January 23 , 2006 | I have been happily married for over fifty years. Within those years I have seen everything change with regard to marriage. When I was a girl it was just normal not to before marriage—now it is normal to consent, and often on the first date. Instead of sexual pleasure being a treasured gift that we give one another within marriage, sex has become a recreational sport.

How many baskets did you sink? How many conquests did you make? Keeping score becomes the goal, and in this spirit of competition commitment is forgotten.

Instead of freeing women, this casualness has left them vulnerable and exposed. Their femininity is not respected, and dignity has no home.

After fifty years of marriage, I often find myself giving younger people this advice: "Just do it!" (It meaning marriage, of course.)

But then they ask, "Why should I?" I know a lot of these points are obvious, but in these times I think they bear repeating. So let's start with the following 18 reasons:

  1. Marriage promotes good mental health: there is less stress and more confidence that comes with companionship - someone to talk things over with. With the extra help comes a new contentment. At the very least it frees you from the pressure of finding someone to spend your life with!

  2. Marriage improves physical health: a good diet, regular meal times and improved sleeping habits prolong life. With another person concerned, you're more likely to keep doctors' appointments, take prescribed medication and discuss findings. With a good and faithful partner chances of disease from promiscuity are greatly reduced.

  3. Marriage looks after your emotional health: with a new stability in life, positive virtues such as loyalty and courage develop. Marriage gives an opportunity for love's full expression and for that emotional strength to grow. Of course, negative emotions like jealousy and anger still arise but they have a better chance of being resolved.

  4. Marriage brings out the best in an individual: you grow together in patience, understanding, unselfishness and perseverance. You just can't do that with a cat.

  5. Marriage develops character through obligations and responsibilities.

  6. Marriage equals true friendship: one of the big advantages of a lasting, committed relationship is having someone you can really let go with and be yourself around - because you know they'll still be there tomorrow.

  7. Marriage promotes economic stability: making budgets, saving, discussing spending and setting priorities - all this is easier when you are accountable to another person. When you make decisions together, there is less impulsive spending. That's why married families are the most prosperous.

  8. Marriage promotes personal fulfillment and productivity: it enhances the creative abilities of each, because necessity is the mother of invention and with the division of labor more is accomplished.

  9. Marriage is a living organism: the unified entity of marriage, "the two becoming one," affords an opportunity to participate in something much larger than "my own life." This makes the simple tasks of everyday life exponentially more exciting.

  10. To each marriage there are moral, social and political implications: it takes you out of your own small world and into a larger one. Each marriage affects life profoundly and eventually helps create a more cohesive society. Marriages make history, but it all begins by making another person's happiness important to you.

  11. Marriage encourages and expands the scope of your interests, many of which may be shared, whether hobbies, sports or pastimes, or, more importantly, involvement in community affairs, charitable or educational organizations, and religious life.

  12. Marriage is the best environment for the raising of children. It makes its mark on the next generation.

  13. Marriage creates a family lineage, putting you in touch with those who went before and those yet to come. Through marriage you are connected to ancestors and become the carriers of a tradition.

  14. Marriage creates a social unit, encompassing friends, extended family, neighbors, friends of the children, etc. One builds a home where that unit can flourish.

  15. Marriage develops compassion for others. It gives plentiful opportunity to protect and nurture, to surrender our desires at times, and to be present and just caring.

  16. Marriage gives direction and spirit to our lives.

  17. Marriage engenders respect: the community lends weight to the couple.

  18. Marriage reflects natural law; it's a formal way of acknowledging the complementary roles of man and woman, and the great heights we can achieve by loving and working together.

Choosing a Partner for Life and Getting a Clear Picture

You would never undertake a long journey without a clear picture of the destination. The photos in a travel brochure have fired your imagination —the pristine beach, lapping blue waters, palm trees gently swaying in the breeze; you can almost hear the ice cubes tinkling in the lovely glass goblet served by the smiling waiter as you stretch out on the lounge chair. You want to arrive there. The hassles of the airlines, of booking reservations, of organizing the details, are seen as the necessary steps for arriving at this glorious place of rest. But the vacation is a temporary situation. The holiday resort will fade, as will the photo in the magazine. Or it may turn out to be a holiday in hell, in which case you will want to get out of it as soon as you can. Either way, the disappointment is the result of unrealistic expectations.

The problem is we often don't start with an honest picture of marriage. Like the glamorous photo our romantic vision is of an everlasting honeymoon perhaps with darling, smiling cherubs snuggled in our laps later on. The realistic picture should include our parents' marriage or a model we aspire to. It needs to be realistic in that, like everything else in life, there are natural ups and downs. Understandably this is difficult when in the throes of romantic love.

Marriage is for life. Traditionally the married state was called wedlock. We can view the lock as binding, entangling, or as two threads joined. Each thread has its own color, elasticity, strength and beauty. Put together, the strength and beauty are more than doubled.

If the goal is unity and the lives are dedicated to each other's happiness, the marriage will be lasting and vibrant. Wedlock is the action of lives joined in embrace. These days, however, the idea of permanence is considered a forlorn hope.

Choosing the right spouse is the most important decision you are likely to make. Unlike the choice of motel or hotel, in which either alternative may be fine, the choice of companion-for-life must be made with discrimination. Of course, not many of us are blessed with a range of suitors to choose from, but even if you only ever receive one proposal, you still have the choice to say "no,"and it would be better to say no if he was not suitable rather than marry just for the sake of it.

Whether it is obvious or not, we have a clear path in life, and there are road signs along the way to give us the right direction. But love—the raging, passionate kind—can lure us on to the wrong road, one with huge potholes. Inertia has the same effect: you are on the right road and something carries you off without a struggle. Falling into a marriage will either keep you in a hole for life, or necessitate a tough climb out: divorce courts, alimony, joint custody, misery. It takes a long time to get back on the right road.

Observation is the tool you need, so dating is an important step in getting to know each other. But remember that dates can be unreal situations. Each one is on his or her best behavior.

All women I know are attracted to a "type"—well, my husband was not my type. There were no sparks, fireworks or magnetic pulls. It was more the quality of his behavior, his respect for women, his good manners, his ambition, the way he spoke that acted as the draw.

It is very important to see the person in a variety of situations. See him with his family, see her with her friends, watch him relate to children, note her response to traffic jams, see how he handles irate clients and disappointments, how she handles success and responsibilities. How does he take care of his possessions? What is the inside of her car like? Keep your antennae focused. Don't be lulled into the dreamy vapors of candlelight romantic dinners at a restaurant.

The clues you pick up will be the signposts to future behavior. You'll see the good and the bad —the important thing is to observe, and to not fool yourself that it will be different after you are married. Bad behavior will only be worse. If he is sloppy and drinks too much, or if she is shrill and abusive, it will not change. Keep every highway open to observe his/her behavior in as many places, times of day, and situations as possible. Spend time with each other's friends, explore tastes in books, TV, music, sports, etc. There should be no great surprises later.

One of the first things I noticed about my husband was the way he treated his grandmother, full of love and respect. Of course, being from Maryland, and having been educated in Virginia, he did have somewhat southern manners. But love and respect cannot be faked.

We build reputations as we move along, so pay attention to how someone is regarded by co-workers, friends and family. This is not to suggest that every moment be one of judgment, or that criticism is beneficial. All I suggest is that your eyes be open and your mind clear of any illusions about how you would like things to be. I know it is very difficult to be rational when falling in love, but that doesn't mean we have to be blind to glaring faults. There is a great deal that can be overlooked and accepted but major character flaws like cruelty, obsessive behavior, and dishonesty cannot be swept away like the morning dust.

Feelings and emotions are unreliable. They fluctuate constantly, taking us on up-and-downhill rides. So much depends on our state of health, the weather, hunger, what happened two minutes ago, the news broadcast, etc. Emotions are powerful, and they can move us into the most dedicated work, or activate our trigger fingers. They cannot be depended upon for accuracy in choosing a mate.

Neither are physical characteristics dependable qualities on which to make a judgment. We all know how bodies are subject to change. Fat/thin, smooth/wrinkled, with hair/balding, are some of the obvious alterations possible. A great physique can dissolve into blubber. It's wonderful if there is a strong physical attraction. I'm all for sparks and electric charges, but sex flowers and deepens with love and devotion. So, go for character, not a character.

That is why you need to know about family relationships, friends and role models. What does he avoid? Does she have regular contact with her family? Does he fall apart under adversity? How does she handle confrontation? What gets him depressed? How determined is she? Does he give up easily? Is he honest to the waiter when something was left off the bill? Is she loyal to those close to her, or does she spread gossip about them?

Generosity of spirit is so important. I remember one of my suitors took me out for a hot dog. That man was very rich. My husband, on the other hand, and at a time when he was drawing a salary of $75 per week, bought me a compact from Saks Fifth Avenue. It was not the money spent that mattered, but somehow this act of large-heartedness registered. To this day he has provided the means for many men to start their own businesses. The generosity extends to time and counseling. A miser is always afraid of losing something. My husband's credo has always been, "The more I give, the more I get." It applies to love as well as money, and it always works.

Looking back, the decision about marriage all comes down to trust. This was a man I could trust with my life. He has taken my life and guarded it as his own. And I have done what I can to support him in all his endeavours.

Foresight is a valuable facility which may develop with the practice of observation but it is not always available to the young. What foresight did I have at nineteen? None, really. I can only say that in some unknown way something within me was watching. My husband's good qualities just registered. In making the most crucial choice of your life, go with what you know to be true and lasting. Is this someone I can count on? Will she be there for me in sickness and in health? Will he protect my physical, mental and spiritual needs? Will she support my decisions? Will he protect and cherish me? Because the flash, the flush, the razzle-dazzle will not last.

Use every facility in your arsenal —watch, listen, and don't ignore your instincts. Be still and listen to your heart; and trust that with cool reason you will choose well.

Carol Fox was born on Long Island, graduated from Hunter College, and married in 1952. The Foxes have 2 children, both happily married, and have lived 8 years in Sydney, and 12 in Canada. They visited Israel for the first time in 2003 and moved there in 2004. Mrs. Fox's upcoming book, Right to Marry, is being published in Israel by Litom Publishing House.

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