Marriage Seems Scary and Risky. What If It’s Not for Me?

Hello. My parents got divorced when I was 13. I am 31 now. I seem to jump from relationship to relationship every few years, basically pulling away from my partner when the expectation of marriage begins to materialize. I'm fine with long-term commitments, or one lifelong commitment, but marriage scares me to death. I'm sure that my own parents' situation is responsible for some of my fear of commitment, but I just don't know how to get past that. All of my friends are getting married, my partners inevitably want to get hitched ... but I can't seem to get there. In the back of my mind, I'm picturing a messy settlement, half of everything I own (or more!) going to another person, custody battles, not being able to trust a woman again, friends taking sides, etc. I could see myself staying with one person forever, but I hate having the mess of divorce hanging like a cloud over that commitment. If only my partners felt the same way, but I haven't found one who does. I mean, more than half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, or so I read. Not getting married just seems wise to me. Is that wrong? Am I doomed to a life alone because I'm not willing to take the so-called plunge and risk it all? —Noncommittal
Dear Noncommittal,

It is hard to be fully invested in a relationship if you’re already thinking about the messy ending. You are right about the statistics—many marriages do end. There are no guarantees. I do know that very few people go into a marriage with the intention of getting a divorce. Marriage is a leap of faith. It seems pretty clear that you are not ready to make that leap right now—and that’s OK. It’s good to know that is where you are.

What I think is interesting is that you say that you are fine with long-term commitments or even one life-long commitment. I’d be curious to know more about why that feels safer to you than marriage. The “split” rates for relationships are higher than for marriages. There are even fewer guarantees in “nonbinding” (for lack of a better term) relationships. The risks of not being able to trust, of being hurt, of friends taking sides are just as high. If you were to have children with a lifelong partner outside of marriage, custody issues would still be present; they would just look slightly different. You’d still have to figure out dividing up shared stuff (possibly even your home). There are even fewer guarantees in this kind of relationship, yet something about not being legally bound to another person seems less risky to you.

I wonder if the issue may not actually be the act of marriage, but the level of trust required to risk committing yourself fully to another person. It is not unusual for children of divorce to struggle with that trust. They experienced firsthand how marriages can end. It can profoundly impact their feelings of safety and security and limit their willingness to trust in others. You say that, right now, it feels like you have to choose between a very scary “risk-it-all” approach or be doomed to a life alone. There is definitely a middle ground which can allow you meaningful relationships without such high levels of fear. I strongly encourage you to explore these feelings with a therapist in your area.

Best of luck,
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • ronnie

    ronnie

    August 2nd, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    scared of marriage the person here asking the question may be.but its still way better than not knowing your feelings,rushing into a marriage and ending it in quick time.have known more than one person who did such a thing.

  • chloe

    chloe

    August 3rd, 2013 at 4:18 AM

    It is fine if you don’t necessarily think that marriage ios for you, but don’t throw away a good relationship just because you feel like it is inevitable that it has to end in marriage because that is not always true. There are plenty of couples who live their entire lives together and who don’t feel like it has to be dictated by a piece of paper or some legality from the state. But just remember that this could be a deal breaker for some people so if there are some other issues underneath all of this that need to be resolved then I would encourage you to do that before just swearing off marriage forever, because if you find the right person to take that proverbial plunge with then I think that you could could find yourself quite happy.

  • Ned

    Ned

    August 4th, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    I was scared of commitment too.Until I met the right woman.It was not instantaneous but with time I did realize that wanting to be together forever what was I wanted with her.Your fear could go away with the right person too,just hang in there.

  • Mandy R

    Mandy R

    August 4th, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    At least u r not jumping into marriage without being sure,thats a good thing.much better than taking the plunge while still unsure.kudos to that.

    But u do need to c why u r scared of marriage but not long term relationship.its kinda weird to hear that.

    Maybe u should look back at the relationships u have been in for the answer.all the very best.

  • evelyn

    evelyn

    August 6th, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    So what if getting married isn’t for you? The trick now is just to find someone else who feels the same way that you do! There is no law that says you have to get married to be happy with someone. There are lots and lots of people who have never married and are just as happy as (and they may say happier than) others who have taken the plunge. Yes for some people it is a commitment to God and to their famiies, but for others it is honestly just a legality, a piece of paper. And if this is you, then that is not the reasons to get married at all. If you don’t feel the need to do it, and I mean really feel the need to take this step, then why would you do it? live together, have a family, do whatever, and be happy in the way that makes you and your partner happy together, not the way that you think that others say you “should” do things.

  • Regina M

    Regina M

    August 7th, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    Mariage obviously isn’t for a whole lot of people, otherwise the divorce rate wouldn’t be as high as it is today. I honestly wish that there were more people like you who knew more about who they are and what might work best for them.

  • Evan

    Evan

    August 30th, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    Erika,
    Noncommittal may be primarily concerned with the financial consequences of divorce. He may find the possibility of alimony (particularly long-term or lifetime alimony) as unacceptable. Long-term alimony can seem particularly unjust to many people since the party receiving the alimony payments could easily be the one that was at fault for the marriage breakdown (courts typically don’t consider fault when determining divorce settlements). Also, Noncommittal could be concerned with asset distributions after divorce. Many divorce judges have very wide latitude when determining the distribution of assets (and fault is not typically considered either). It’s not uncommon for one party to get 60% or more of the assets. Furthermore, even a perfect 50/50 distribution may be considered unjust to many people since one party may have worked much harder during the marriage than the other party. If your spouse is lazy and unemployed and you do all of the work, then a 50/50 distribution at divorce is very unjust! These problems can be avoided with cohabitation since you can keep the finances separate and any shared resources can have explicit contracts where each party must contribute a certain amount; and both parties know precisely what will happen at separation (because it’s in the contract). Also, the act of getting a divorce itself can be expensive. I read somewhere that the average cost of divorce is $4,000. And if it goes to court, $20,000. The average duration of divorce is 11 months. And the cost of divorce doesn’t even include the lost money that was spent on the wedding, the engagement rings, etc.

    Lastly, I want to briefly mention a non-financial factor that is important for a lot of people. It’s the shame factor! All of your friends and relatives came to your wedding to watch you and your new spouse swear lifelong union to each other. These people took time out of the lives to come to your wedding. They also paid for plane tickets, hotels, gifts, etc. After divorce, you are essentially telling these people that they wasted their time and money. You are also telling them (and future partners and friends) that you are not trustworthy when it comes to making important promises.

  • Matt

    Matt

    November 11th, 2015 at 1:03 AM

    My girlfriend wants the same thing aswell, I want to live together forever. But I feel like marriage will just unleash the beast, and that is something I DO NOT WANT. Living without marriage makes it so its always about maintaining the relationship, and knowing that either person can opt out immediately if things get ugly or there is issues with the relationship. I have heard too many stories about both men and women turning into absolute monsters the moment a ring was put on it. Sorry but I don’t want to exercise the beast. Thank you very much.

  • The Very Truth

    The Very Truth

    November 29th, 2016 at 12:46 PM

    Very risky getting married these days. Stay Single and stay Safe.

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