Love at first sight seems like a romantic reason for marriage, but it's not a good predictor of marital success. (Photo: B. Quissell)
When Not to Say "I Do"
By Les and Leslie Parrott
Ask most people why they are getting married-for the first or the second time-and the answer is nearly reflexive: "Because we are in love."

But if you scratch the surface you'll find that the motivations for matrimony are far more complex. A combination of many complicated situations and needs, some better than others, motivate most people to marry. In fact, some reasons for marrying improve your chances of success while others work against it, especially when it comes to marrying for the second time.

Love at first sight seems like a romantic reason for marriage, but it's not a good predictor of marital success. This is especially true for a second marriage that is supposed to be "magically" different from the first. Strong feelings of attraction can certainly occur early in a relationship, but such feelings alone provide a weak foundation for a long-lasting relationship. For a reminder of that fact, just look at the dozens of Hollywood remarriages each year that are ignited on a studio lot and break up after only a year or two of wedded disaster.

Rebounding is also an unlikely predictor of longevity in marriage. People tend to fall in love more easily when recently rejected by someone they loved. Researchers have known for years that people suffer low self-esteem after a divorce. They are far less discriminating in choosing a partner as they try to cope with their loss. To marry on the rebound is undesirable because the wedding occurs as a reaction to a previous partner, rather than being based on real love for the new one.

Rebellion leads some into a mismatched remarriage. At times a person may try to get even with a former spouse, for example, by marrying someone they do not like. However, this is always costly. The interference of a former spouse can increase feelings of romantic attraction between partners. It gives the new couple a common enemy. In marriage on the rebound, the wedding is a response to someone else rather than to one's partner.

Loneliness can sometimes drive a person into a hasty marriage. This is especially true among the divorced and widowed. However, lonely people will end up lonely in marriage if the relationship doesn't have much more to stand on. In other words, the relationship—rather than the institution—banishes loneliness.

Obligation sometimes substitutes for love when people consider marriage. Some partners marry because one may feel guilty about ending the relationship. A woman who marries a man because she believes her loyal devotion and encouragement will help him overcome the grief he's suffering from his first wife's death could be an example of this. Such marriages don't often work. The pitied partner comes to resent being the object of a crusade.

Financial advancement is a motivator for some-especially young divorced or single parents who consider remarriage primarily because they are exhausted from the struggle of supporting and caring for their small children. Some may marry to advance their careers. The person going into marriage mainly for economic reasons, however, is not a likely candidate for marrying well.

Sexual attraction and guiltover sexual involvement are popular but weak reasons for marriage. Sex is not a sufficient reason to marry and seldom leads to lifelong happiness. In fact, the sexual chemistry between two people often blinds the partners to other important relational qualities.

Escape is perhaps the most damaging motivation for remarriage. Sociologists have a name for it these days: serial monogamy. Some people marry with the hope that a new person will be better. This is a terrible basis for marriage. It can start a long series of relational failures. These people believe that a new relationship could not be worse than their present one and are almost always surprised to find out that it is.

Pressure from parents, peers, and society in general pushes some people into marriage. Research shows that this can be particularly true for either gender, but especially for women. The more two people are identified as a couple, the more difficult it is for either to back out of an engagement. As you may well know, however, breaking an engagement is less stressful than divorcing later or being unhappily married.

Marriage is closer to the nature of God than any other human experience. God uses the metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship to humanity: "As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5). And similarly, when husbands and wives love each other as extensions of themselves, they live as "one flesh," as soul mates. And to achieve that kind of relationship, we have to start it right by entering into it for all the right reasons.

Les and Leslie Parrott are founders of and codirectors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their books include Love Talk, Your Time Starved Marriage and Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts. Visit their web site at to find their seminar schedule.


Holiness Today, March/April 2009

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