One of our favorite writers and fellow stepmom, author of Stepmonster, Wednesday Martin, wrote an insightful article on Psychology Today about the necessity of marriage. This article provoked some stimulating conversation between my husband and I and we’d love to hear what you think regarding the question - Is Marriage Necessary? Check out the article below and let us know what you think.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, some recent, highly-publicized non-fiction debuts are sure to get you in the mood for romance. Staying True, by Jenny Sanford, chronicles the very public breakdown of her marriage to South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who wasn’t hiking on the Appalachian Trail after all. Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb (the subtitle of which–the Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, says it all) accuses you of being too picky and urges you to snap up that guy who’s an 8 rather than waiting for the 10. And The Politician, Andrew Young’s new, explosive tell-all about John Edwards, details his infidelity and exposes, for our lurid delectation, the operatic fights and the second family he started while his wife was struggling with cancer.
Granted, these books don’t describe the experiences of most of us. Hopefully our relationships are not all colored by messianic narcissism, bigamy, and profound cynicism about pairing off “before it’s too late.”Bottom of Form
But in their own dramatic and overblown ways, these books speak a quieter, less dramatic truth: marriage isn’t what we think it is, and it isn’t easy. Plenty of marriages aren’t doing well. While divorce rates for first marriages have settled from a high in the 1980s of around 50% to 43% according to the most recent Census, 43% is no cause for dancing in the streets. Especially when you consider that in remarriages with children, divorce rates divorce rates may be as high as 72%, according to E. Mavis Hetherington, the respected psychologist, family researcher, and author of the lauded 30-year Virginia Longitudinal Study.
Why? Much ink has been spilled and much breath has been spent and many workshop fees have been forked over in the interest of what’s wrong with marriages, and how to improve them, to make them more satisfying, equitable, sexually exciting, emotionally healthy, nurturing, and harmonious. Saving marriages is a multi-million dollar industry, and we know from first-hand experience, many of us, that it can work. Marriages, some of them, can be saved.
But Marriage probably cannot.
While marital and couples therapists tell us how to save our marriages, sociology, anthropology, and human behavioral ecology suggest that it isn’t so much married couples as Marriage itself, the institution, that’s in trouble. The problem with marriages is really the fundamental problem with Marriage: marriages are falling apart in large part because Marriage is no longer necessary. At least, not in the way it once was.
Sociologists and historians of marriage tell us that marriage was originally a business transaction of sorts, rather than an undertaking hinging on the attraction and love between two individuals. Historically in western culture, people from wealthy families were directed to marry in order to create bonds, alliances, and mutual obligations with other powerful families-or even between nations, in the case of royals. For the lower classes, marriage was a question of creating a labor force to run a farm or small business. Households were production-centered economies in which men’s and women’s labor were complementary, and kids they had together or brought together from previous unions (maternal mortality rates were high until the late 19th century) pitched in. Marriage was necessary. And remarriage with children after the death of a spouse-a common occurrence until relatively recently-was considered the most civic-minded thing a man or woman could do. The household and by extension all of society depended on it, after all.
But by the early 20th century, marriage historian Stephanie Coontz points out, with the notions of the individual, liberty, and equality well-established by the Enlightenment and French and American revolutions, and the subsequent rise of the love match, marriage had become a different animal entirely. Marriage morphed from institutional, in the famous formulation of sociologist Ernest Burgess, to companionate and now, something more individualistic. Marriage is now expected to nurture, satisfy and support the members of the couple in a dizzyingly comprehensive variety of ways-emotionally, sexually, psychologically.