages were arranged with family members in order to keep the wealth in the family. Marriage was used as a way to protect wealth for those persons in that culture or influenced by the culture. So even in the Biblical times of the patriarchs, there were clashing definitions of what ‘marriage' meant.
In 19th century America, when people used the term marriage, it referred to a church sanctioned joining of two individuals. As more people wanted a spouse, but either did not want the obligations associated with the church or the church was not so readily available, there was an increase in civil marriages. People were married under the authority of government, rather than the authority of the Church and by extension God's approval. Although on the surface, the system worked, it carried with it some legal baggage that arose when the question of divorce arose. Marriage evolved into a form of contract rather than a covenant. Since it was viewed as a contract, the parties could dissolve the contract if either one failed to keep the contract or they mutually decided it did not work. By turning marriage into a contract rather than a covenant, the matter of divorce became a concern of lawyers rather than for ecclesiastical persons to rule on matters.
The subject of marriage still remained a sticky one since people wanted the appearance of the covenant with all its pomp, sacredness and ceremony, yet some also wanted the ease of dissolution of the arrangement allowed by contracts. The use of contracts also made the dissolution of the joint estate much easier to negotiate. The public blended aspects of cohabitation, contract and covenant into a common term.
The legal entity of marriage also took on new significance when governments began taxing income. When income was not taxed, the issue of marriage was a moot point. It was not a concern of government. When income began being taxed, the government began being concerned about “what is a marriage.” Since couples are taxed at a different rate than singles, many saw the marriage designation as having a tax advantage. When governments used duties, fees and imports to generate tax revenues, the tax advantages of marriage were non-existent. Since governments have shifted how they collect their monies, now what constitutes a ‘marriage' has tax implications.
With all these changing definitions of marriage, the question, “Is marriage losing its importance?” takes on some new angles. Depending on your definition of marriage, whether one of who you are co-habitating with, who you legal tax partner is, or who you are joined with in the eyes of God the question of whether or not that ‘concept' is losing its importance is a more pertinent and meaningful question.
Marriage remains extremely important. What becomes the pertinent question is “Why is marriage important?” Your definition of marriage often determines why marriage is important and what it ‘really' means to you.
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