Why Get Married?
The marriage rate today is the lowest it’s ever been. Does it matter?
After rising for many years, the divorce rate in the United States today is less than it was a decade ago. But before you celebrate, the reason is not because of a sudden increase in blissful marriages; it’s because fewer are choosing to marry to begin with.
Indeed, the marriage rate today is the lowest level since the U.S. government began keeping marriage records for the country in 1867. Of those who do marry, 50 percent will divorce with the average length of marriage lasting just 8.2 years.
With those odds, it’s no surprise that fewer and fewer young people are subscribing to the entire institution of marriage or seeing any significance to it. After all, if two people love each other, isn’t marriage just a piece of paper, an outdated tradition, a social construct? And if someone is happy alone, why consider marriage at all?
So why should young people get married?
Working on Yourself
Adam was originally created alone. An essential part of the core of a person is to be by himself, comfortable being alone and pursuing his own interests. But soon after, God says, “It is not good for the Human to be alone; I will make a fitting counterpart for him.” Alone, man is a taker; God wants man to become a giver, and so He creates marriage, the need to compromise, to prioritize a partner, and to make room for another. Marriage forces us to grow and helps us become better versions of ourselves.
Marriage fosters maturity, dependability, and trustworthiness. It’s the primary venue for working on our character.
That is why the Torah says when the time is right, “A man must leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” A child is a receiver, focused on himself and dependent on others. When a person clings to a spouse and becomes one, they grow to be independent together, they must be concerned with and responsible to and for one another. Marriage fosters maturity, dependability, and trustworthiness. Rabbi Chaim Vital, a great 16th century mystic, said: “A person's character traits are primarily measured based upon how they are to their spouse.”
The Torah teaches that on the sixth day of creation, God fashioned one figure comprised of man and woman, and then He split them in two, Adam and Eve. If God is Omnipotent and Infinite, if He knew He would ultimately create two, why didn’t He make them that way to begin with?
Had God created Man and Woman separate and apart, their union would have been a case of one plus one, a collaboration of two. Instead, God wants us to realize that alone, we are a half and when the time is right, we must search for our other half, the person who completes us so that we can become whole. That is why the Talmud (Yevamot 62a) comments, “Any man who is without a wife is not a complete man,” and continues, “One’s wife is as one’s very own body.”
Marriage is not for convenience or comfort. A spouse completes one’s soul.
In a healthy marriage, one’s spouse is not just a roommate or someone to divide responsibility and chores with. Marriage is not for convenience or comfort. A spouse complements one’s personality, completes one’s soul and is the exclusive person who combines to be one flesh.
On one occasion, Rav Aryeh Levin accompanied his wife to a Jerusalem clinic. The physician inquired what was wrong to which he responded, "Doctor, my wife's foot is hurting us." Another time, Rav Aryeh Levin was traveling in a cab and the driver asked, “What’s your home address?” Rav Aryeh told him I used to have a home but my wife passed away and now all I have is an address.”
Countless research shows the mental, physical and emotional benefits of marriage. Studies show that married couples are the happiest on the whole, even though they are no longer living life only on their own terms. In contrast, half of the couples who cohabitate break up and people who cohabitate before marriage are more likely to get divorced.
So in Judaism, marriage isn’t just a tradition or a living arrangement; it is a holy institution (which is why it’s called Kiddushin in Hebrew, from the root kadosh, holy). Holy means distinguished, separate and apart. Marriage is an exclusive bond and commitment; it is a unique relationship shared by husband and wife to the exclusion of all others.
Rabbi Akiva teaches (Sotah 17a) If a man [ish in Hebrew] and woman [isha] establish a faithful marriage, the Divine Presence rests between them. The Hebrew words ish and isha are almost identical; the difference between them is the middle letter yud in ish, and the final letter heh in isha. These two letters can be joined to form the name of God. Marriage promotes selflessness, compromise, responsibility and faithfulness, all attributes that imitate and attract the presence of the Divine.
The mystical unification forged through the bond of marriage creates a concretized commitment that lasts for eternity.
The act of marriage uniquely creates union of complete oneness. Marriage isn’t just a piece of paper. The mystical unification forged through the bond of marriage, making two halves into a whole, creates a concretized commitment. It’s investing oneself in the deepest, most meaningful and consequential way. It means the relationship is anything but casual; it isn’t disposable and cannot be dissolved without consequences.
Judaism teaches that one should go into marriage with the mentality of until death do us part. Abraham’s commitment to Sarah that lasted through their lifetime and continued even after Sarah’s demise. We derive the mechanism of marriage, the giving and receiving of a ring from husband to wife, from the way Abraham secured a burial place for Sarah. This source isn’t a mere coincidence; it communicates that a healthy marriage is built on a commitment until the very end. We don’t leave or abandon a relationship when the going gets tough. Marriage is a cherished commitment that should be honored until all options and efforts have been exhausted.
Good for Society
But marriage is not only good for individuals to realize their potential and to become better versions of themselves, marriage benefits society as a whole. A society made up of distinct individuals living for themselves, pursuing their own happiness and seeking to take the most out of life, is a splintered, divided society of those prioritizing their self-interests.
A society comprised of people who have learned to prioritize others, to give in addition to taking, who have entered a meaningful and consequential covenant and contract with each other is an elevated society, a more noble community. The lessons and growth inherent in marriage improves people as a whole, yielding a better functioning, more committed and selfless society and community. A society made up of physically, emotionally and mentally happier and healthier people is a happier and healthier society and better for everyone.
Marriage is not just good for individuals, it is a sacred and indispensable institution that benefits all.