Do Married Couples Slight Their Family Members as Well as Their Friends? / “Greedy Marriages”

Do Married Couples Slight Their Family Members as Well as Their Friends? / “Greedy Marriages”

Yeah, you will remember that Jesus says that the spiritual family of God – other people who believe in Jesus – are to take precedence over your own spouse or children.

Does the American evangelical church live this teaching of Jesus’ out? Nope – they worship the nuclear family and put non-relatives at the bottom of the list of priorities.

(Link): Do Married Couples Slight Their Family Members as Well as Their Friends?

    Intensive coupling is a cultural phenomenon

Published on April 21, 2011 by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. in Living Single

… What interests me about this is how individual experiences map onto what could be a bigger cultural phenomenon. The author believes that when two people marry, their social circles should increase, as they welcome one another’s family and friends into their expanded social network. Instead, her son withdrew into an insular twosome with his wife.

Those who espouse the supposedly transformative powers of marriage often make a similar argument: When people marry, their social horizons broaden. The problem is that the data are not always so cooperative. I’ve written before about the national surveys showing that adults who have always been single are more likely to visit, call, or write their siblings and parents, and to socialize with friends or neighbors, than are adults who are currently married. (The previously married are in between.) Always-single adults are also more likely than married adults to provide emotional or practical support to parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors.

In previous posts here and at All Things Single, I’ve focused on the slighting of single friends by people who become seriously coupled. The mad mom’s tale reminds me that it may not be just friends who are nudged to the side. And, my reaction to that essay – hey, it is not (just) personal that your son seems to be shunning you, it’s cultural – reminds me that the same may be true when couples ignore the people they once regarded as good friends. Maybe it is not (just) personal, it’s cultural.

I think the phenomenon (sometimes called “greedy marriage,” because couples want all of the time and attention and affection for themselves) is probably especially difficult for those who straddle different cultural eras. The “intensive coupling” that is commonplace today (though hardly characteristic of all couples) is a relatively recent practice. If you can remember a time when married couples were more expansive, and you expected your kids or friends to be that way, too, then their retreat to we-are-onedom must be particularly painful.

(Link): The greedy marriage – The New York Times

By Chris Berdik

Published: Sunday, September 16, 2007

More precisely, marriage can be greedy, according to Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College, who have written a paper called “Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Greedy.” Analyzing two nationwide social surveys, they found that married couples spend less time than singles calling, writing, and visiting with their friends, neighbors, and extended family. According to their research, married people are also less likely to give friends and neighbors emotional support and practical help, such as with household chores.

Gerstel and Sarkisian’s research flies in the face of recent academic studies and political speeches arguing that marriage is the endangered cornerstone of a healthy society, benefiting the mental, physical, and financial well-being of children and adults, and, ultimately, their fellow citizens. They argue that marriage may actually, albeit unwittingly, have just the opposite effect – sapping the strength of American communities and diminishing our ability to think and act for the common good.

“Many, bemoaning the retreat from marriage, also mourn the loss of community,” they wrote in the Fall 2006 issue of Contexts, a journal of the American Sociological Association. “What these nostalgic discussions do not recognize, ironically, is that marriage and community are often at odds with one another.”

…Over the last century, Americans have become more romantic about marriage, and that’s not always a good thing, according to some scholars.

Through the mid-20th century, husbands and wives were expected to fulfill the culturally defined roles as breadwinners and homemakers, what sociologists call the “institutional marriage.” But today, as a recent Gallup poll finds, 94 percent of young, unmarried women and men say their primary goal in marriage is finding a soul mate.

One marker of the rise of soul-mate marriage is honeymoons, according to Stephanie Coontz, a sociologist with the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit family research and advocacy group based in Chicago. The now nearly ubiquitous private adventures for newlyweds were nearly unheard of until the late 19th century. And even then, Coontz notes, the happy couples often took along relatives and friends for company.

“Over the past 100 years, we’ve made marriage much more precious,” she says. “And the same things that have made it more passionate and beneficial for its members have also made it more isolating.”

(Link): Slighting Friends and Family: Do Couples Become Less Couple-y Over Time?

(Link): Do Married People Neglect Their Friends Because They Are So Busy with Their Kids?


.. Sociologists have a name for the retreat from other people that many (though not all) married people exhibit – they call it “greedy marriage.”

It is akin to what I have called “intensive coupling.”

The married couple wants almost all of the attention and resources for itself. These are couples who probably view it as a threat if their partner wants to spend time with friends.

Contemporary Americans without a sense of social history or an international perspective may not realize how unusual the practice of intensive (and jealous) coupling really is. At other times and in other places, the desire to spend time with people other than your partner was in no way a negative judgment on the state of the marital relationship.

One of the high-profile articles that brought attention to the concept of “greedy marriage” was Kate Bolick’s wildy popular cover story for the November 2011 Atlantic magazine, (Link): “All the single ladies.” The Atlantic got so many responses to the story – hundreds, in fact – that the magazine printed two pages of letters in the January 2012 issue.

One was from Robert Nohr of Milwaukee, who reiterated the usual claims about the benefits of marrying for health and well-being and for the kids. He did so, as is so often the case, without any awareness of the ways in which those claims are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. (I review the evidence and detail the methodological embarrassments in Chapters 2 and 9 of Singled Out, and I’ve critiqued studies published after Singled Out in Single with Attitude and in many of my blog posts.)

About the claim that married people neglect many of their social ties, Nohr said this: “True, we married folks may call our friends less often, but it is because we are busy with a fairly important task – supporting and raising the next generation.”

Is Nohr right about this?

Let’s go directly to the source, to see what Gerstel and Sarkisian discovered about the generality of the “greedy marriage” effect across people who are and are not parents, people of different ages and social classes and races, and men and women:

“These differences in contacts and assistance emerge even if the married, never married, and previously married are the same age and have the same class position (similar amounts of income and education, and similar employment status).

And the differences between the married and unmarried exist both among parents of young children and among the childless. They also exist among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics. Further, these differences exist for both women and men” (p. 17-18).

In short, married people are not neglecting their friends because they have kids. They are neglecting them because they are married. It’s just what (many) contemporary American married people do.

Other posts, this blog:

(Link): Why Comic Characters and Super Heroes Can’t Marry – Marriage Makes People Selfish

(Link): Learning to See Your Single Neighbor by H. Stallcup

(Link):  A social psychologist reveals why so many marriages are falling apart and how to fix it (and a history of American marriage)

(Link): Why I, Christian Pundit, Post Anonymously (why I don’t post under my real name)