Since the beginning of time, humans have sought romantic companionship. Over time, the media as well as traditional romantic tales have convinced us of the concept of perfect love and we create personal fantasies regarding our own perfect love story as well. But the reality is different as Barbara Graham informs us that marriage as an institution in the US is failing and needs to be reformed (Graham, 1997).
Graham states that people are always searching for that someone special who will be “The One” but Freud and other psychoanalysts have repeatedly warned us, “the search for ideal love — for that one perfect soulmate — is the futile wish of not fully developed selves.” (Graham, 1997). Marriage has existed for economic and social needs of the society and may even exist in the absence of perfect love or soul mate.
Our biochemistry is not conducive to long-term sexual relationships. Graham mentions Dr. Helen Fisher’s idea that human pair bonds are intended to last four years, a period long enough to nurture a single child. Even though we have come a long way and society doesn’t discriminate again various types of relationships, we keep chasing the idea of marriage because we equate it with true love (Graham, 1997).
Graham points out that it is difficult to maintain sexual attraction over the long period. If Graham is right, then any successful relationship is the outcome of compromise and respect for each other rather than never ending romance and sexual attraction between the couple. We often hear that almost half of the marriages fail in America which appears to be a credible indication that the institution of marriage has been crumbling in America.
Graham insists there is unwanted social pressure for marriage which is unprecedented. Experts have stated that people may marry out of love but love has a temporary life (Graham, 1997). People go into marital relationships with unrealistic expectations and when those expectations don’t realize, their marriage crumbles.
The institution of marriage has also lasted for thousands of years because religions have always been a dominant cultural and social force and the idea of having sexual relationships without marriage as well as divorce were social stigma in many traditional societies. In fact, sexual relationships outside marriage continue to be legally prohibited in many conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia. We can find references regarding the prohibition adultery and divorce even in the Old and New Testaments as well. But times have changed and modern democracies including the U.S. don’t attach social stigma to romantic relationships outside marriage or divorce, thus, many couple don’t feel the need to marry or rush into divorce without careful consideration.
The data from National Marriage Project at Rutgers University also confirms the fact that the institution of marriage is in a state of decline. The marriage rate among Americans decline by 50 percent from 1970 to 2004 and even the percentage of people who consider their marriage to be very happy has dropped slightly since 1970s. But the decline in marriage has been offset by an increase in unmarried cohabitation (Popenoe & Whitehead, 2009). Several hypothesis could be formulated on the basis of this information and tested by future studies. One of the reasons marriage rate has declined and even the percentage of people who claim to have very happy marriage may be that people now have different expectations from marriage. These differences in expectations may or may not have been shaped by cultural changes and the media. Some people may also be simply conforming to the trend of committed relationships without marriage or may have been dissuaded by the high divorce rate. One of the major possible reasons behind lower marriage rate, especially among high net worth individuals, may be financial reason also since unmarried couples do not have to equally divide their assets.
It is reasonable to hypothesize that economic progress and liberal cultural values lead to high divorce rates which may be why the divorce rate in many developing countries are significantly lower than developed countries including the U.S. Economic progress is usually accompanied by more women entering the workforce and gaining financial independence. As a result, they are not as much dependable upon their male companions as a housewife may be. Similarly, liberal societies do not have social stigma attached to divorce and as a result, couples are less likely to put in serious efforts to make things work. I believe that as China and India continue to grow economically and more and more women enter the workforce, divorce rates will go up in these two rising economic powers. David and Popenoe’s article also points towards the possibility that marriage rate has been declining due to changing social and religious values, “As an institution, marriage has lost much of its legal, social, economic, and religious meaning and authority.” (Popenoe & Whitehead, 2009).
Mary Schwartz and Barbara Scott attempt to dismiss some of the common myths about marriage and families in their article as is evident by the title. One of the myths dispelled by the authors is that traditional families were strong in older decades in America such as in the 1950 as compared to 1990s and society has been losing its families values now. The author point out that while the divorce rate might have been lower in the 1950s as compared to the 1990s, it was even lower in the nineteenth century as compared to 1950s. Thus, the overall trend has been rising divorce rate over time (Schwartz & Scott, 2013). It seems to me that the rising divorce rate might have something to do with America’s prosperity over time as well as more and more women sought jobs and achieved some sense of independence.
The third article has also made me wonder whether we may be defining family values in the wrong manner today. We may be worried that family values have been declining because we are comparing current trends to those in the past which ignores the fact that American culture has considerable changed since then. It is also possible we may be giving too much importance to marriage when, in fact, the more important thing is the quality of relationship among the couples rather than the legal status of their relationship.
Marriage rate may have been falling due to several reasons such as changing social, cultural, and religious values, economic prosperity, and changing economic status of women. Despite the declining marriage trend, marriage should be promoted because it does offer some benefits. First of all, marriage may bestow several economic benefits such as more serious commitment to financial planning by the couple as well as favorable treatment in terms of products and services such as insurance and retirement plans. By legally binding a couple, the marriage may also create more durable sense of a family and may also encourage the couples to plan kids. But at the same time, we should also modify our cultural and social concepts including marriage because we live in quite different times, even as compared to 1980s.
Graham, B. (1997). The Future of Love. Retrieved March 04, 2013, from http://professormcgunnigle.wikispaces.com/Homework+The+Future+of+Love
Popenoe, D., & Whitehead, ,. B. (2009, February). State of our Unions: Marriage Promotion and the Contested Power of Heterosexuality. Gender & Society, 23, pp. 27-48.
Schwartz, M. A., & Scott, B. M. (2013). Debunking Myths about Marriages and Families. In Marriages and Families. Pearson.