To marry or not to marry


To marry or not to marry


your avatar   Butterfly (20 year-old woman)

I'm 20 years old, from a family that strongly believes in marrying young. I've been under heavy pressure for a couple of years now, especially at the weddings of cousins younger than I am. I've always been against the idea, because I think there's too much change in personality in the late teens and early twenties to really know what kind of person you're going to end up with.

It never seemed to be a problem, although I do tend to have serious, intense relationships. I'd been seeing a guy seriously for over a year (and planned to marry him eventually). We got into a fight about six months ago, and he lost his temper and hit me. I broke it off, although it's taken most of these six months to convince him of that. Having left him, I realized how emotionally abusive the relationship had been, how controlling this guy was, and how I had completely let my identity go. It had been a long-distance relationship for almost seven months of that year, and I had been doing all the traveling and making all the effort to maintain the relationship. I was also supporting him for most of the relationship, which put me deeply into debt.

I came home and went through some counseling, and I think I'm not quite so codependent now. When I got home, my best friend introduced me to a guy she'd been out with once and hadn't liked much, but who reminded her of me. We hit it off immediately, and were soon an established couple. We agreed very early on that we believe in "commitment without exclusivity," meaning that we are both free to see other people and do essentially whatever we want, but we love each other and will stay together. It's a very open relationship.

I thought it was great, because it meant I didn't have to worry about getting buried in the relationship again. We both dated other people for quite a while. Then the problems started. We're both extremely busy, and we spend as much of our limited free time together as we can. The openness seems to have slipped, because neither one of us has time to pursue other people, so we've essentially become an exclusive couple. I'm starting to feel it. I love this man deeply, and he loves me just as much. We're wonderful together, my family loves him, and it seems to be a serious, long term, stable thing. I want to get married. I don't know why. Intellectually, I know it's not a good idea, and I know that it goes against everything he and I have talked about. It's not what I want to do, but I so desperately want it, if that makes any sense.

Why do I so desperately want to marry this man even though I know we're too young and it goes against everything I thought I believed in? What can I do to keep this from interfering with the wonderful relationship we already have? Thanks.


    Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.

Dear Butterfly,

I think that you've asked the wrong question. It sounds to me like you definitely want to marry this man, but that you think you shouldn't. You talk about your intellect as though it was not a part of you. However, it is a part of you - the developing you. It is the part that you described early in your letter when you said that you think (intellect) that a person is not able to judge the propriety of a possible marriage until she has reached a certain level of maturity (development), which you feel is somewhere in the late 20's.

I agree that people change over time and that it's probably easier to choose a marriage partner when those changes have settled, so that she or he can recognize a prospect for life-long compatibility. I'm not sure, however, that there is a magic age when you acquire this ability. I think it is likely to vary by individual.

You say (or imply) that you have had a number of serious relationships. You were clearly able to recognize one that was not good for you. You have had some counseling that focused on relationship issues (although I'm a little uncomfortable with the "codependent" tag), so you have a fair amount of relationship "experience".

You began this relationship from a defensive position - both of you decided to try to keep it within strict boundaries. Despite the fact that you were not looking for an exclusive relationship, you have found this man compatible enough to allow the relationship to drift into a comfortable exclusivity. Certainly this tells you something (maybe a lot) about what you want and need in a relationship.

Now we have to deal with love. You use the word several times and apply it both to the man and to yourself. I have no way of knowing what you mean by this word and, unfortunately, it's come to mean too many things in our language to be of much use in communication. However, I think it's very important to gauge the affection you have for each other, and to feel certain that nothing that you might later discover about each other's nature will change that affection, before you decide to marry.

If what you mean by love is enough to cover what I wrote about in the last paragraph, and if your feelings tell you that marriage to this man is what you want, don't let anything keep you from settling into a life-long relationship that may bring you much pleasure. This includes your intellect, or some idea that you have to "arrive" at some precise age of wisdom, or some sense that you are giving in to family pressure.

On the other hand, if you don't feel you are ready to make this decision, or if you do think you are responding to family pressure, don't settle for what you have in hand because the relationship is comfortable. Wait to see what the future holds.

Good luck with your decision.

Jerry Button

This question was answered by Jerry Button. Jerry is a psychotherapist, personal development trainer, workshop presenter and relationship coach practicing in Delray Beach, Florida. He believes that the key to quality of life lies in relationships. His approach to interpersonal and emotional problems is relational and psychodynamic. Jerry is experienced working with individuals, children and families and welcomes challenging opportunities.For more information visit:


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