Understanding Why Men Get Married Can Improve Your Relationship
An Interview with Pastor Phil Cole About the Four Main Reasons Why Men Get Married
How long have you been working with couples?
I honestly don’t have an answer to this question. Before I became a pastor I was actively involved in marriage enrichment opportunities both learning and teaching. So, I suppose most of my married years, which will be 30 this coming December.
Where did the concept of four main reasons why men get married come from?
This process has been a long journey. I wish that I could tell you that it was part of a massive scientific research program, but that simply would not be true. I have always enjoyed observing human behavior, which is one of the reasons I did my B.A. in Sociology at Waterloo University.
In answer to your question, I guess my research and observations began shortly after I graduated with my counseling degree and I was working with abusive men in a program that was designed by women. It did not take very long to discover that the failure rate of this program was extremely high and the program was very humiliating to the men. So, I started asking the question, why? The answer was simple; the program did not understand men, because it was written from the perspective of women. In my research for a better solution, I discovered that there were success stories that allowed men to retain their dignity.
This put me on the road towards further observation with regards to why men get married, marriage expectations and breakdowns, which resulted in the theory I present in chapter 5 of Discovering a More Intimate Response. I then started asking individuals questions about their expectations for their marriage. Eventually, I boiled it down to 4 reasons why men get married. I have yet to find a case where a couple has said we are the exception.
Are there more than the basic four or are they just variations?
Great question, I haven’t come across any new reasons since writing my book. There are cultures where marriages are planned by the parents, and I wondered if there was something new in this perspective, but after I thought about if for a while, I realized that the culture understood marriage from a very traditional perspective, which would include domestic expectations.
When you ask about variations, the answer is yes, every relationship is a variation but at the core will be the 4 reasons I described. I actually believe that for the most part all 4 of these reasons/expectations enter into every marriage at some level.
Can men have more than one reason for marrying?
Yes, I believe that all 4 come into play throughout the marriage, but there will be a more prominent reason. It is possible, due to circumstances in life for the prominent reason to actually make a shift, which can be very confusing for his wife. If she is not able to make the shift, it opens the door for marriage breakdown and ultimately divorce.
For example, if a man moves up the ladder in his job to the place where he is expected to represent his company in social settings and his wife is not comfortable or capable of becoming the woman he needs, the temptation will be for him to seek a woman who can fit into the social role.
I always thought sex was a high priority for marrying but you say men can get sex without marriage. So what is the most common reason why men get married?
Let me clarify a little, if a man is living his life with the strong conviction that sex should only take place between married couples, (which is what I believe), then of course there will be a time when he realizes that he should get married so that he can be sexually fulfilled within the relationship. However, with that being said, a lot of other processing has also taken place because realistically he knows that sex is not all that the marriage is about.
For a man, marriage is about fulfilling a need in his life. Now he may say that this need is to end loneliness, but I see loneliness as the motivator that gets him started on the search.
Once the search begins, he has to have a filtering process that helps him to decide who it will be that keeps him from being a lonely man. This filtering process will include to a greater or lesser degree the 4 things I mention in my book.
Your question asks which is the most common reason men marry? What I am more and more discovering is that this could change within various circles of men. If for instance, I were to poll a hockey team, a group of farmers, a group of entrepreneurs who owned their own home business and a group of factory workers, I would not be surprised to discover that each group had a different prominent reason for marrying.
Why Men Marry #1 Affirmation
Within the group of men, that I tend to work with the main reason for marriage is affirmation. Affirmation for men is as big as validation is for women. In a world filled with stress, high work expectations and competition many men feel like failures. They want someone in their life who is their cheerleader, someone who believes in them and tells them they are loved when they feel unlovable.
Can you briefly tell us what the other three reasons are?
Why Men Marry #2 Partnership
The second reason men marry is for partnership. These are men who love the idea of team effort. They have probably been raised in homes where everyone pitched in to help and where the family discouraged independent lone-ranger behavior.
When these husbands marry, they will have expectations that their wife join the team. If she fits in really well with the team concept all will go well, but if she requires a lot of isolated time for herself then their relationship will struggle.
Why Men Marry # 3 Domestic Services
The third reason men marry is for domestic services, like having children, having a meal prepared for them and a clean house. This is a very traditional outlook for marriage, but many religions and cultures highly value this reason for marriage so it cannot be ignored.
Why men Marry # 4 Social Admiration
The final reason is what I title in the book as Status symbol or statement. I really wrestled with what to title this reason for marriage and if I were to do a re-write I would probably re-title this reason with something like “Social Admiration”, which has a much more positive sound.
This may be the man who has a position or job that keeps him in the public spotlight, or it may be the guy who saw the most beautiful girl in the school and saw marrying her as the ultimate conquest (there usually is one and all the guys agree on who she is – she is their #10). As long as she remains beautiful and a fashion statement they love having her by their side because they know that other men are envious and her presence says to them that he is better than them because he is walking around with the prize.
Some of the reasons are not very flattering. Do men really think that way or are these extreme?
Yes, to a certain extent all men think about these 4 reasons. For instance, I don’t know of any man who wants to attend a social gathering with a wife whose appearance suggests that she’s been too lazy to prepare herself for the event. I also don’t know of any bride who walked down the isle of the church without doing her best to look as attractive as possible. So, men don’t want to be embarrassed in a social gathering and women equally desire to present themselves as attractively as possible. So, it may not be very flattering to think that your husband married you with an element of “social admiration” as one of his reasons, but to a greater or lesser degree it’s there.
When my daughter saw “domestic services” as a reason for men to marry, she said; “I’m more interested in my career, I could never live with those expectations.” However, there have been several girls within our church who upon graduating from high school I asked, “what are your plans for next year, are you heading to college?” And, their response was, “my parents want me to go to college, but all I’m really interested in doing is settling down and raising a family.”
So, different strokes for different folks. What is unappealing for one may be appealing to someone else.
Can their reasons change with time and circumstance?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier, circumstances can make men change their expectations, but I don’t think that this happens as often as we may think it could. There are stages of life, however, that may shift expectations for couples, such as empty nest for a couple focused on raising their children, or retirement or even sickness. Significant life changes may shift marriage expectations.
Is it easy for us to figure out the reason(s) he married us?
Oh, yes! For any single woman planning to get married, I hope she reads chapter 5 and has a clear understanding of what she will be getting into if she marries. I list some of the clues, but there are so many. As a general rule, Guys will not come out and say or even know intuitively what they want but if a girl has any ability to read between the lines, she will know, especially after she has read my book and has an awareness of what to look for.
One lady who read my book did so with another female friend on a weekend outing. Both ladies had previous husbands and enjoyed sharing with each other the category each of their present and past husbands fit under. It gave them a real awakening as to why their previous marriages failed and what was happening in their present marriage.
What would be a likely response if we are not meeting his expectations?
He will be an unhappy camper and he will very likely see you as the reason. After all, you gave him every indication before marriage that you were the person he was looking for. Now he discovers that you are not who he thought you were. This in his mind means that you were a) deceiving him, or b) he was very bad at reading the signs.
Can it be a source of conflict if we don’t meet the expectations?
Absolutely! Yes! Yes! and Yes! – this is the root of most marriage conflict. I won’t say all marriage conflict relates to this, but when it comes to developing a close intimate bond between couples, this is huge. Failure to meet each other’s expectations drives a wedge between couples as big as the elephant in the room.
Why did I just say that? Because, for many couples that is what it looks like, the proverbial elephant in the room that they don’t want to address. Yet, the tension is there because they both feel like the other person is purposely making life miserable for them. When actually they are both simply living their life without the pretense that was common in their dating relationship.
Now, that I’ve made that statement, I also want to make another comment on the choice to marry. This also comes out in the book and it is important to reflect upon if you are still dating.
I have also discovered that couples often marry already knowing that they are incompatible. Why, because they don’t want to hurt the other person, or start the process over with someone else, or be in a situation of having no one in their life or they’ve been together so long that friends and family are putting the pressure on or something similar. I cannot tell you how often couples in distress have told me they knew that they should not get married but did it anyway. My advice is, if you are in this situation, then go through the hardship of breaking up before you get married. It is 10 times more difficult after you are married. I know that marriage is supposed to be for a lifetime but it is a real heart ache to see couples living unhappily with each other for a lifetime because they were afraid to break it up when they had the chance.
How can we use the information to achieve a better response from our husbands?
Most wives want to have a happy husband. If you know what his expectations are, then it at least gives you a fighting chance to meet those expectations or understand where the unhappiness may be coming from. Being aware of the problem is huge progress towards solving the problem.
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Phil covers this topic thoroughly and goes into great detail about this concept in Chapter 5 in his book Discovering a More Intimate Response. It’s the section of his book I found the most intriguing.
Your husband saw in you the ability to be the wife he desired. Do you know why he married you? Do you understand his expectations of marriage? If you find a mismatch, Phil has included ideas to improve your marriage. Phil’s ideas are very doable without compromising yourself. Check out Phil’s book for the answers and to find out how you can respond to your husband’s needs to get a more intimate response back from him.
Phil Cole is the Pastor of Personal Development at Huron Park Baptist Church. He has an MA in counseling from Providence Theological Seminary. He holds a BTh and BRE from Emmanuel Bible College, as well as a BA in sociology from the University of Waterloo. Phil is the founding chair of New Hope Family Ministries, which offers practical assistance to families impacted by abuse. Phil has his own counseling practice and is also available for marriage retreats and weekend workshops.
He can be found on his facebook page.