What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse
What if marriage is not the social good that so many believe and want it to be? by M. Catron
This is similar to a study that came out a few years ago that I blogged about, where researches dubbed marriages “Greedy Marriages,” because when people get married, they tend to turn inwards and ignore neighbors and family members (single adults generally do not do this, according to the study).
In America today, it’s easy to believe that marriage is a social good—that our lives and our communities are better when more people get and stay married.
There have, of course, been massive changes to the institution over the past few generations, leading the occasional cultural critic to ask: Is marriage becoming obsolete? But few of these people seem genuinely interested in the answer.
More often the question functions as a kind of rhetorical sleight of hand, a way of stirring up moral panic about changing family values or speculating about whether society has become too cynical for love.
In popular culture, the sentiment still prevails that marriage makes us happy and divorce leaves us lonely, and that never getting married at all is a fundamental failure of belonging.
But speculation about whether or not marriage is obsolete overlooks a more important question: What is lost by making marriage the most central relationship in a culture?
…While marriage is often seen as an essential step in a successful life, the Pew Research Center reports that only about half of Americans over age 18 are married. This is down from 72 percent in 1960. One obvious reason for this shift is that, on average, people are getting married much later in life than they were just a few decades earlier.
[omit stats here showing that more people are refraining from marriage, or are waiting until older to marry]
When people bemoan the demise of marriage, these are the kinds of data they often cite.
It’s true that marriage is not as popular as it was a few generations ago, but Americans still marry more than people in the vast majority of other Western countries, and divorce more than any other country.
…This prestige can make it particularly difficult to think critically about the institution—especially when coupled with the idea that vows might save you from the existential loneliness of being human. When my friends cite the benefits of marriage, they often point to an intangible sense of belonging and security: Being married just “feels different.”
Single people, by contrast, are far more connected to the social world around them. On average, they provide more care for their siblings and aging parents.
They have more friends.
They are more likely to offer help to neighbors and ask for it in return.
This is especially true for those who have always been single, shattering the myth of the spinster cat lady entirely. Single women in particular are more politically engaged—attending rallies and fundraising for causes that are important to them—than married women.
(These trends persist, but are weaker, for single people who were previously married. Cohabiting couples were underrepresented in the data and excluded from the study.)
…Social alienation is so fully integrated into the American ideology of marriage that it’s easy to overlook. Sarkisian and Gerstel point out that modern marriage comes with a cultural presumption of self-sufficiency.
This is reflected in how young adults in the U.S. tend to postpone marriage until they can afford to live alone—rather than with family or roommates—and in the assumption that a married life should be one of total financial independence. …
In his book The All-or-Nothing Marriage, the psychologist Eli Finkel examines how, over the past 200 years, American expectations of marriage have slowly climbed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Just a few generations ago, the ideal marriage was defined by love, cooperation, and a sense of belonging to a family and community. Today’s newlyweds, Finkel argues, want all that and prestige, autonomy, personal growth, and self-expression.
A marriage is supposed to help the individuals within it become the best versions of themselves.
This means that more and more, Americans turn to their spouses for needs they once expected an entire community to fulfill.
….In his book The Marriage-Go-Round, Andrew Cherlin describes the marriage-based family as equivalent to a tall tree: Care and support pass up and down between generations, but more rarely do people branch out to give help or get it from their siblings, aunts and uncles, or cousins.
And in different-sex relationships, especially once children are involved, the work of this care falls disproportionately to women. Without marriage, this care and support could be redistributed across networks of extended family, neighbors, and friends.
….The psychologist Bella DePaulo, who has spent her career studying single people, says she believes there are serious repercussions of putting marriage at the center of one’s life.
“When the prevailing unquestioned narrative maintains that there is only one way to live a good and happy life, too many people end up miserable,” she says.
The stigma attached to divorce or single life can make it difficult to end an unhealthy marriage or choose not to marry at all.
DePaulo thinks people are hungry for a different story.
She argues that an emphasis on marriage means people often overlook other meaningful relationships: deep friendships, roommates, chosen families, and wider networks of kin. These relationships are often important sources of intimacy and support.
..Love is the marrow of life, and yet, so often people attempt to funnel it into the narrow channels prescribed by marriage and the nuclear family.
And though this setup is seen as a cultural norm, (Link): it is not, in reality, the way most Americans are living their lives. The two-parents-plus-kids family represents only 20 percent of households in the U.S.; couples (both married and unmarried) without children are another 25 percent.
But millions of Americans are living alone, with other unmarried adults, or as single parents with children.
It’s worth considering what would happen if they lived in a culture that supported all intimate relationships with the same energy currently devoted to celebrating and supporting marriage.
…Energy spent striving to prop up the insular institution of marriage could instead be spent working to support family stability in whatever form it takes.
Read the rest of that page (Link): here
(Link) Why You Shouldn’t Love Your Kids More Than Your Partner By B. Luscombe
(Link): Love Couldn’t Save Me From Loneliness By M. Puniewska
(Link): The Selfish, Lazy Husband Who Kept Blowing Off His Stressed Wife to Go on World War 2 Reenactments – Male Entitlement in Relationships: Why Women Divorce Men – and Churches and Culture Support This Male Entitlement
(Link): What Two Religions Tell Us About the Modern Dating Crisis (from TIME) (ie, Why Are Conservative Religious Women Not Marrying Even Though They Want to Be Married. Hint: It’s a Demographics Issue)