What Marriage Is (and Isn’t) All About

Most of us grew up having this idea that you are supposed to grow up, get married, and have children. It is true that this is the path most people follow, although that is gradually changing.

In my profession, I see many couples come in for counseling questioning their relationships and even contemplating what marriage really is.

Interestingly, the answer to that question is really different for everyone. For some, it is no more than a legal arrangement, only worth the paper it is written on. For others, it is about romance, life-long commitment and a desire to build a family.

No matter what your ideas about marriage are, it is inherently different from any other type of relationship. Most people would agree that marriage is typically a monogamous relationship, involving emotional and physical intimacy that is built on honesty and trust.

It is a legally binding partnership that can only be undone through divorce.

Actual data about marriage and divorce rates in the U.S.

  • Number of marriages: 2,245,404
  • Marriage rate: 6.9 per 1,000 total population
  • Number of divorces: 827,261 (44 reporting States and D.C.)
  • Divorce rate: 3.2 per 1,000 population (44 reporting States and D.C.)

Marriage is a choice. It is two individuals who have chosen to spend their lives together. While this doesn’t always work out, there are several things that can set your marriage up for success.

What marriage is:

  • Marriage requires you to desire happiness for both yourself and your spouse.
  • Marriage is demonstrating kindness, caring, and compassion, even when it is really difficult to do so.
  • Marriage is having respect for both yourself and your spouse.
  • Marriage is being supportive and empathetic, even when you don’t agree.
  • Marriage is accepting your partner’s flaws and imperfections, just as you want to be accepted for who you are
  • Marriage is a commitment to working together to solve whatever problems arise together.
  • Marriage is the ability to communicate and negotiate and figure out what works for you in a way that everyone feels heard, respected and understood.
  • Marriage is about having realistic expectations.
  • Marriage is when your needs and your partner’s needs are equally important.
  • Marriage is a constant give and take.

What marriage isn’t:

  • Marriage is not ownership or controlling your partner.
  • Marriage is not possessiveness or jealousy.
  • Marriage is not constant nagging, complaining, arguing or insulting one another.
  • Marriage is never to include any type of abuse, not verbal, not physical, not emotional
  • Marriage is not sweeping things under the rug, avoiding confrontation, and allowing anger and resentment to build.
  • Marriage is not living separate lives, as if you were no more than roommates or ships passing in the night.
  • Marriage is not ignoring one another, avoiding communication, or a lack of reciprocity.
  • Marriage is not one person always giving and the other always demanding and taking.

The good news is that if you are having trouble in your marriage, counseling can help. The sooner you seek counseling, the better chance it has of helping to improve or even save your marriage.

Did you know that according to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help? That is way too long to be suffering, and each passing year brings more and more anger and resentment.

Most often, couples just need some help expressing their feelings, needs and desires. Once couples are better able to communicate and solve problems together, things are quite often back on track.

Marriage changes over time, and while some get anxious about this, others find it very comforting. To go through life with a true partner, raise a family together, and grow old with your best friend can be an exciting and fulfilling adventure.

With realistic expectations of how love and marriage grow and change over time, and with a little help along the way if necessary, you can have the marriage of your dreams.

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas. Contact Lori at or call/text 818-514-LMFT


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