A social psychologist reveals why so many marriages are falling apart and how to fix it (and a history of American marriage)
Link to the article is farther below.
The article I am linking to below details how modern Americans put way too many expectations on marriage to meet their emotional needs, and when marriage inevitably fails at this, they often divorce.
Evangelicals, Baptists, and other types of Christians also put way too much emphasis on marriage to meet their needs. Not that I am against people getting their needs met, but it seems to me too many people expect marriage to be their end-all, be-all fount of happiness in life, which is setting them up for disappointment.
The emphasis on marriage by Christians is damaging not only for married people, but also to adult singles and the church at large.
Christians who are married with kids tend to focus all their time and energy on their nuclear family, and they sometimes use their family as an excuse to blow off tasks at church. I have blogged about that before, like in this post: (Link): Do You Rate Your Family Too High? (Christians Who Idolize the Family) (article).
You cannot get all your emotional needs met in a marriage, but a lot of people act like marriage should be able to perform this function.
Married women will blow off and ignore their single lady friends once they are married (or even in the dating stage of a relationship – I have blogged about that before (Link): here). Not only is this terribly unfair to adult singles, but it can leave the married person very alone if or when their spouse comes down with dementia or dies from a heart attack, old age, or an auto accident.
I’ve seen letters from widowed men who write to advice columnists who say they are incredibly lonely since their wife died – they have no social network to lean on, and their married friends no longer invite them over to dinners.
This is what happens when you put all your “friendship eggs” in one basket, the marriage basket. If you look to your spouse to meet all your needs, you will be up the creek without a paddle if he (or she) divorces you or dies.
It’s imperative you keep up a social life outside your marriage. So, instead of blowing off unmarried lady friends, or keeping them at arm’s length because you believe they are a potential mistress, you need to be spending time with unmarried women, inviting them out to the movies, over for tea, whatever.
- by Jessica Orwig
Marriage has always been a gamble, but the modern game is harder and with higher stakes than ever before.
- ….Marriages in the US are more challenging today than at any other time in our country’s history.
The suffocation of marriage
The simple answer is that people today expect more out of their marriage. If these higher expectations are not met, it can suffocate a marriage to the point of destroying it.
The 3 models of marriage
Finkel, in an opinion article in (Link): The New York Times summarizing their latest paper on this model, discusses the three distinct models of marriage that relationship psychologists refer to:
- institutional marriage (from the nation’s founding until 1850)
- companionate marriage (from 1851 to 1965)
- self-expressive marriage (from 1965 onward)
- Before 1850, people were hardly walking down the aisle for love — the point of marriage was mostly for food production, shelter, and protection from violence.
People were often satisfied if they felt any emotional connection to their spouse at all, Finkel wrote.
By the turn of the 20th century, however, those norms changed quickly when an increasing number of people left the farm to live and work in the city for higher pay and fewer hours.
With the luxury of more free time, Americans focused on what they wanted in a lifelong partner, namely companionship and love. But the counter-cultural attitude of the 1960s led Americans to think of marriage as an option instead of an essential step in life.
This leads us to today’s model, self-expressive marriage, wherein the average modern, married American is looking not only for love from their spouse but for a sense of personal fulfillment.
Finkel writes that this era’s marriage ideal can be expressed in the simple quote “You make me want to be a better man,” from James L. Brooks’ 1997 film “As Good as It Gets.”
These changes to marital expectations have been a mixed bag, Finkel argues.
“As Americans have increasingly looked to their marriage to help them meet idiosyncratic, self-expressive needs, the proportion of marriages that fall short of their expectations has grown, which has increased rates of marital dissatisfaction,” (Link): Finkel’s team writes, in their latest paper.
On the other hand, “those marriages that succeed in meeting these needs are particularly fulfilling, more so than the best marriages in earlier eras.”
The key to a successful marriage
- So, what’s the key to a successful, flourishing marriage?
- Finkel and his colleagues describe (Link): three general options:
- Don’t look to your marriage alone for personal fulfillment. In addition to your spouse, use all resources available to you including friends, hobbies, and work.
- If you want a lot from your marriage, then you have to give a lot, meaning that to meet their high expectations, couples must invest more time and psychological resources into their marriage.
- And if neither of those options sound good, perhaps it’s time to ask less of the marriage and adjust high expectations for personal fulfillment and self discovery.
(Link): “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” – one of the most excellent Christian rebuttals I have seen against the Christian idolatry of marriage and natalism, and in support of adult singleness and celibacy – from CBE’s site
(Link): How the Sexual Revolution Ruined Friendship – Also: If Christians Truly Believed in Celibacy and Virginity, they would stop adhering to certain sexual and gender stereotypes that work against both