In the introduction to this series of posts, Why Judaism?, I explained that I will be presenting a discussion of various benefits of religion. In a second post, titled The Limits of Religious Benefits, I added some qualifications. In a third post, I discussed the benefits of health and longevity. This post continues the series.
One distinct area in which being religious is advantageous over being secular is with regard to marriage. The advantages of marriage are numerous. Married people, on average, are happier than people who are not married. They are also healthier in all kinds of ways, and live an average of two years longer. Furthermore, being married makes it more likely that one will have children, which themselves are an extraordinary blessing in numerous ways. Being married is even financially beneficial.
And here’s where religion comes in. If you’re religious (especially Orthodox Jewish), you’re much more likely to get married. Furthermore, you’re much more likely to stay married. While there is a rising phenomenon of both singles and divorces in the Orthodox Jewish community, the numbers are still much, much lower than in the secular world.
It also seems clear to me, although I don’t know of actual studies, that marriages between religious people are, generally speaking, happier than marriages between secular people. The lower divorce rate is not itself evidence for this, as one could claim that religious people have a lower threshold of happiness to remain married, but for a variety of reasons I believe that religious marriages are more likely to be overall happier.
There are many misconceptions that harm people’s ability to get married and be happily married and stay married. The notion of the bashert, when interpreted to mean that there is only one correct person to marry and you’d better find that person, is one such dangerous myth in the religious world. But the secular world contains and encourages many more ideas that are false and damaging.
My daughter tells me that some of her secular colleagues were shocked to learn that she is shomeret negiah and are mystified at Orthodox approaches to dating and marriage. They wonder how people can possibly get married without knowing if they are “sexually compatible” with their partners, and they presume that this means that Orthodox Jewish marriages are much less likely to be happy. But in fact, as therapist Talli Rosenbaum describes in a recent podcast on Intimate Judaism, “sexual compatibility” is generally created as the result of getting married without prior sexual encounters with different people.
Jonathan Haidt, in The Happiness Hypothesis, has an excellent discussion of love and marriage. He describes two types of love: passionate love, which is essentially like a drug, and companionate love, which is the affection that grows between people who share values and a firm commitment to each other as they care for, rely upon, and trust each other. Companionate love never rises to the intensity of passionate love, but whereas passionate love gradually declines over time, companionate love overtakes it and lasts a lifetime. I think it’s fairly obvious that in secular society, the focus is more on passionate love, whereas in religious society, the focus is more on companionate love.
(Incidentally, this is a rare case where I believe that the way things are done in charedi circles is superior to what happens in non-charedi circles. While the shidduch system certainly has its drawbacks, overall I think it is enormously advantageous for boys and girls to only form relationships in the context of assessing suitability for marriage based on shared goals and values.)
Of course, there’s lots more to say about all of this. But I think that this is yet another clear benefit of being religious.
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Marriage is so good that the Torah allows multiple wives. I guess the more the merrier.
Surely all the benefits of religious marriage only apply to people who truly believe in Torah Judaism?