Monday, July 7, 2014

Long-Term Girlfriend or Wife? Will You be Happy With a Commitment Without Marriage?

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A friend of mine recently celebrated her 3 year wedding anniversary and posted pics on social media from that day as a way to reminisce. In many of her photos were pics of her proud parents who had been together for over 20 years. I found myself saying a silent prayer that she and her husband’s marriage would last as long as her parents’ had – until I remembered that her parents were never married.

That got me to thinking – is my friend’s union more “official” than her parents’ because she is actually married? And knowing that her parents have been together for so long, what made her want to get married as opposed to simply being in a long-term, committed relationship with her man – which is essentially the same thing right? Is there a big difference between being a lifelong girlfriend or partner as opposed to being a wife?

I remember once hearing Oprah say that she never wanted to get married because she didn’t want to let Stedman down as a wife. Yet they have been together for over 25 years and are still going strong. Wouldn’t some argue that she’s still just as much his wife as if she had that piece of paper stating so? After all, they live and have built a life together, so isn’t that a “marriage”? What about the commitment of marriage is so different from simply dating for a long period of time?

I guess some put a certain amount of expectations on a husband or a wife that they wouldn’t put on someone who is “just” a girlfriend or boyfriend – so if there’s no pressure, then there’s room for the relationship to simply “be.” While some say that divorce should not be an option when it comes to marriage, maybe simply knowing that you have an “out” if you wanted to leave has some sort of reverse psychology, Jedi mind trick thing going on that actually keeps some couples from breaking up.

I realize that there are legal benefits that kick in automatically when a couple decides to marry, but that same couple could just as easily, in some cases, execute those same benefits in a living will or other legal document. And more and more couples are having children outside of wedlock, but does that mean their union is any less “real” than a legally married couple, especially if they’ve been together for 10, 20 or 30 years?

I never understood couples who have been together for upwards of 20 years who say marriage isn’t for them. I figured that they were essentially married anyway, just not on paper – which is common law in most states – so what about it didn’t appeal to them if they’re living as a married couple anyway. But then again maybe it’s not for me to understand. Marriage for many is a very personal, individual concept, and perhaps those couples don’t believe in the Western concept of marriage, or “institutionalized” relationships. But if you know in your heart that you are more “long-term girlfriend” material rather than “wife” material, there is nothing wrong with that – even if you wind up being someone’s girlfriend til death do you part. After all, you can’t have a marriage without commitment, but you can have a commitment without marriage – and as long as that’s what both of you want there is no need for the rest of us....

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