14:17 16 May 2005
These days, so many couples live together that many people wonder whether there's any point in getting married anymore.
With divorces and multiple partners in the course of a lifetime common, to some people marriage seems to be an institution that's passed its sell-by date.
Despite this change in social attitudes, the number of people getting married is still high. While divorce figures have risen dramatically in the past few decades, it is increasingly seen as normal to embark upon second, third or more marriages.
So whats going on?
Commitment and romance
For some people, living together just doesn't feel like making the same commitment as being married does. For them, nothing competes with the public statement of commitment that marriage provides. For others, there's the element of romance associated with the actual wedding day that helps spur them on. And despite Samuel Johnsons warning that a second marriage is a triumph of hope over experience, many of us still want to formalise a second, third or later live-in relationship.
(There is, of course, still a sizeable minority for whom religious beliefs sanction only marriage for live-in relationships.)
Legal and financial
While recent and possible future legislation may offer new protection and rights for couples (same sex and opposite sex) who live together, at present, married couples still have a much clearer legal status than others. Indeed, the importance of marriage in earlier societies was chiefly about legally protecting property.
Today, your legal status is still changed when you marry. For instance, a new marriage revokes any will that you have made before your marriage.
The stigma of children being born outside marriage has all but disappeared in the modern society that we live in. However, to many people, their children's rights and legal status seem better protected if their parents are married.
Many couples still choose to live together without marriage, with or without any formal agreements. Others think about protecting their and their children's rights by arranging legal contracts to cover themselves should the couple split up or one of them die prematurely. These contracts seem sensible precautions to take, however "unromantic" it may seem.
S/he wants to marry but I dont (or vice versa)
Such differences can be a sign of different outlooks on life that can be negotiated. Other reasons for disagreements may be that one partner feels not (yet) committed enough to the relationship for marriage.
Everyone deserves a level of honesty in these situations though. Dont say that you dont believe in marriage (or some similar line) if what you really mean is that you dont want to marry your current partner, but you might consider it with someone else. If thats the case, have the courage of your convictions and dont allow both of you to waste time together when you might both be happier with other people.
The way forward
As in most things in life, the options of marriage and living together are probably questions of horses for courses. Some people will never envisage themselves as getting "that bit of paper". Others would never dream of agreeing to a long-term live-in relationship without a marriage ceremony. The important thing is finding the right-enough person for you and feeling the same way about whether or not you marry.
Do we still need marriage? In a way, the question is probably not really relevant. As long as people still want marriage, its going to be here to stay.
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