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-=[Is Marriage Obsolete/ Do Marriages Work? ]=-
The short answer to the question posed is yes, I feel marriage as an institution is obsolete and no, marriages, for the most part, don’t work!
One answer is an opinion; the latter answer is a fact.
I feel the structure of marriage as we know it is too restricting, too suffocating for it to work. It’s an institutional form of social control in which oppressive and limiting gender roles are reinforced and where spontaneity, creativity, and true love dies.
You doubt me? Well, check this out: roughly about half of all marriages end in divorce. But that’s not the whole story. Of the half that does stay married, seventy per cent report being in marriages they find unsatisfactory. Do the math, people: the vast majority of marriages are miserable failures. And please don’t trot out some pitiful old couple that’s been married since the Stone Age, because staying in a marriage does not necessarily equate to a happy or even successful, mutually respectful marriage. In fact, most of the long-termers I have spoken to have all admitted to much conflict and even infidelity in their marriages.
So, am I right? Is marriage done? Should we stick a fork in it? Am I ahead of the curve or just demented and heretical? Obviously, I think marriage as we know it should change to accommodate the world we live in. I may be wrong, but time will tell.
I will submit that marriage is in fact being reinvented by innovate and creative people as we speak. I will even go so far as to say that the few successful marriages are successful because people are adapting marriage to suit their need and no the other way around. The structure of family is changing. Relationships with former lovers are changing. Expectations are expanding in some cases, and narrowing in others. I believe this is a good thing. The concept of a traditional marriage as the only option is dead, an albatross around our collective necks, we should pull the plug on it and liberate ourselves of its stifling grasp.
But what of the marriages that do work you ask? Well, what about those marriages! I was reading a rather interesting survey study of 50 white, middle-class, and well-educated couples who had been married nine years or longer identified four types of good marriages (comprised of the romantic marriage, the rescue marriage, the companionate marriage, and the traditional marriage). Without exception, these couples mentioned the importance of liking and respecting each other and the pleasure and comfort they took in each other’s company.
Huh? ::blank stare::
What about the love, you ask?!!
Some spoke of the passionate love that initiated their relationship, but surprisingly enough, love grew in the rich soil of the marriage, nurtured by emotional and physical intimacy, and appreciation. Some spoke of feeling safe, or being cared for, and still others spoke of trust and friendship. Many spoke of the family they created together. Most importantly, all felt they were central to their partner’s lives and believed that creating the marriage and the family was the major commitment of their adult life.
These couples valued respect based on integrity. They held admiration for a partner’s honesty, compassion, decency, generosity, and loyalty.
Not the stuff of romantic movies, huh?
What I found most interesting about the study, however, was the identification of elements that make relationships work. Based on their study, these researchers offered a list of nine tasks that couples need to address, some of which I will list below:
Interestingly enough, the research authors state that the first task is to detach emotionally from the families of childhood, commit to the relationship, and build connections with the extended families. I think we’ve all seen marriages flounder when one of the partners stays too emotionally connected to their family of origin.
The second task is to build a relationship (“togetherness”) through intimacy and to expand the sense of self to include the other, while still maintaining some measure of autonomy. This is not an easy task. One can lose a sense of self to the point where it may seem oppressive. Still, this core identification provides the ground for genuine bonding. As one man put it, “In a good marriage, it can’t be Me-Me-Me, it’s gotta be Us-Us-Us.” Couldn’t put it better myself. These two tasks help launch the marriage.
The fourth task is to confront the inevitable challenges and unpredictability of the adversities of life, including illness, death, and catastrophe in ways that enhance the relationship despite suffering. Every crisis carries with it an element of danger as well as an element of opportunity. Managing stress is the key to having a marriage that is resilient and that can reinvent itself rather than becoming a shadow of itself.
The fifth task is to create a relationship in which the safe expression of difference, anger, and conflict – which are inevitable in any marriage – is encouraged and cultivated. All close relationships involve love and anger, connectedness and separation. The task is to find ways to resolve differences without manipulating each other, being violent, or giving away one’s heart’s desire. In the study, conflict ran high among several couples, but there was no evidence that conflict by itself wrecks a marriage.
The seventh task is to share laughter and humor and to keep the interest alive in the relationship. A good marriage can be both playful and serious, some flirtatious, sometimes difficult and cranky, but always full of life (My only promise? Never a dull moment! LOL).
The eighth task is to provide the emotional nurturance and encouragement that all adults need throughout their lives, especially in today’s isolating suburban communities and high-pressure workplaces.
There are more, but I just listed the ones I found most interesting. What I cam away with from this study is that marriages come in all shapes and sizes. Fortunately, we live at a time where the strict rules of traditional marriage can be altered by couples to suit their needs. No marriage provides for all the wishes and needs people bring to it. Although every good marriage provides many satisfactions, they also exact a different price. Additionally, different types of marriages (the study offers a typology of marriages: romantic, rescue, companionate, and traditional) require different supports from our society.
For my money, a good marriage is transformative. From my perspective, people enter adulthood not yet fully formed and marriage changes each individual tremendously. The very act of living together closely for an extended period brings about an inner change.
I believe that for marriage to survive, it must adopt to people’s needs in a postmodern world and not the other way around. I feel that having the flexibility to redefine intimacy, family structure, and gender roles as well as societal support needed to make marriages successful will help marriage succeed as an institution. And if it dies as a result of irrelevance, then so be it! LOL
Wallerstein, J. S., & Blakeslee, S. (1996). The good marriage: How and why love lasts. New York: Grand Central Publishing.
The Nine “Psychological Tasks” for Marital Bliss
- Separate emotionally from one’s childhood so as to invest fully in the marriage and, at the same time, to redefine the lines of connection with both families of origin.
- Build togetherness based on mutual identification, shared intimacy and an expanded conscience that includes both partners, while at the same time setting boundaries to protect each partner’s autonomy.
- Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and to protect it from the incursions of the workplace and family obligations; it is the second part of this task which must not be overlooked or taken for granted.
- (For couples with children) Embrace the daunting roles of parenthood and absorb the impact of Her Majesty the Baby’s dramatic entrance into the marriage. At the same time the couple must continue the work of protecting their own privacy.
- Confront and master the inevitable crises of life and maintain the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity and create a safe haven within the marriage for the expression of difference, anger and conflict.
- Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
- Provide nurturance and comfort to each other, satisfying each partner’s need for dependency and offer continuing encouragement and support.
- Keep alive the romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time.
- Drawing sustenance and renewal from the images and fantasies of courtship and early marriage and maintaining that joyful glow over a lifetime.