Marriage by Consensus

by: Jim Duzak, JD

Dear Jim:

I’m 31 and seriously thinking of marrying a man my friends think isn’t right for me.

I’m a branch manager of a bank and finishing up my MBA on weekends. “Chris” is my age, but only completed one year of college. After that, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and is now an EMT. My friends feel that the educational disparity between us will eventually kill our relationship.

Either I’ll get frustrated with him, or he’ll become intimidated by me. We’ve been a couple for three years and we get along great, but I wonder if I have a blind spot about this. Am I setting myself up for divorce, or at least disappointment, if I were to marry Chris?

Signed X

Dear X:

It always seems that friends are quick to express opinions but slow to offer alternatives. If you were to dump Chris, would your friends then fix you up with some Ivy-educated guy with a fast-track career? I doubt it. They’ll be trying to grab that guy for themselves. Your friends’ opinions may be well-intentioned, but well-intentioned opinions can be worse than no opinions at all. Your friends are projecting their values on you. They automatically assume that because they would think or act in a certain way, you should, too.

The situation might be different if your friends were pleading with you not to marry a guy who drinks too much, or is a pathological liar, or who’s abusive or cheats on you. But that’s not the case here. Apparently, the only “fault” Chris has is that he’s not as educated as you are. That’s only a fault if you think it’s a fault, or if Chris does. If, in the three years you’ve been together, the educational disparity hasn’t bothered either of you, I don’t see why it would bother you if and when you were to get married. Of course, I’m making an assumption that Chris does feel the same way about this as you do. It’s possible he doesn’t.

Men don’t always open up about things that are bothering them, so it’s a good idea for you to bring the subject up. You might want to ask him if it would bother him if you were to keep getting promoted at the bank. Would the extra income be something he would welcome, or would it only reinforce the idea that he’s not going as far as you are in the world? Every man is different, and I think it’s important to know how Chris responds to questions like this. And if you’re thinking of having children someday, it’s vital that the two of you be on the same page in terms of your hopes and dreams for them. You can’t force kids to go to college---and some kids do better by not going to college---but you don’t want a situation where Chris is encouraging them to do one thing and you’re encouraging them to do something entirely different.

If, after discussing these issues with Chris, you’re convinced that he’s not uncomfortable with the educational or career disparity between you, I wouldn’t waste any more time worrying about it. As for your friends, they’re free to express their opinions, but they don’t have veto power over your life. Consensus can be a good thing, but you don’t have to achieve it in order to get married. It’s your life, not theirs.

Good luck


Jim is a graduate of Boston College Law School, and practiced divorce law in Boston for over twenty years. After moving to Arizona, he became a full-time mediator for the family and divorce court in Phoenix.

His experience in working with divorcing couples, plus his own life experiences---he was a 20 year-old husband and father and a single father for several years after his divorce---prompted Jim to write a book entitled, Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment, that helps people avoid divorce by teaching better ways to communicate and resolve disputes.

Jim is currently an advice columnist, relationship writer, and personal coach. He is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com. He also puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and other aspects of men-women relationships. His website is attorneyatlove.com.

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