Home Recommended Reading Workshops About RSS

What is Marriage?

A crusty traditional institution
A sacrament of the church
An economic unit for the raising of children
A safe haven in a cruel, dark world
A sharing loving relationship between two people
A school of learning in relationship
A monogamous chapter in serial relationships
A place to have safe sex

All of these ideas were shared in the movie IRA and ABBY, a romantic comedy about a free spirited young woman and psychologists, analysts, therapists, parents and singles all exploring that question.

I have no expertise on defining marriage – none whatsoever. I have officiated a large number of weddings in my youth and exuberance. I took the position that it was a sacred destination and a good thing. In the early 1990s I stopped counting weddings at #200. In 1998, I stopped officiating weddings unless it was for a friend and I referred the folks on to others.

Truthfully, I think I was a part of so many weddings because I was female, ordained, and I wrote services that were personally about the couple and their wishes and dreams. We have no Justice of the Peace system here and our State made a radical move and now anyone can perform a wedding ceremony who is not a felon.


As a religious professional, I am required to have a prayer in the ceremony and I am required to do Pre-Marriage Counseling. You and your partner do not show up for three sessions and I do not perform the service or sign the paperwork – that’s the deal.

I have had one couple send first one and then the other to the sessions because they could not fit it into their schedule. The most recent couples don’t pay any attention they talk about the party and the invitations, etc. Of course, they all talk about the cost of THE DRESS, but I will write about that in another post.

Working with couples who wish to get married is no fun anymore. Most do not care what you say and are running on old steam engine ideas and thinking in terms of thousands of dollars. It is just an elaborate theater production. Most forget to pay the minister most of the time; I understand that churches are now asking for payment in advance, because in my State of Affairs clergy are not allowed to charge for their services.

The average wedding two years ago here cost about $7,000. Currently many of the venues in town want a guarantee of $20,000 in food to use their locations! I just looked up Georgia on Google and an average wedding is running about $30,000 – Georgia has always been the bell of the ball.

So what is this thing called marriage really all about? Is it still a useful institution? Is it really just an institution for the economic security and nurturance of children? Is it just an elaborate party in which one attempts to outdo the other?

I truly value what you have to think about this topic – I am listening…

If you liked this article feel free to subscribe and enjoy more of the postings on this blog!

If you stumble or post this article to twitter we might get more comments about marriage for the survey…thanks!

26 Responses to “What is Marriage?”

  1. Betsy Wuebker Says:

    Hi Patricia – Well of course, marriage is all of the things you mention. And I pity the pre-marital counselor, truly.

    When we went to pre-marital counseling three years ago, we were assigned a text: “Sex Begins in the Kitchen.” The premise was help around the house and you’ll get more, buddy. So, anyway, I thought it would be fun to get the kids – whom we had at a forced “family night” dinner to get to know each other better (they hated that, too) – to guess the title of the book we had to study. My daughter’s answer: “Marriage for Dummies?” Uhhhh. 😀

    Now, in our case, we’re so old we could’ve dispensed with all the formalities and just lived in combined sin and dotage. Or kept on the way we had been for many years, each with our own home, etc. But, we think marriage is good because it’s easier in so many ways. It’s economically easier – one house vs. two. It’s not having to explain ourselves to people, like our kids, especially, who we thought needed a good example. We’re married. People understand that. We can move on to other juicier topics. Like it or not, society is set up for the marital unit.

    I just read something about the trend is cost decreases in weddings with the recession. Probably everywhere but in the South. The New Frugality ™ and all. Our wedding was done very economically, out of necessity. It was a lovely, happy day. A wedding is not a marriage, though. How do we get that through their heads when the ritual overtakes the practice? Good questions, Patricia. They’re bigger than my head! :)

    Betsy Wuebkers last blog post..HITTING THE GREAT RIVER ROAD TO GALENA

  2. Mike Says:

    Marriage is a partnership and that needs to be what the wedding is about.

    Our marriage vows were in a courthouse in front of a minister (volunteering his time) and two witnesses that we didn’t know.

    Our youngest daughter had a large wedding done on the cheap. She and her hubby paid for it — we paid for the wedding dress. I think it was on sale for $200 and that was in 1998.

    Our oldest daughter got married in December, in the courthouse, in the finest traditions of her parents and his parents.

    Our 37th anniversary is day after tomorrow.

    A marriage is about the partnership — not the wedding.

    Mikes last blog post..Another new photo gallery – Mammoth Cave National Park

  3. Vered - MomGrind Says:

    I’m not sure. My first thought was that marriage is about commitment – two people fully committing to each other. But there are many committed couples that are not married, and many marriages do end up in divorce.

    Vered – MomGrinds last blog post..Frosted Cupcakes

  4. Patricia Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I think marriage is getting very hard to define, but in most cases it is easier. One of my mother’s school chums lived next door (duplex) to her partner and they were together for 62 years before he died. His wife died in childbirth and his twins considered her their mother – but they just like the separate living arrangements and it served them well. She had a very public career and it gave the family quite a bit of privacy.
    I think though marriage needs a better definition these days because over all it is truly just about an economic relationship to bring children into the world….but not very secure.

    I am with you….My partner and I just got married at the end of the church service and we did cake at the coffee hour and my parents just got married in front of my mother’s family fireplace. Marriage really has nothing to do with the wedding. I think the recession will help folks work at separating those ideas – wow what an expensive party without thinking about a house and living life after the party!

    It does seem very problematic these days…I think that is why folks wanted a new text book…still most couples today refuse the pre-marriage counseling just as most college students skip the career planning classes.

  5. Cath Lawson Says:

    Hi Patricia – Like Vered -I think marriage is about commitment. But my first marriage was a real shambles and I guess it was just about the wedding. I think I was too young to understand how long “the rest of my life” was going to be.

    I was determined that my second marriage would be different. Mind you, I still didn’t get the quiet, very cheap wedding I wanted with just the two of us, as his family wanted a real wedding and they wanted to be there. Maybe I should have told them that was ok if they wanted to pay for it.

  6. patricia Says:

    Thank you for coming by and welcome back – I missed you and hope you are feeling better now?

    I do think some get the big wedding because the family is willing to pay for it…I am a bit like this about the wedding – it’s like your first car – you should buy it yourself and once you have bought and maintained your first car you are in a better position about weddings and marriage to understand!
    Thank you for sharing you ideas…good to think about

  7. Barbara Swafford Says:

    Hi Patricia,

    I agree, a marriage can be many things, but mainly it is commitment. I also agree, the wedding ceremony has nothing to do with the union, other than it makes it official.

    It is sad to see young people spend so much on weddings (or have their parents spend the money) when the money could be better used to get them into their first home or maybe even help them start their marriage debt free.

    When we got married, it was without a big splash. We knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, had our best friends stand for us and took our vows seriously – 21+ years ago.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease

  8. J.D. Meier Says:

    It reminds me of one of my favorite teachers in school that once said that marriage is really a partnership in life. I like that Mike echoed that point.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..The Power of the Pause

  9. Tess The Bold Life Says:

    I think all things you stated are true however if it’s just partnership why don’t weddings just die off?

    The out of hand expense is just another way our lives and values are out of balance.

    I was pregnant, typed up my own invitations and rented my wedding dress for $35. Most money was spent on the food.

    We’ve been married almost 38 years and knew each other 2 years prior to that. Sounds crazy eh?

    It’s commitment, responsibility, growing together, respect but especially love. Romantic love is a very small part…it’s unconditional love that can pull to people through anything in life.

    Tess The Bold Lifes last blog post..100 Unmaterialistic Joys for A Bold Life

  10. Dot Says:

    I love Betsy and Pete’s story and agree with their approach. Being divorced twice, I have some insights into this but also probably some blind spots. I agree with Mike, it’s a commitment between the partners (and that includes gay partners in my world view). I still hold out hope that I’ll somehow meet the man I’ll spend the rest of my days with, but time is growing shorter.

    Both of my marriages were at courthouses. The first, when I was young was an elopement done because parents on both sides were nuts and stood in the way. The second marriage, when I was 40, was held before a small group of friends. The fact that he ran into a hooker friend in the courthouse and invited her to join us should have warned me not to go through with it.

    In both cases, I subconsciouly chose men who had personalities like my abusive mother, and the relationships were doomed. Now older and much more therapized, I’m hoping I’ll be able to choose someone who’s right for me, assuming I ever have the energy to get out and meet them.

    Dots last blog post..Mad Lib-eration

  11. Dot Says:

    PS – My therapist said once that weddings in America are like Cinderella stories for the bride — all the attention is focused on her and she gets the incredibly expensive ring, incredibly expensive outfit and the incredibly expensive party, for which she often makes all the decisions. The man is ignored. The man is ignored. There’s no equality in that.

    I don’t like that inequity, and I also think it’s sexist in this way: the woman is the prize, the overly-glamorized trophy that the man has won. She makes every effort to make herself beautiful and surround herself with glamour and beauty, as a trophy possession should, so that the man’s friends will be impressed.

    I’m not saying that’s our conscious intention when we get married, but that’s the legacy we inherit from the past. The woman’s appearance is emphasized over everything else, rather than her valuable qualities. I also can’t understand spending all that money on one event. Luckily, I’ve never had the money available to waste on one dress and one party.

    Dots last blog post..Mad Lib-eration

  12. Jannie Funster Says:

    lol on Betsy’s “combined sin and dotage.”

    Marriage, oh how sweet with the right one and both of you happy to be manacled in love for life. Seeing the best in each other. Choosing to overlook those recurring snags (He’s a packrat. I’m a thrower-outter. He’s not organized with paperwork. I’m the moodier one.)

    We got lucky.

    My first wedding, when I was 23 had the glitz, but not the holding power. My second (and last,) wedding when I was 27 was small and simple. But the committment is there for both of us. As I said, we got lucky. Very lucky. He’s one of a kind wonderful. You’ll “meet” him on video on my site one day. He’s a real character, my Jimmy!

    It’s a wild weird world out there and I judge nobody, everyone is on their own path of learning. I’ve been on both sides of the marriage coin.

    Lovely post!

    Jannie Funsters last blog post..“Blame Tara Who?” Meme

  13. Patricia Says:

    Congratulations on your 21+ years of commitment. I think we need to rethink and redefine what that word means today- I think it got out of balance.

    When I first started pre-marriage counseling I would talk about partnership…then it changed to “your best friend” and more recently talk about being a microcosm of the world where you and your partner (family) are respected, appreciated, and loved for your values and sharing in life. A supportive place where you learn how to be in the world and work from your values. Team building at it’s finest work.

    Thank you for your comments – 38 years is a lot of team building and look at what a lovely place you have arrived at….learning to love is such incredible work – You are an inspiration and a model of commitment and partnership. I raise my hat to you.

    Love your comments and perspective here – thank you very much. I want to respond to the eyes on the bride stuff – yep you are spot on! In India they make no bones about it – here is the dowry and bride price for your new property…..here we pretend it is about the woman’s big day….I have more hope for the couple that plans the wedding around each person’s needs and values and it is not such a big property agreement in disguise.

    I am looking forward to meeting Jimmy. Your comments are so great. I so appreciate you saying “lovely post” I debated this one long and hard before posting.

    I think all of your comments add so much to this post…I hope all the visitors are reading them all – much more complete and satisfying with more perspective and ideas – Thank you

  14. Chania Girl Says:

    It is so very interesting to me that you should post on this topic now, as I have been making my own wedding preparations this past week -> I chose and bought my dress last Thursday.

    Your post asks many questions, but some thoughts that came to me while I was reading were these:

    I see a strong distinction between a wedding and a marriage. A marriage? That is a mysterious, powerful, organic thing that is both composed of and greater than the two people who make it up. It’s more than the sum of its parts; its something entirely new and different altogether. And it can be incredibly beautiful or incredibly destructive.

    As I’ve made my preparations and begun thinking about my own wedding in June of next year, I’ve found that I look forward most to the moment when I say my vows and consecrate myself to another person and what we will create together. Despite all my day-dreaming about the day, every daydream comes back to me just simply standing before my almost-husband and saying, “I do.”

    My fiance and I are in q unique situation in that we will be “officially” married long before we have our actual ceremony. Our “wedding” is something we see as a sealing ritual, before God, family and friends, of a commitment we’ve already made to each other in our hearts and actions.

    We feel that it is this “ceremony,” more than the official pronouncement months before, that will have the most meaning for us.

    Chania Girls last blog post..The Next Steps in the Journey …

  15. Patricia Says:

    Chania Girl,
    So nice to find you here today and to hear your good news – the dress! the dress!…Your words are lovely and add so much to this post and the ideas already shared and they are just lovely.

    Yes, there is a difference between the wedding and a marriage but very few folks these days understand that difference or look ahead and make plans for after the party.

    Your intentions for your ceremony and celebration and commitment sound like a sweet confection of delights.
    Thank you for sharing.

  16. Liara Covert Says:

    Eloping is always an option. People who disagree with in-laws ideas are wise to save 4 the wedding. When family contributes money, this gives them reason to want to exert control. It can also be an opportuity ot learn the power compromise.

    Liara Coverts last blog post..Facilitate a dying wish

  17. patricia Says:

    I think it is best when the couple plans and builds their own wedding ceremony because then they truly start working as a team and that gives them strength and power.

    When it is not just a pretty show or expected performance then I think real marriages might begin to grow
    Thank you for your comments

  18. Jocelyn of I TAKE OFF THE MASK Says:

    Marriage is what people make of it. People can make it an obsolete and unnecessary ceremony. But people can also make it the most beautiful thing, such as when two people pledge their love and commitment to one another. :)

  19. Patricia Says:

    I think you are right on – but they need to pay attention and not just follow the crowd or the current fad. Thank you for your comment it is appreciated

  20. Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Says:

    Marriage is about committment and being a partner. It is about growing together. Marriage is about learning to like the person that you love. It is about recommitting to each other when times get rough. It is about allowing each person to be themselves.

    Marriage has been a safe place to experience who I really am in a loving space. It has given me the safety to grow into an entirely new person and still be loved because we have grown together. My husband and I have been married for over 36 years.

    Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworkers last blog post..Second Anniversary For Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker

  21. Patricia Says:

    Thank you for coming on by and sharing your story and definition – fabulous words and congratulations on 36+ years – your support and love are your strength I bet! And a 2 year anniversary for your blog…a beacon for us all!

  22. Barb Hartsook Says:

    Such thoughtful comments here, Patricia. There’s a great difference between getting married and being married.

    I harped at my girls to just make a friend. Fall in love with a friend. Two of the three did that, and both girls are celebrating 17 years of marriage this summer. All is well — my youngest said early in her marriage that as well as she knew her husband before, she discovered things that irritated her after the wedding. Things she didn’t like. So she made the conscious decision to think about the things she DID like and love about him. These things grew — there’s a saying that what we pay attention to grows. A wise young woman, my daughter.

    I think many of us confuse the emotion of love with the actions of LOVING. Love is an active verb — the emotions follow. I think many times we want the love coming to us without doing the love. (Guess how I know this so well… haha!)

    Our culture has long put down the notion of Wife (and sometimes Mom) as a profession. But it’s an enormous one! If you don’t think so, just scan the plethora of books, CD’s, available coaching on the subject of marriage — not weddings. It’s a huge money-making industry!

    It’s work! I love being married — 46 years this summer. I love my husband, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always liked everything he does or is. There’s just no one else I’d rather be building a life with, growing with, than him.


    P.S. It’s a little like Baptism… an outward show of an inner decision and faith. Weddings are an outward show of an inner — lifetime — commitment to each other.

    Barb Hartsooks last blog post..Does Romance Outlast the Rose?

  23. Patricia Says:

    This is beautiful and lovely, I just think all the comments here add so much to the post and concepts. Your writing is so lovely.
    Congratulations on the the 46 years!

    Patricias last blog post..Thinking About My Dad

  24. Tina Kubala Says:

    My husband and I have been together as a couple and living together almost ten years. The circumstances of our early relationship lead to use living together almost right away. We had an intent to marry. We are both a bit old fashioned, really.

    About two years into our relationship, we got married. He’d always said whenever I was ready would be fine.

    The reason I knew it was time was when I began to feel uncomfortable with referring to my – what? – boyfriend? We had been through so much, more than most people go through in a decade. Our relationship was beyond any lesser description than husband and wife.

    I know this seems anti feminist, but one of the concepts I define my marriage with is belonging. I belong to my husband and he belongs to me. We are responsible for each other physically, mentally and emotionally.

    We are coming up on eight years of marriage. I’m still happy to be his wife every day.

    Tina Kubalas last blog post..Girly Survey

  25. patricia Says:

    Welcome and thank you for your good comments. I think some of us just grow into marriage – belonging and that is just right for us.

    All the good comments are just adding so much to this post – Thank you

  26. From Dominique's Desk Says:

    […] What is Marriage? – by Patricia’s Wisdom […]