Although living together is now acceptable, 60 per cent of cohabiting couples still get married after a few years. Relationship psychotherapist Paula Hall looks at why we still marry in the face of divorce statistics and how to make sure it's the right choice for you.
"Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution yet" - Mae West
Did you know?
Source: Office of National Statistics
- In 2002 there were 254,400 marriages in England and Wales. Of these, 150,200 were first marriages for both parties, while 46,700 were remarriages for both parties.
- The average age for first marriages in England and Wales in 2002 was 31 for men and 29 for women.
- Divorces increased by 1.9 per cent in 2002 to 160,000.
Good reasons to marry
Because you're in love. Although love shouldn't be the only reason to marry, it's an important ingredient in the most successful relationships.
To make a commitment. You've decided that you want to be together forever, knowing each other's faults and failings.
It's part of your culture. The ceremony of marriage is an integral part of your cultural or religious beliefs and an essential part of your core value system.
To start a family. You've both enjoyed a secure and committed relationship for some time and feel marriage is the best environment in which to bring up children.
To celebrate. Because you want your family and friends to share with you in your happiness and commitment as a couple.
It's the right time. You have a solid and secure relationship and it feels like the logical next step.
Bad reasons to marry
To make your relationship secure. If your relationship isn't secure before you marry, there's no reason to think it will be afterwards. It may be harder for you to separate after marriage, but that doesn't mean you'll be happy.
Fear of being alone. Some people marry because they're scared that no one else will have them. Remember, it's better to be left on the shelf than spend your whole life in the wrong cupboard.
For the children. It's true that, on the whole, children benefit from living with two parents, but marrying purely for your child is unlikely to create a happy home environment.
You want a big wedding. The big white wedding may seem like a fairy tale come true, but it only lasts a day. Marriage is (supposed to be) for life.
To recover from divorce. Some people want a second marriage to help them to get over the first - to prove that they're OK. But those feelings must come from within.
You may have many more reasons why you want to marry. The most important thing is that you and your partner have fully discussed your reasons and that you're both confident you share the same motivation and intentions.
Fears and expectations
As well as looking at your reasons for getting married it's important to look at what you expect from married life. Some people blame current divorce rates on the fact that people expect too much from marriage, but this isn't necessarily the case.
As long as you both share the same expectations, you can work together to achieve them. But if you both expect different things, one of you will always be disappointed. Try the exercise Your marriage fears and expectations to find out what you both think the future holds.
Your expectations and fears may be influenced by many things, including experiences of friends, previous relationships and media images. But one of the most powerful influences will be your family.
As small children we learn about relationships by watching our parents. These messages often sink deep into our unconscious mind, waiting to pop up when we become wives or husbands ourselves.
It's perfectly natural to have doubts and fears about getting married - it's one of the biggest decisions we make in our lives. But as long as you and your partner can openly share your feelings, support and reassure each other, chances are you're on the right track.