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Marriage: Ball and Chain or Free to Be You?

Marriage Marriage Marry Ring Rings Wedding Ring Wedding RingsIf you’ve been doing fine on your own for some time, you may fear that marriage will cost you your freedom. Actually, a good marriage supports you to be free to be who you are, because partners consider each other’s needs, as well as their own.

It takes some maturity to do this. Happy couples balance spending time together and apart in ways that suit both partners. They collaborate to make big decisions, like about very large expenses, parenting, leisure time activities, and so on.

Through showing concern for each other’s viewpoint, they bond over time and foster a lasting, fulfilling marriage.

A Good Marriage Enhances Freedom

Not everyone recognizes marriage as freedom enhancing. Randall, single and in his late forties, views marriage as “the old ball and chain.” He feels sorry for his well-paid coworker “whose wife wouldn’t let him buy a bowling ball.” Randall thought he’d dodged a bullet by staying single.

Dini, also in her forties, also thinks marriage would cramp her style. “I don’t want to have to eat every single meal with the same person,” she declares. I wondered why she thought she’d need to.

My husband and I usually eat dinner together because we want to, and sometimes Sunday brunch. I don’t know any couples who feel forced to eat three meals a day together.

A “ball and chain” union forces one spouse to squeeze into a mold formed by the other. A good marriage encourages spouses to be their true selves. It fosters self-expression and growth. Partners deal respectfully with issues and give each enough space to be heard. Partners needn’t justify relatively minor, affordable purchases, like the bowling ball mentioned above. They give each other space to do things on their own, whether around meals, snacks, hobbies, or something else.  

Gain Independence before Marrying

One woman in her fifties who participated in one of my Marry with Confidence workshops had a floundering business as a massage therapist, and was living hand to mouth. She said that the main quality she wanted in a husband was the ability to support her financially. “Why not? she asked. “Prostitutes get paid for sex.” For her, apparently, marriage was a socially sanctioned sex-for money arrangement.

Poverty can wear down a person and make her feel desperate to latch onto “any port in a storm.” But marrying mainly for financial security is less likely to result in a lasting, fulfilling union than choosing a life partner with whom you are a good fit emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

We are not living in Jane Austen’s time when the sole career option for most middle-class women was to find a husband who could support her comfortably. Yet even in Austin’s novels, character considerations weighed heavier than the prospective partner’s net worth.

Today, job and career opportunities for women are plentiful. Men know this. I think most men would rather marry someone who is financially as well as emotionally stable than one who is barely getting by.

We also gain confidence and therefore more appeal by showing independence in other ways. Instead of waiting for a man to whisk you off to interesting activities, are you initiating them for yourself? You like sushi? Dine out alone or with a friend. Pursue your interests and become more happy, interesting, and vibrant.

Marriage: Ball and Chain or Free to Be You?

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). Marriage: Ball and Chain or Free to Be You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.