For decades there’s been a trend toward using the word partner to refer to ones significant other, and it’s a trend I’ve never liked. Yes, the word “partner” is more inclusive, and wanting to be more inclusive is admirable. And yes, you’ll never accidentally ask about someone’s wife or husband when they’re not actually married. All good things.
Nevertheless, language is a powerful thing. Language and culture are intertwined with each affecting the other. What we call things matters. Marriage matters. And, using all-inclusive and “politically correct” language is very vague, non-descriptive, bland, and devalues the very things we’re talking about.
Partner is Very Vague
There are business partners, romantic partners, partners in marriage, and partners in crime. Then there are sporting partnerships, music partnerships. It’s often possible to figure out which is which from context, but not always.
However, romantic partners can be further divided up into girlfriend, boyfriend, friend “with benefits,” fiancée/fiance, person I’m living together with, and husband, wife or spouse. Why be so vague? Imagine if we stopped calling an orange an orange, and an apple an apple, and just referred to them by the generic fruit.
Reader: Hey, those are fundamentally different. Using the category label would lead to confusion.
Me: There’s also a fundamental difference between a boyfriend/girlfriend, and a spouse you’re married to.
Marriage IS Different, and That Difference Matters
When two people get married, they make a firm and clear commitment to love each other for the rest of their lives, no matter what. This is done publicly, in front of their family, friends and God (assuming you believe in God). The intention of both entering the marriage is stated very clearly and unambiguously: we’re going to make this work.
If that level of commitment scares you, then good. It’s a huge commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the same time, it requires a leap of faith, because you’ll never know your spouse perfectly, nor do you know what challenges you’ll face. The one thing you will have, is knowing that the two of you will face them together, and your spouse has no intention of running away when the going gets tough (although, sadly, some still do).
By contrast, living together has no clear commitment. Yes, it’s possible to set clear intentions before living together without marriage. However, couples slide into living together all to frequently. Even when living together with the intention of future marriage, there tends to be a “lets see if this works” attitude, rather than “we’re going to make this work.” Otherwise, you’d get engaged, wouldn’t you?
The end result is that, when compared to married couples, those who live together tend to have lower relationship quality, satisfaction, and commitment. And, a higher breakup rate.
Marriage Matters for Kids
Marriage isn’t about just the two who enter it, there are the children. And the kids are affected greatly by their parent’s relationship. Parents are the first and primary educators of their children, and are their kids role-models. Children who are raised by parents in a stable loving relationship have a big advantage over those who don’t.
By far the best gift you can give your kids, is for them to know that you love and are committed to your spouse. And yes, doing that can be difficult when things are tough. This is where really meaning those marital vows can make all the difference, because it’ll help you both support each other through the toughest of times. You’ll come out the other end of adversity, better and stronger than before.
Marriage Matters for Society
Family is the building block of society. It’s where new humans are born, nurtured, and raised. It’s where we learn the fundamentals of living and working together before we venture out into the wider world. It’s where we form the values that shape our lives.
Being the building block of society, strong families builds a strong society. Strong families require strong, healthy committed relationships between mother and father. By far the strongest commitment is the total commitment of self to each other formed in marriage.
While calling a husband or wife “partner,” is technically correct, it’s also vague, bland and lacking in meaning. There’s a huge difference between dating, living together, and being committed to each another in marriage. Marriage begins with a strong, clear and public vow of complete commitment to one-another…
“I Hans take you, Irene, to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and bad, in sickness and health, I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.”
That’s the vow I made to Irene when we got married. She’s so much more than just a partner; she’s my wife. And, I’m her husband.
Cover photo credit: Image by Frank Winkler.