5 Big Reasons You Should Get Married — That Totally Don't Matter

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woman lying on the grass

Machu Picchu — the mystical epicenter of the Incan civilization. I couldn't imagine a better place in which to commit ourselves to marriage. I held my breath and my heart's tempo sped up. I closed my eyes and waited for Dale to drop to one knee and make my fantasy come true. 

That's when the sand fleas attacked. In minutes, I had more than 50 painful bites on my calves that quickly swelled to twice their size. Dale was also bitten, but only I had a severe allergic reaction. 

Later, as I listened to Dale snore, I had a disturbing thought. Maybe the fleas were a message from the Incan gods to rethink marriage instead of later wondering, "Why did I get married?"

There surely were plenty of benefits of marriage. After all, I had no doubt that Dale was the right guy, we were already living together, and we were 100 percent committed. It wasn't broken, so was it really necessary to fix it?

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Back home, I did what any savvy 21st Century woman would do: I drew a line down the middle of a blank piece of paper, labeling one side “Marriage” and one side "Cohabitation." Then, I Googled "reasons for marriage." Here's what I found:

Here are five big reasons you should get married (that totally don't matter):

1. Marriage has financial benefits.

Couples accumulate more wealth by combining households and reducing living expenses. Dale and I, however, had already combined our households. We didn't need marriage to get this benefit. On the other hand:

  • Marriage makes it easier to get family health, dental, and other insurance benefits.
  • Marriage conveys benefits to survivors from retirement plans and Social Security that we
  • wouldn't otherwise have.
  • Marriage makes it easier to inherit from each other. Most states give preferential treatment to surviving spouses in probating an estate.
  • Marriage bestows tax benefits from the IRS, including gift and estate tax-free transfers, bigger charitable deductions, and greater ability to fund IRAs.

RELATED: I Didn't Love My Wife When We Got Married

2. Marriage makes you healthier and improves longevity.

Married people live longer, and are overall, physically, and mentally healthier than single people. Although those who cohabit get the same benefits, are happier and have greater self-esteem than their married counterparts, cohabitation does not provide the same benefits as marriage.

I was a bit confused. I wanted to live healthier and longer so, being safe, I put a check in the marriage column. I also wanted to feel happier and have more self-esteem, so I also put a check in the cohabitation column.

3. Marriage is good for children.

Children born outside marriage face a higher risk of falling into poverty, failing in school, and suffering emotional and behavioral problems. Traditional thinking has been that children do best when raised by married parents. But new research suggests it's not a marriage certificate that matters. What's important is the parenting quality provided by parents who are, both, present and involved.

In fact, the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families concluded that children of same-sex parents were the healthiest of all. Since Dale and I weren't planning to have children, it was a relief that I didn't need to resolve conflicting studies and opinions. I made no checkmark in either column.

RELATED: Why You Can Believe In Love, But Not Marriage

4. Marriage means better intimacy.

Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, the authors of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, claim that married people have more and better time in the bedroom than couples who cohabitate.

I had my doubts. But as a precaution, I put a check in the marriage column.

5. Cohabitation increases the chance of divorce after marriage.

According to University of Virginia Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now, people who cohabitate slide into rather than affirmatively "decide" on marriage and, therefore, are more likely to regret saying, "I do." Another checkmark for Marriage. 

Based on checkmarks, marriage was the hands-down winner. And yet, I wasn't convinced that marriage was right for me. I realized that I needed to ask (and answer) a different question. This one: what, to me, is the point of marriage? 

Of all the studies I read, the one that resonated the most was the Jim Coan study in which he found that the brain links "just living together" with a lack of commitment. That was certainly true for my brain. I thought about the "just living together" words I used to describe Dale.

My boyfriend, partner, significant other, and spousal equivalent all felt inadequate to convey the depth and breadth of my love for and commitment to him. "Husband," however, felt just right and only marriage would permit that.

I didn't want to get married to live longer, save money on insurance premiums, or even have better intimacy — I wanted a marriage with Dale because, to me, it embodies our commitment. I felt a greater emotional investment, more security, and more permanence when I thought about marriage. I knew that when the going got tough, as it surely would, I would be less likely to give up if marriage bonded us together.

And finally, I wanted our relationship to genuinely be happy and emotionally intimate. That desire, coupled with the commitment that came with marriage, would inspire me to grow into a better person and that was the ultimate point of marriage to Dale for me.

In the end, what I learned from a shattered fantasy and dozens of flea bites is this: there is no universal point to marriage. There is only the point of your marriage. If you decide marriage is the best environment in which to raise children, then that's a perfectly valid point for your marriage. And even if financial considerations tilt the scale in favor of marriage, that’s okay, too. 

The decision to get married is huge and there are many reasons to choose marriage — or not. You don't need a Google search to make that decision. You just need to ask and answer the right question.

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Shela Dean is a relationship coach, retired attorney, and author of Frequent Foreplay Miles, Your Ticket To Total Intimacy.