Do Too Many People Get Married For the Wrong Reasons?

According to Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony, “Bad marriages don’t just happen to bad people. They mostly happen to good people who are not good for each other.”


“Attraction and chemistry are easily mistaken for love, but they are far from the same thing,” Warren continues, “Being attracted to someone is immediate and largely subconscious. Staying deeply in love with someone happens gradually and requires conscious decisions, made over and over again, for a lifetime. Too many people choose to get married based on attraction and don’t consider, or have enough perspective to recognize, whether their love can endure.”

He believes that when two people have a relationship built on upon broad-based compatibility, the likelihood of long-term relationship success is much, much greater.

“If we could ever reduce the incidence of marital breakup from 40 to 50 percent of all marriages to single digits,” he concludes, “I suspect it would be one of the greatest accomplishments of our time.”

Read the full article here. What do you think? Do too many people rush to the altar based on passion and ignore their core compatibility issues until it’s too late? How long do you think people should wait before getting married? I say two years minimum, given that the “passion” tends to wear off in 18-24 months, but I’d love to hear your comments below.

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  1. 1

    That’s why marriage should be sooner than 18 – 24 months, and should be based on common values and outlooks on marriage.  With that common ground, at least there’s motivation to stay in the relationship rather than jump after 2 years.

  2. 2
    E. Foley

    I’ve given a lot of thought to the marriage thing when it comes to my own relationship. I know I *want* to get married. But the technical reasons for getting married don’t apply to me. My boyfriend and I don’t want children. We make equivalent salaries, so there’s no tax benefit to being husband & wife. So the legal & familial reasons for the vow are irrelevant for us. What are the benefits to getting married for us? Dunno. It would more be a statement of commitment than anything else. It wouldn’t change our day-to-day lives or our financial situation. 

  3. 3

    I agree wholeheartedly because I’ve done it.  My ex-husband and I were kids when we started dating and we never took a break from each other to decide if we were meant to be together.  I think we were both terrified of never finding anyone else, and then after being together for so long, it seemed like the next logical step to take.  Now, I don’t completely regret it because one thing we did do right was have 3 amazing kids.  After all the pain, anger, and hurt of splitting up healed (at least as much as it can) we’ve developed a good friendship.  But now I find myself doing things I should have done in my 20’s (I was married at 23 and a mom at 24) like getting the education I wanted or developing strong non-romantic friendships and spending time with those people as my bff’s have become family.  I think this article is spot on, especially when we are very young and don’t have a whole lot of life experience.

  4. 4

    I had a friend recently marry a man she met online one month after she met. Since the wedding was a few weekends ago, I can only wish them well and I have no idea if they will still be together one year from now.  

    I don’t see how you could possibly know anyone in one month, especially well enough to marry them.   In my experience, it takes at least one year, if not longer, to see the good, the bad and the ugly and to decide if you are compatible.

  5. 5

    Jake and I were together 5 years before we eloped.  We know what our differences are, but we also know we are compatible and willing to work to preserve what we’ve got!

  6. 6

    “requires conscious decisions, made over and over again, for a lifetime”
    THAT is the issue – you have to be a couple, not two singles. Most people lack the focus and skills to negotiate, communicate and make the right decisions.  

    1. 6.1

      Mmmm… I’d say it’s more that you have to be a couple AS WELL AS two singles.  It’s important to maintain your own life, interests, personality when paired up.

  7. 7

    Broad based compatibility is a better basis for marriage than c hemistry/lust but still no gurantee that the marriage is going last until death.  There are so many factors involved.

    I married my ex h at 33 after living together for two years really thought we would last I never considered divorce a possibility.  It’s just so difficult to predict my ex h had a mid life crisis of sorts in his late forties.  Maybe one should not marry until they are over 50. 

  8. 8

    I have to say I think its all a bit of a catch22 situation. “Broad based compatibility” is all very well, but without initial attraction and passion, the relationship will never even get off the ground. But if there IS initial attraction and passion, then notions of “broad based compatibility” fall by the wayside! If you’re deeply attracted to someone you want to be with them, compatibile or not. If you’re NOT deeply attracted to them, you DON’T want to be with them, however “compatible” you are.
    We all just have to take out chances. Passion AND compatibility, of course, are the ideal – but we don’t live in an ideal world. You can’t just find a suitable mate to order, at the end of the day you can only choose between the guys who actually ask you out.
    I felt passion and compatibility with my second husband – unfortunately, he only felt compatibility. That was fine by him because that was what he was looking for – (he’s not a big fan of passion) but for me it turned out to be soul destroying. I wanted and needed him to feel as passionately about me as I did about him. His lack of passion towards me, and my inability to cope with that , ultimately led to the disintegration of the (othrwise highly compatible) relationship

  9. 9

    I think this is very likely true. Quite a few people, especially the very young get married long before they’ve established whether or not they’ll be good together in the long rung. And far too many people have very superficial criteria for the one they marry, with attraction being the main driver of the decision.
    Far too many get married for other bad reasons, mostly having to do with timing. The old biological clock, “all my friends are getting married,” feeling that you “should” be married by a certain age. I wish I could remember where I saw it, but there was a  pretty recent study showing that a majority of married people didn’t marry based on really being in love, they got married because they  were ready and their partner was convenient at the time, more than anything else.

  10. 10
    diane valenti

    I married a man who I had great compatibility with but not much in the way of chemistry after we had dated for 2 1/2 years. The marriage didn’t last because he changed after he said “I do.” We were still compatible, but there were other issues. My feeling…it’s a matter of luck and no one really knows if it will really stick. You do your best and you hope that your partner will do. But, there are no guarantees.

    1. 10.1

      So like most women, you broke your commitment.  Why exactly should a man get married again?

  11. 11

    I have friends who are celebrating their 21st. wedding anniversary today. The interesting thing…they “went together” for 17 years before getting married.  They were in their mid-forties when they decided to ‘make it legal’.  Didn’t live together until a few months before the marriage when the woman sold her house.

    I agree about waiting to marry until the “shine” wears off a bit. At least a year, better two – but one never can tell how long a relationship will last it seems, regardless of how soon one jumps, or how long one waits. 🙂

  12. 12

    This is a hard question to answer, since the right reason for one person may be less legitimate for another.
    At core, society needs children to survive, and whether one believes in God or Darwin, the impulse/mandate for children is undeniable for most people.
    What is at least as interesting a question is this:
    Does our culture tend to reinforce the marriage decision process to a large degree? If people marry for “wrong reasons” more than they used to, are there external cultural forces that encourage this?
    I believe yes. Men and women (American ones anyway) used to expect much less  from marriage than they expect now. I tend to believe this is a by-product of American consumerism, which pushes people to expect complete satisfaction at all times.
    For most of human history, life generally sucked. If you weren’t dying of disease, you were being attacked by barbarians. The problem is that humans judge their happiness in relative terms rather than absolute terms. Life in the US is not too bad at all, even though you can always find someone richer and happier than you are.
    The key is to pick a point in your life where you shift away from pure aspiration and learn to become content with your life as you find it. Some call it “settling”, which is an unfortunately pejorative term. I prefer to think of it as having the grace to find contentment with what you have.
    Someone has to be average, why not me?

  13. 13

    Yes I think people marry for the wrong reasons and with the wrong people.

    It’s a constant battle between “passion and excitment” and the less exciting but more enduring respect/friendship/love type relationship.

    I know which one I prefer 🙂

  14. 14

    I like the main idea of the article because it encourages seeing that a relationship is something that is built over time (“Staying deeply in love with someone happens gradually and requires conscious decisions, made over and over again, for a lifetime”). However, the “Broad-based compatibility” is not a very precise concept, and it’s easy to say that the partners were not compatible once the marriage did not work out. I have a feeling that there are more profound reasons that explain why people stay happy in marriage: ability and willingness to understand your partner’s point of view, find a balance between personal development and a life as a couple, respect for other person needs, etc. Resuming everything as a question of compatibility doesn’t seem to be informative.

  15. 15

    Nothing lasts forever. 
    People evolve & change.
    I definitely believe people marry for the wrong reasons & to the wrong people but all of that is experience.
    I am glad i have NEVER married any of my ex’s except probably ONE of them.
    I could not IMAGINE being with them today because we are two different people with different goals and passions. If I would of married either one of them, we would of had a divorce, AGAIN because people grow apart and change, I would say everyyear.
    ITS like business, you BOTH re-invent yourselves AND MAKE IT WORK, or you both are on the path of break up.
    Careers change. Moods Change. Looks Change. Emotions Change. EVERYTHING CHANGES AND EVERYBODY CHANGES.
    I say-with the experience I have now, FOR ME-I would not date anyone past a year without the relationship moving towards marriage.
    I am dating, having fun. When I meet the one that I feel is 80% right for me and I for him, I would marry him within 6-months to a year.
    Life is too short. People SHOW their true selves and intentions within that YEAR. Listen to yellow alerts, signs, and intuitions. They never fail you. If it doesnt feel good, keep moving forward.
    But why not experience marriage?
    Have your rules. Have your break list. Ex: DRug and disease FREE. No habits. No anger issues, ect.
    You have enough time to LEARN about people. But if you wait to long, on a person who has 80% of what you LOVE, you will lose them.

    Just my opinion.

    Have fun. LOVE. live. LAUGH.  

  16. 16

    Yes, I think people marry for the wrong reasons.  I think people allow their gonads to drive the bus. Everything feels so good when you meet someone you are attracted to and have great chemistry with.  It can cloud the judgement, especially after sex.  Slow down, smell the roses.  Love is more than a feeling, it’s a conscience decision.       

  17. 17

    I belive the contrary when it comes to waiting for a year or more before marriage, I think that when you truly meet “the one”, you know it right away. My parents married after only three months and have been happily married together now for 26 years. I just got married this year at 24 and we only dated for 8 months prior, we were a little past 2 months when he proposed and I said yes ( I have been proposed to before and said no). I think it has a lot more to do with values and compatibility. From the first date with my now husband I knew I could marry him, we virtually lived together from that first date, and even though he had his house and I had mine, and we never said “lets live together” it just ended up that way. We were always with eachother so there was nothing to hide from eachother. We didn’t even have sex with eachother until we got engaged, but we spent every night together and became close friends. It’s a undescribable connection, but its undeniable when u finally feel it for sure. We are different in many ways but that is exactly what made us so compatible. When faced with trying situations we both wanted us to make it, and both put forth equal efforts. We knew we loved eachother without it even have to be said but it shows through our actions. When it came time for us to marry neither of us had any doubts, it was a carefree and peaceful day. What I’m trying to say is that true love isn’t forced, it just happens. I learned this the hard way after over 8 years of bad relationships and live in boyfriends. Usually you get the feeling its not gonna work within the first 6 months of the relationship, and it’s only when I didn’t listen to my instincts and walk away,instead forcing a try at the relationship hoping it will change, that I unded up unhappy. Following your INSTINCTS (that feeling in your gut) is neccesary. Another thing is loving yourself first and truly knowing what YOU want and not settling for less than that. Even when it means spending some nights alone. If you get sure in yourself, you can and will find someone who’s just as sure as you are if you just be patient. Hope this helps =).

    ** To add I also believe you must have a concious and mutual want to work through any adversity and stay together. If you are to easy to give up, or he is, you won’t make it. Marriage isn’t easy, but if you both determine you want to stay together, not matter what happens you will, but you BOTH have to want it and be willing to work hard for it. My parents say they look at their marriage as if divorce is NOT an option, in my dad’s words “it’s cheaper to keep her” so they both do whatever they need to do to make it work (in all my life with my parents I never suspected or heard allegations of either one cheating either.) So will-power and persistence goes a long way.

  18. 18

    I actually agree with Jack.  😉
    I think the “issue” today is the fact that in most Western countries, marriage is an institution entered by choice, and expectations of a spouse are much higher (by both parties) than they are in nations where life is a miserable, brutish existence and people are doing well simply if they aren’t homeless, starving or under attack.
    Because we expect a lot from our marriages, we’re disappointed a lot more easily when things go wrong. We also live longer than our ancestors did, and the idea of spending decades in a miserable situation is something we understandably choose to avoid.
    I don’t think that spending a longer time getting to know a person during the dating process makes much of a difference at all — the success or failure of a marriage depends on both parties’ willingness and commitment to stay together through growth, change, crisis and other challenging times. (Of course, if a partner turns abusive toward the other partner or abuses his or her body with alcohol, drugs, etc., that’s another story as well.)
    I find that modern-day arranged marriages seem to last because the parties don’t go into the marriage with expectations that the other person must make him/her happy, excite them, be compatible on certain scales… the goal seems to be the continuation of family and communal lines and the raising of children. If a couple goes into marriage with that mindset alone, they’ll probably last because the expectations are basically to be content.
    I’m trying to find the midpoint between my Western mentality and the more historic intent of marriage so that I find happiness and a fulfilling marriage simply by being content with what I have in life and in a partner.

  19. 19

    Arranged marriages are highly correlated with societies or cultures that also do not allow for easy access to divorce. All the things that SS says might be true, but its hard to know because in many instances lack of divorce rates might not actually represent true happiness in marriage.

  20. 20

    What do people think are the important things to have in common?  The experience of finding someone who is perfect “on paper” ( online ) with all of the things you want only to meet them and have it fall flat is a cliche.   Then there are couples who have little in common, but their personalities fit so well together things work.
    In other words, what does being compatible really mean?
    Yes, for the reasons mentioned date at least 3 year before getting married and add a 5 year waiting period after that before having children.

  21. 21

    I’ve come to believe compatibility of personalities is the most important criteria in a good relationship. It’s not necessary to have tons of interests in common, or to share all the same attitudes, values, philosophies. But the ability to understand where your partner is coming from, and to be okay with it – leads to far less conflict.

  22. 22

    @L.D.  #19 Thanks for making that point.  A lot of people like to suggest that people raised in Western cultures are more narcisstic and have unrealistic expectations about what a marriage should be.  But we only have to look back a generation or two in our own cultures where long marriages where the norm, where divorce was frowned upon, and where women had no financial independence to understand that dynamic.  People didn’t stay married because they were “better” and less selfish.  I dislike the characterization of people who divorce as being too lazy to do the work of marriage or too self-centered to adjust to someone else’s needs.  It’s not that simple.

    Getting divorced in many of those  other cultures results in being disowned by family, elimination of any future marriage prospects, loss of children, and being an overall outcast in society.  Who would get divorced if those were the stakes?  And how could anyone suggest that is better?  People in those cultures stay married whether the offense committed by the spouse is adultery, abuse, or some of the supposedly “trivial” reasons that people in the West have for ending marriages. 

    I think getting married in a society where everyone is expected to be married make finding a partner easier, and yes, expectations are different, but I wouldn’t laud it as the ideal, and I’m sure as many of those people would get divorced if it was an option as do in other cultures.

    And while we are on the topic of people getting married for the wrong reasons, I’d say that expectations of family and society are high on the list in some cultures, and I’m not sure why anyone should feel pressured to be married to feel normal. 

    I don’t know…I’ve heard from people who dated or lived with someone for years pre-marriage and divorced 1-2 years after.  I’ve heard of people who married quickly and stayed married for decades.  It seems like a lot of luck and then there is just the sliding scale for people with regards to what is a deal breaker and what isn’t. 

    People are complex.  People evolve and change, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that what worked for your at 25 might not work for you at 50, and if you still have another 30 years to live, why be unhappy? How is that selfish and why does that make you a failure? I don’t think you need to get abused or cheated on to feel justified ending your marriage, but so many people seem to act like those are the only things that give you a right to leave without being judged.

    I do think that while it’s not a requirement in this society, being unmarried in this culture is hard.  There is just no place for you anywhere once you reach a certain age (in my opinion, your 30’s) and have no husband or wife.

  23. 23

    @ nicole 19, you make some very good points and i agree with many on here as there are many components of a successful relationship and marriage. sometimes we do divorce for selfish reasons and sometimes not. chemistry, compatibility, and character all play a part in a successful marriage.

  24. 24

    @LD… I’m thinking of arranged marriages that I see in Westernized countries (U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Israel) among Indians, some Jews, etc…. not the arranged marriages that take place in traditional countries.
    I know of Indian-American/Indian-Canadian doctors/lawyers/engineers/etc. who did modern-day versions of arranged marriages. Women and men who had total say in the process and some women who actually sought an arranged marriage instead of going through the Western-style dating system.
    I obviously can’t speak of the true success of an arranged marriage among people living in insulated, rural, traditional communities, and I’m sure that even among “modern” folks, divorce is strongly discouraged and that’s one reason arranged marriages stay together.
    On the other hand, one can ask how such couples judge happiness, and even whether they see a lack of happiness as a valid reason for divorce.

  25. 25

    Even for couples in the U.S. who are Indian American or Indians living permanently in the U.S., divorce is very taboo.  The exceptions are those who are American born and choose to date like everyone else.  But those other  couples face the same challenges as anyone else, but even when divorce is available and they live here, they are still far less likely to consider it as a valid option.  It’s not just people from the far East who live that way either.  There are more religious and strict branches of Judaism where divorce is not an option either. 

    I know people who are just going through the motions and will likely do that until they die for that very reason.  Some stay married in name only and live separately.  Others just live platonic lives in the same house. And still others endure abuse and infidelity all because of what their families and culture says about divorce.  The fact that they live here doesn’t change that. So they aren’t necessarily staying married for the best of reasons, or because they are naturally unselfish and willing to put in more work than everyone else.  And love marriages do occur in those cultures even though everyone who sees an Indian couple assumes that they are a product of an arranged marriage.  Some of those happy couples picked each other and dated.  I have several Indian born and raised friends who made “love marriages” and some have parents who did the same. 

    I think that we tend to romanticize and idealize other cultures that we perceive (often wrongly) to have avoided the “ills” that plague our own culture.  But all of those things have a price, and I don’t think any of us wish we had to endure a marriage until death at all costs. 

    I really think that where we get it wrong is that we think that longevity is a sign of a “successful” marriage with people who were doing the work and that divorce is a sign of “failure” by people who are selfish.  The amount of time someone stays married does not tell us as much as we’d like to think.

  26. 26

    @ nicole 25, i think your last statement about longevity not necessarily being an indicator of marital happiness is also spot on. how many rimes have we seen divorces among couples married 20 plus years (maria and ah-nold anyone?)? i would wager that even long marriages that are good have had struggles because we live in an imperfect world. i saw this subject as black and white and didn’t believe in divorce until i went through it. i used to say “aww they should have the character to work it out” and certainly character counts. but between the black and white is that vast expanse of real estate called the gray area.

  27. 27

    Nicole @25
    I don’t romanticize or idealize other cultures and how they do things, but at the same time, I don’t idealize my own either. I’m more than willing to study other groups to see if there’s something there (a mindset, a belief, etc.) that could possibly benefit me in my own relationships.
    The concept of matchmaking is becoming more popular in the United States, for example, but it’s being done with an American twist. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that more men and women who are not of Indian descent, for example, are considering the concept of having a third party that’s not a friend or family member perform an introduction… but then, after the introduction is made, the two people will likely proceed to Western-style dating and marriage.
    There’s no “perfect” system and the freedom to divorce can be very necessary at times. On the same note, for me to completely pooh-pooh what I see in other cultures by saying, “oh, well what they do has a price and most of those women have to endure marriage at all costs” isn’t very helpful either.
    Generalizations don’t get us anywhere. I think we can learn a lot from the way others approach marriage (which don’t place “love” as the first priority), and we can also appreciate some of the benefits we have from “love marriages.”

  28. 28

    @Nicole #25
    I also agree about longevity. I’ve never been particularly impressed by people saying ‘The Jones’ have been married for X number of years’- sadly, just about anyone can do a bid.  I want to know if those years were, on the whole, satisfying, happy and if each person’s expectations were met, more often than not. But you can’t get to that with one simple question. And frankly, lots of people shouldn’t have married in the first place so hearing of folks in that situation that ‘stuck it out’ does nothing but make me feel sad for them. ‘Uncle Frank cheated on Aunt Myra for years, had a couple of ‘outside’ children, but he’s calmed down now and they seem quite happy lately. They stuck it out!’ isn’t a story I personally aspire to.

  29. 29

    When it comes to getting married, I can’t discount the importance of compatibility OR strong attraction. I think a marriage fares better when both elements are in place. Another issue that I think is key is expectations. A lot of people, unless they’ve given it a lot of thought, have no idea how many things they ‘expect’ their husband/wife to do or ways they ‘expect’ them to behave that are by no means standard- everything is so individual. Without laying these things out on the table and making sure you are on the same page, so many couples end up in the ‘this isn’t what i expected; maybe I need to try someone else/marriage sucks’ category, not realizing that the  issue is they never knew/never made their expectations clear.

  30. 30

    Ya’ll know that in most cultures with arranged marriages, male spousal infidelity is almost expected, right? It’s easy to stay in a marriage with a less than satisfactory partner when you’re still free to find love and sex with someone else.

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