Marriage: Is it Worth It? ~ Adam Sheck

Via on Sep 4, 2012

Couples often enter counseling with me asking: “Marriage—is it worth it?” as well as the variation, “Should we live together or get married?”

As a man who’s been on the planet more than five decades, I’ve cohabitated and been married a few times, so I’ve definitely got an opinion. As a clinical psychologist who specializes in couples and relationships, I have over 20 years of professional, real-world, experience as well.

First, my story. I moved in with my first love a few months after dating her in my early twenties. I was younger than young, totally clueless and yet also fearless about jumping in. After six months of cohabitation, she wanted to get married. Actually her parents wanted her to get married. I had became persona non grata for corrupting their little girl—who was a few years older and a bank vice president—but living in sin.

I didn’t know much back then but I did have this belief that you should know someone for two years before you got married. She succumbed to parental pressure after less than a year and broke up with me. The pain of first, deep, living-together-love really sucked and it was a long, long time before I didn’t automatically see red Datsun B210s everywhere I drove, looking for her.

The first time I got married it was purely lust and timing. I only figured this out way after the fact. I was almost 30 and I truly believe a huge part of my unconscious psyche was just ready to get married and it probably didn’t matter a whole lot who my spouse-to-be was. Can any of you biological clock people relate?

And given my cohabitation experience, I felt living together was chickensh*t and that marriage was the way to go. We got married maybe three months after the first date. Guess that two-year-rule went out the window.

While I loved being married, it didn’t last for more than a few years. We didn’t have a lot in common aside from an incredible, twice-a-day passion.

Was the marriage worth it? Yes.

The experience did get me into psychotherapy, which ultimately became my dream career. And yes I am truly grateful for the lessons I learned from that union, and the way it guided me toward my calling.

My second marriage was for family. I fell in parental love with my eventual wife’s daughter, Anique, my heart opened up and I experienced unconditional love for the first time. I completely thought of her (my stepdaughter-to-be) as my child and was at peace. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a purpose, a meaning. And my daughter, Alana, was born a few years later. Unfortunately, I was much better at falling in love with the children than the woman, and the marriage eventually ended.

Was that marriage worth it?

Yes. We learned, we grew and we brought a new soul into the world. And we are still bonded because of that, regardless of the current form of our relationship.

So, it’s from this history that I come to the client’s question: “Is marriage worth it?”  and “Should we live together or get married?”

As a psychologist and couples therapist, I have been trained to explore questions first, prior to giving an answer. And the truth is, while I have my answer, my work is to help you determine your answer.

My response is not focused upon morality, value judgments, or religious beliefs. It is focused on the issue of commitment. So, the really critical question I would ask couples is, what is your commitment in this relationship?  The commitment in the decision to live together is much different than the commitment of marriage.

The commitment to live together is, generally speaking, really not that much about commitment. It’s about, let’s see if we can get along together before we make a commitment.

Some refer to it as a trial marriage. It really is a much different commitment than marriage for the majority of people. Of course, there are exceptions to this, yet I’m speaking in general.

Marriage, on the other hand, is about making the commitment to building a life with this person, whether you like them every day or not, whether they are in a good mood every day or not, whether they meet your needs every day or not.

It is about seeing the big picture, about remembering why you are together for the long haul, even when the day-to-day ride is bumpy. It is about working through the problems that come up, because you remember that you made a commitment.

It is about what you choose to give to the relationship, much more than about what you expect to receive.

And honestly, nothing can prepare you for the commitment of marriage, for the commitment to the long haul, to forever, whatever forever means in this world. The concept of the trial marriage is statistically proven to be a poor indicator of marriage success.

The statistics are daunting; the majority of cohabitators either breakup or marry within two years. The risk of divorce after living together is 40 to 85 percent higher than the risk of divorce after not living together. Those who live together before marriage are almost twice as likely to divorce than those who do not live together.

Why is this? There are many theories about it. Personally, I feel there are a few pieces to it.

First of all, most of us are not perfect, we have some flaws, we have fears, we have parts of ourselves we hide from the world, parts we are not proud of, that cause us some amount of shame. We have varying degrees of doubt as to our self-worth, our desirability, our “love-ability.” This may be conscious or unconscious.

And often, these deeper issues don’t come up in a living together situation, or if they do, not as strongly as when the commitment to marriage is made. Only then will our psyches feel safe enough to let down our guard, lower our defenses and let our dark side come out fully. And often, only then is our partner prepared to face and accept this side of us, without turning and running in the other direction. This is where a strong commitment is needed.

The second piece, I think, is the fact that we humans are truly creatures of habit. And when we live together with someone, we develop certain habits of relating and certain mindsets. Certain habits of communicating, certain habits of being. Often, we develop habits of me versus you and mine versus yours.

And we develop habits of my way. And we develop mindsets of I’m right and you’re wrong and It’s your fault. And those are really difficult to change, once we marry and commit to forever.

Conversely (and ideally), when we make the commitment to marriage without the habits of living together, we build up habits of us, of the partnership, of together forever and we might work a little harder to sustain these habits. We might look more to ourselves and what we are doing to make our situation better or worse and take more responsibility for it. Each day is spent building this foundation, so that when challenging times come, as they will, we are prepared to meet them from strength, from partnership.

The final piece, which may speak more to the statistics, is that perhaps a percentage of the people who choose to live together, do so, because they are not prepared or capable of making a stronger commitment, like that of marriage.

So, like all couples, the ball is in your court. It’s not good or bad to decide to live together or to decide to get married. It is an important decision though. If it becomes too difficult to reach a choice that is consistent with what you want, you might want to consider seeking support from a counselor or therapist.

Back to me! Now that my daughter Alana is out of the house and I’m an empty nester, my latest lesson is to explore connection and relationship from the perspective of keeping my heart open and not deciding ahead of time what the form has to look like.

It’s easy to say “If I knew then what I know now, things would be different.”  Well, I know now what I know now and am willing to keep learning as I go.

Is marriage worth it? Absolutely! All relationships are worth it and I’ve got a sh*tload of lessons left to learn.

And, just maybe, three times will be the charm.

Looking forward to your comments.

 

 

Editor: Lori Lothian

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About Adam Sheck

Dr. Adam Sheck, the Passion Doctor, helps couples and singles bring back the passion into their lives and into their relationships. He is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and has practiced JUST enough Tantra to be dangerous. He blogs about relationships at thepassiondoctor.comand about issues facing men in the second half of life at www.menafterfifty.com. You can also find him on Facebook.

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39 Responses to “Marriage: Is it Worth It? ~ Adam Sheck”

  1. Tim says:

    I just entered into my third marriage. It was a combination of the many things you've described, I met her at a Dance, she didn't know how to Ballroom dance but I led her to the floor anyway. I think it was love at first sight in many ways. Despite the 2 hours drive between us, our every weekend relationship with lots of phone time (thank goodness for FaceTime) prospered over the previous 2.5 years, we married this March knowing that the separation of distance would last another 3 years (joys of jobs with decent retirement packages). I know that my solitary ways will have to come to an end, I've gotten very used to living alone and rather like it, but also look eagerly to every weekend when we can be together. We were able to easily go through the disclosures and honest evaluation of finances, future plans and plans for end of life in a Pre-Nuptial. In my time practicing law, I generally feel that if a couple can handle the pure disclosure and emotional issues associated with a Pre-Nup, they are more likely to make it in the long run.

  2. Nancy Shields says:

    Great post Adam and I like yourself – have married twice; 1st at a very young age and 2nd a rebound from fear of being alone. So now that I'm 52 and have discovered a life without marriage and a life of traveling here and there and everywhere – I am alone and at perfect peace at being alone – I AM! I have discovered that without love there is no JOY and I only can create that reality. The right man will come to me and he will find me – we will be mirrors and then I will know from the bottom of my heart that YES I AM ready for marriage again. A more mature marriage with passion and FUN. Awareness without boundaries is flow….one that flows…..

    In love and light,
    Nancy

    • Nancy,
      Congratulations on having such a healthy attitude! Yes, doing our own inner work, releasing the desperation and fear and trusting that like will attract like, these are important keys.
      Thanks so much for sharing,
      Adam

  3. Nicole Rushin says:

    I don't see how the concept of marriage plays into love or romance at all. It is really just a financial and legal agreement. Why are we still so bound in our society by the concept of a piece of paper binding two people? Getting 'Married' is a romantic notion, a ritual of giving the daughter away, it is very archetypal in its play. it is simply an outward manifestation of the internal union of the male/female energies. I did it once and I felt trapped and I disliked holding the title of a 'Wife.' I think it just depends on the person. But the idea of marriage does not feel right to me. And I am in a very happy relationship. We say to each other all the time that we are happily unmarried.

    • Nicole,
      You make a number of good points. Actually, marriage as a romantic notion is only a few centuries old, if that. Previously it was about financial/legal/estate planning issues. For some, it can be a deeper commitment, for others, not so much. Sounds like you've got it just the way you want it now, so keep up the good work!
      Adam

  4. sara says:

    What a profoundly optimistic post on marriage and relationships!!! It is exactly what I needed to push me to decide to keep my cat! Thanks~

  5. GreatNorthSky says:

    OMG !!!!!!! Adam, Great Post and Very Inspiring For A Guy Now In His Very Early Fifties. Number Three Never Happened For Me. It Almost Came To Pass, But The Guides From Above Dismantled That, HaHa, LOL. And Like You, I Now Live With My HEART WIDE Open, Open To All, Taking In the Beauty Of All This.

    I Will Say This, However, It's Alllllllllll Worth It. It's All Worth It, If We Are Willing To Do the Real Work With Ourselves, Within. It's All Worth It, If We Are Willing To Absorb The Lessons That We Are Continually Presented With.

    I Have Never Been So Happy, And When That Other HEART Shows Up, I Know We'll Be Tremendously Happy In All That Is.

    Thank You Adam नमस्ते

    • GreatNorthSky,
      So glad to entertain as well as share my heart with you! I am grateful for your sharing yours as well here and wish you the best on your journey of love.
      Take care,
      Adam

  6. Ramani says:

    What does "just enough Tantra" mean in your bio? Who is your guru?

    • Ramani,
      It means pretty much what it says. I have no guru, sorry. Did study quit a bit of SkyDancing Tantra awhile back and still in touch with my old Tantra teacher. Hope that helps.
      Adam

  7. Ron Dean says:

    As a gay man, I’ve been in 3 long-term relationships and 2 of them living together. None of them worked out, and now that I am at your age, I really don’t feel the need for gay marriage or a long-term commitment.

    A wise old gay man once told me, “You want a man in your life but not in your house.” I didn’t believe it then but it is what works for me.

    For my sister, it was a different story. We both grew up in a very abusive family, and my sister was very cautious. She never asked her live-in to change. She just waited to see if he and she would change in such a way to make a marriage last.

    So, they lived together for 7 years, got married, and have been married for 18 years. So I guess they beat the statistical odds.

    • Ron,

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on this. To be honest, I've been speaking with friends about this topic lately and none of us are really convinced that we even WANT to live full-time with someone else at this stage of our lives.

      On the other hand, we can decide ALL kinds of things and yet when the "right" person comes along, we often throw it all out the window and jump in. Just sayin'

      Thanks again,
      Adam

  8. Alice says:

    Hi Adam, I am also an Imago Relationship Therapist with two divorces behind me and lots of my own personal therapy, who has managed to keep my heart open. learn and teach conscious dating and now am about to complete the purchase of a beautiful house with my sweetheart of five years. We are committed but not married. I am looking forward to taking our relationship to the next level and learn and grow together more. I enjoyed your article. Hey, will you be at the Vancouver Imago Conference? I'd love to meet you!

    Alice

    • Alice,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience on this. Always seems a challenge for a couples therapist to cope with ending a personal relationship, at least in the moment. Writing a post now that goes into that "imposter syndrome". Seems like you're navigating quite well :)

      No, won't be in Vancouver, but perhaps we'll meet in another venue.

      Take care,
      Adam

  9. catnipkiss says:

    Great article, Adam, and I am inspired by your healthy attitude that "all relationships are worth it". I'm not quite THERE yet, but I am trying!! Thank you for leading the way! – Alexa Maxwell

  10. Rhino says:

    It takes courage to anything involving relationship. for that matter it takes courage to live alone. Let's face it, anyway you slice it life is suffering.

  11. [...] to his next session, he told me they stopped dating; she didn’t share his enthusiasm for marriage and [...]

  12. Eva Berlander says:

    Hi Adam!
    Liked your article. I have written a book about this called: You Can Make it Happen; How Breakthroughs in Neuroscience Can Transform relationships – that I think both you and your clients may like!
    Warmly, Eva Berlander, Imago Relationship Therapist in Sweden

  13. Kevin says:

    Thanks for your post. I appreciate the balanced review of options.
    'Commitment' is the key value from my perspective. And I know that commitment does not guarantee longevity, happiness, or any other abstract end point we might have in mind.
    This isn't some linear path like 'first comes love, then comes marriage . . . ' It's our own trip and our chance to be awake while we do it.

  14. Tom says:

    Verrry Goood article here Doc. I had been married once for a few years, did not turn out well, but getting my stepson through high school and his grades up was throughly satisfying, so I have no regrets. However, if I go for "round two" I plan on taking it somewhat slow because like in your case my biological tock was ticking fast the first time.

    • Tom,
      So glad you could relate to the article. Yes, contributing to others IS a big part of family and has a great intrinsic satisfaction. Take your time and keep me posted on your progress!
      Take care,
      Adam

  15. uno says:

    I think I am attracted to a guy who is much older than me. I have thought of marriage, but I don't know if this would actually happen, as we are both opinionated and strong willed. I think we have a lot in common though. He is charismatic and famous. The problem is, it isn't easy to get in touch with him, or connect or have a relationship. How should I pursue this? I think this man is very important to me.
    Uno

    • Uno,
      This isn't an advice column, so I have no real advice for you. Have you actually ever MET this man, I couldn't tell from your comment? Sounds like you and he need to have a conversation. If that can't happen, then you probably have your answer.
      Good luck,
      Adam

      • uno says:

        Yes, we've met. I'm not sure what he remembers, though. As for what to say–what do people say, not for advice? I'm not sure how this works. Thanks for the luck. I wonder, in case he isn't interested or can't talk, what do you think this man does for me?( I'm thinking, every person's relationship gives them a lesson or something they really, really want in their lives. What do you think I want from this man? I think and dream about him literally all the time, so it's important to me to answer this question.) I'm very interested in your answer. How do you figure this out, too?
        Thanks,
        Uno

  16. Roger Wolsey says:

    tax benefits alone = yes. (also, men live longer if they're married)

    • Roger,
      Good to be practical! True, the research shows that married men live long than unmarried men. AND unmarried women live longer than married women. Could be supporting data for marrying a younger woman, but that's a different article :)
      Take care,
      Adam

  17. Kim Stetz says:

    Wonderful article. Having never been married or even engaged at 43, I am always fascinated by the marriage/divorce, little boxes on the hillside. In my 20s I had no desire to marry. At 33, I fell in love with a man 9 years younger, didn't push for marriage but it's something that he wanted and children, saw my biological clock ticking and didn't want to waste my time so dumped me at 36. Haven't been in love since and 7 years is a long time. Both men and women are tricky. I have enough experience now to know who is really interested in exploring a relationship/life with me and is capable of doing this. The trick for me is to not run away.

  18. MatBoy says:

    I have been, accidentally, happily married for 28 years and our youngest child finishes college in the spring. Our family is very close and supportive, although we live across the globe from each other. My wife and I have, somehow, 'just worked it out' and I could not begin to explain why or how. It just kind of happened that way: like being born in a developed country or into a successful family or better than average looking.

    I guess the key to it all is just learning how to best play the hand that you have been dealt and learning to fall in love with your own life just as it is and just as you are. Some people are tall, others short: some find stable relationships, others don't. There is no better or worse: life is an adventure and you must take care how you play each hand, how you respond to the situations that naturally arise. I think emotional resilience is far more important than the outer forms of one's life: relationships, money, status, etc.

    I happened to have wound up married and I'm happy with that result. I think I might have found a way to be happy not being married, or being married many times but those are hypotheticals I will never know the reality of. My monogamous lifestyle has prevented me from experiencing a variety of other relationships and situations. I can live with that. As I now begin looking at life's 'endgame' I must prepare myself for another set of challenges including losing the person I have shared most of my life with. I have no idea how I will handle it, I'll just take it one day at a time. I'll still enjoy watching the bats that like to roost under our front patio, the sunsets on the mountains from our back yard, the nearby hikes, the meals we share together and the people who come into our lives. I have hobbies that I should be able to do till the very end, I'm fit and active; I'm learning to play the guitar so I can share music more intimately. I guess I just don't think of life in terms of being married or unmarried. Resilience, love of nature (including humanity), health and happiness are the things that drive my life and that I check-in with in my meditations.

    • MatBoy,
      As I often say, timing is everything! It's wonderful that you "found" yourself in this happy marriage, though I would suspect there was something more than an "accident" in it lasting for 28 years and counting. Yes, resilience is importance as is doing your best in your commitment. True in marriage, true in life.

      And yes, dealing with loss is a given in EVERY relationship, even if it is because of time, age and death. It's built into this life dance and while we don't need to dwell, we do need to accept as we must.

      Wish you the best on your continued journey and if you'd ever like to write a piece on your experience for my "Men After Fifty" blog, please let me know.

      Adam

  19. michellegm15 says:

    Am a young woman in her early 20s whose boyfriend wants to get married as soon as I'm ready. He sweetly reminds me every day that I'm the perfect girl for him and that he knows, without a doubt, that I'm the one for him. I'm always a bit more antsy about commitments. We accidentally ended up living together for the past two months, and it's been a blissful and tear-filled emotional ride. I understand with sparkling clarity now, how much we will both need to mature before I'm ready to commit. He needs to learn to give me space and not to be too greedy for my time. I need to be generous with my time and energy and learn to express myself more. We need to be open and willing to grow. The most important and difficult component: We both need to learn to come from a place of, as you accurately say, giving. From a place of abundance. Not from a place of possessiveness, greed, want, scarcity. I'm not sure where this journey will end up, but I know it's worth giving our all. Will definitely read more of your work, this hit the nail on the head for me. Thank you!

  20. Michelle,
    I've never heard of anyone "accidentally" living together, I'm sure that's an interesting story. Sounds like you're on top of your issues. Thanks so much for wanting to read more of my work, you might want to consider http://premaritalplan.com as well.
    Take care,
    Adam

  21. [...] Over the course of my life, there were two boyfriends whom I lived with. One was just after I graduated college and the other was when I had moved to Colorado. When I started to realized that what my grandmother said was true, “when you get the milk for free (living with a significant other), there’s no reason to buy the cow (get married).” I decided I didn’t want to be a cow anymore and made a vow to myself that I would not live with a guy again until I was married, or at least engaged. [...]

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