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Marriage and Life

What marriage has to teach us about life.

Marriage has been under pressure. I hear a lot of stories about why some people don’t need the government or church involved in their relationships. Comments range from: “I’m spiritual, but not religious” to “I don’t need anyone or anything to show how committed I am.” It’s also no surprise that the overall rate of divorce is quite high. A good amount of people prefer open relationships, cohabitation, etc. I hear some arguments that monogamy isn’t biological.

And even for married couples, well-intentioned phrases like: “I married my best friend” show we don’t even understand what a spouse is. I personally see it in friends and family. Many aren’t getting married. Many more can’t even find significant others. Do they have to? Of course not. Would they make good candidates? Perhaps. However, marriage has important lessons to teach us about life.

But first let’s consider this: do you think marriage is a failing institution? Or is it our values that are failing us? Is marriage intrinsically pointless, or are we eroding our fitness? Whether you’re married or not, or whether you’re interested in getting married, marriage has a lot of value. Instead of bashing marriage, being confused about it, or ignoring it altogether, let’s see how it can be fundamentally applicable to your life.

A) Skin in the Game

The first and most obvious reason why marriage is different from other forms of relationships is its degree of skin in the game. However bureaucratic, marriage is not only a religious event but a legal process. It’s more than just a personal commitment. You are willing to commit and acknowledge the possible consequences if you decide to back out. In contrast, wanting all the upside with none of the downside is irresponsible. Having SITG is how you show you’re serious and committed for the long-term.

In marriage as in anything in life, humans are wired to care more, try harder, and persist if there’s skin in the game. Would you do business with anyone that doesn’t want any legal contracts? When someone is willing to fully commit, there should always be skin in the game. The fact that some people want the benefits without the responsibility speaks for itself. Which kind of relationship will motivate you to stick when things get rough?

So be wary for anything that fails to have SITG. For example, I can think of two institutions that lack SITG: universities and financial planners. Schools have no problem charging a literal fortune for your education but have zero responsibility (skin in the game) about what happens after you graduate. They don’t care if you drown in debt or can’t find a job with the degree they offered. Many financial advisors will charge abundantly in fees (frequently hidden) to manage your money, but they suffer zero consequences if they lose it.

Again, people and institutions want to keep all the upside with no downside. Without SITG there’s no accountability, no responsibility and no follow through. Would you buy a new car or cellphone that offered no warranty? Or go on an airplane that guaranteed no safety? Companies, institutions, and people that are subject to SITG, like marriage, open themselves to a world of possibility because they prove they can be trustworthy. It is our responsibility to seek skin in the game and to offer it. 

B) Rite of Passage

Marriage, as opposed to other forms of committed relationships, has a rite of passage: the wedding day. A rite of passage marks an important stage in your life. A rite of passage is about the public ceremony that signals you’re committing before your beliefs and your loved ones. You exchange vows. A wedding should be within your means and with the people that matter most. It’s about the connection and commitments exchanged, not about the party.

We all know that anything made public is scrutinized. A rite of passage has power. Across cultures, rites of passage give meaning and guide us through our stages of life. What is the alternative? How do we know we’re transitioning in life? It’s not just marriage. We have graduations in school, major promotions at work, and special achievements. The key is, like skin in the game, to make it important. A rite of passage should signal a significant transition in life.

A rite of passage is a fundamental pillar in marriage. It’s invaluable as it helps to mark the beginning of a new milestone. It clarifies where we have been and where we are headed. In marriage as in life, a rite of passage is an event we can work toward. What new goals, projects, or careers are you working towards? Who would you like to become in 2, 5, or 10 years? You can organize your biggest goals around a rite of passage. This will motivate you to find your tribe and provide you with a sense of belonging and meaning in your life.

C) Nurture

Making marriage work is hard. Relationships are not only about the commitments we make, but in the nourishment we give them. Marriage and life is in the little details. It’s not all big-picture. Marriage requires empathy, trust, generosity, patience, selflessness, loyalty, communication, love, and many more important values. Marriage teaches us that going big is really about knowing how to go small. If we put in the work, we benefit from the intimacy, the company, the joys, and the results.

And isn’t that the case in anything we do in life? Successful businesses and entrepreneurs are those that obsess about the details. How you take care about the small things reflects how you take care of the big things. Marriage is no different. If we see many marriages ending in divorce (legitimate reasons aside) what we’re really seeing is a surge of people unwilling to work on the small details. Little acts of kindness are invaluable but seldom cared for. Nothing stays healthy if we don’t nourish it. If anything, marriage teaches what it takes to keep and grow anything else in life.

No marriage is perfect. Nothing in life will be quite perfect, but it can be perfect enough for you. What does marriage and life have to teach us? That anything worth while and long-term will benefit from skin in the game, rites of passage, and continuous nourishment. So ask yourself: What values do you need to nourish in your life? How can you bring skin in the game into your decisions? How will you signal a transition in your life events? This is ultimately what marriage is about and these are the tools you can incorporate in your life.

And being skeptical or uncertain about marriage is perhaps being uncertain about ourselves. Of course you don’t have to marry, especially if you haven’t found and built a considerable relationship with a significant other. Marriage symbolizes a special kind of commitment, celebration, and work. I’d also add that a healthy marriage is perhaps one of the best ways to transition from being a couple to a familyto welcome (and raise) children to the world.

Marriage and what it entails is something we can all learn from. So to me, it isn’t a debate about whether or not the marriage institution is worthwhile or failing (it’s not), or if you should want to marry or stay married. It’s about what marriage requires to succeed should you decide toand how those principles happen to be very much applicable to anything else worth pursuing (and keeping) in life.

Juan F. Diaz

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