Courtship, Marriage and
Some people spend their lives in only two families – the one into which they are born (their family of origin) and the one formed by marriage. Others have experience with a much larger number of families. Intimacy is one of our fundamental needs and the source of much of our well being. Intimacy involves love, affection, caring, and deep attachment to another person. The major theme of the textbook and the course is understanding and enhancing the quality of our intimate relationships. There are some academic reasons for studying mate selection, love, marriage and family life, but they almost always have, at their core, the fundamental welfare of family life. In this course, we will concentrate on the following reasons for the course:
These are dynamic, sensitive topics. For example, we will discuss sexuality, intimacy and parenting issues, not because they are titillating, but because they are important! We will speak of sexually transmitted diseases, so that you might able to save your own life someday, or the lives of people you touch with your daily activities. We will discuss appropriate parenting, not in an effort to control individual parent behavior, but because harm can be done to future generations by ignorance. It is safe to say that among the goals everyone sets for themselves, being happy is right up there at the top. Nothing makes people sadder than failed relationships with their children, spouse, or relatives. This course is all about how to succeed in close relationships with others. We are going to investigate what we know about:
Social Context: A changing and
People are suspicious of change
(often for good reason), and every so often, groups of
individuals have attempted to reformulate the family in Utopian terms, such as the
They represented an attempt to re-establish standard values at a time
of change and scandal in society of their time. There were many
such groups in our history - one might even include the Pilgrims who
came to the new world from Europe. While there is no ideal
family life that will satisfy everyone, people sometimes experiment to
try to forge a different approach to family. These would be attempts to
portray an ideal community. Utopian
writers have had
varying notions of the ideal family. One character in Huxley’s Brave
New World depicts the family as the source of virtually all human
nuclear family continued, but women had a far different position than
they had during the Victorian age in which he wrote.
Those who have actually
established Utopian communities have also given a variety of answers as
to the best form of marriage and family life. The Shakers
enormously popular for a period of time in the late 1700s, despite
their adherence to strict celibacy, and separation of men and women .
Obviously, no single
arrangement fulfills the needs of every individual; each arrangement
works for some people and frustrates others. One concept that
runs through all these experimental groups is the idea that the family
is central to all other aspects of our society. It is the social
institution in any society on which the entity of the social experience
Marriage and Family in Transition - Aside from these Utopian ideals, which tend to be abrupt departures from the norm, there are other, more gradual changes in family forms and family life. Social scientists are engaged in an intense debate about what Americans need in the way of marriage and family life. The debate is often framed in terms of the liberal versus the conservative view of marriage and family, but this a false dichotomy.
While none of these utopian family forms has stood the test of time, over the century there have been changes in traditional family arrangements. If we define a traditional family as one that stays intact except for death and is composed of an employed father, a stay-at-home mother, and children, then it is clear that this is now the choice of a minority of Americans. In defense of marriage and the family, despite the high (though not increasing) rate of marital breakup, married people continue to be happier and healthier than the unmarried. People continue to put a high value on marriage and family life. A 2001 Harris poll of adults reported that 96 percent felt good about relations with their family and 61 percent felt good about their marriage.
Familism, as opposed to individualism, places a value on family living instead of personal interest. Our society ostensibly reveres family as a sacred entity. On the other hand, we are a nation that is founded on the rights of individuals. Expressive individualism has been particularly strong in the past few decades. In sum, Americans value marriage and family life, but are struggling between familial and individualistic values. For the majority who opt for marriage and family, and to the extent that our expressive individualistic values prevail, people will enter and remain in a marriage only as long as it is perceived to be personally beneficial to them. Regardless, marriage is still an experience that enhances many people’s general sense of well being. The most important factor is liking one’s spouse. Next to liking and being friends with one’s spouse, people spoke about the importance of commitment.
roles and the
Man-Woman Crisis. Early on, even before our society got started,
were socialized into very strict gender roles where boys paid
attention to masculine
girls were pointed towards feminine activities. Traditional masculine
behavior consisted of
a constellation of
(goal oriented) characteristics (competition, aggression,
assertiveness). Traditional feminine behavior consisted of a collection
characteristics (nurturance, compassion, affection, and sensitivity to
the needs of others. Anthropologists would insist that this strict
adherence to gender specific traits was a way to preserve societies.
That used to be more true that it might be today. Modern advances of the information age, coupled with a distinct change in our economy, have torn down the social reasons for maintaining such a division of the genders, leaving only the sociocultural desire to be that way. The result is that people are a bit confused about the way to go about initiating and maintaining relationships. In the past, males would do the courting, females would receive the courting. During courtship, boys would show off feats of masculinity that would
Changing Marital Expectations
the Social Functions of
The point here is that all seven functions are as important to individual development today as they ever were. And many children grow up in families without a few or all of the functions present. It is possible, and advisable, to retain all seven functions in one family. The greater the number of reasons one has to be married and stay married, the greater the probability one will get married and stay that way. One school of thought suggests that as the family lost or delegated its functions away to other social institutions, the remaining functions became much more important. Because it is the main, and often the only, remaining function in the minds of young people on the verge of marriage, love increases in importance as the other functions are lost to official agencies and the like. Consequently, marriages can more easily fail when love wanes a little and there is nothing to bind the family together. This is known as dependence on romantic love.
Dual-Career Marriages. The gender roles of the past were probably based on Father working outside/Mother working inside the home. Today - many women have options for education and career that have never before been afforded them. On the other hand, many (most) mothers have to work to support their families (as do fathers). The result is a family where all the adults work, leaving little time to meet the constant needs of children.
Increasing Incidence of Divorce. Due primarily to the increased economic progress of women as a group. The law also has changed making divorce more affordable in the short term.
Speaking only about recent marriages (1980-1991)
Reduced role of parents in childbearing. As more parents work outside the home, child rearing is increasingly performed by child care workers (day care, baby sitters, nannies) and by the children themselves. Latchkey kids run the risk of developing in isolation and loneliness. Today's parents are "prepared to make fewer sacrifices for their children than did parents in the past." This attitude is manifesting itself in many ways:
Single Parent Families - One of the primary causes of crime is poverty. The single most devastating economic event in the lives of children today is the loss of one of the wage earners - probably the father. Single parent mothers and their children suffer a 50-70% decrease in their overall standard of living upon the divorce of the parents. Further 50% of all moneys awarded to children in custody court are NEVER paid by delinquent fathers, even with several programs in place that track delinquent, or deadbeat dads.
Family Mobility - Your generation will be the new nomads. Already families move once every five years or so on the average. The idea of growing up on the same street as all one's friends is a movie cliché today. By moving so often, friendships are disconnected, isolation mounts, family members become rootless. This will only increase. It is an established fact the one of the primary Correlated Factors of teenage suicide rates is the "rootlessness factor". In areas of the country where the "new arrival rate" is high, so is the suicide rate for teenagers.
Other important changes have been occurring in intimate relationships in recent years.
Myths about Family Life
1. We've lost the extended family: Never had it to begin with. History, rather than romantic ideals, shows us that the American family has always sought to move out on it's own. Quite often, this attempt to achieve autonomy is mediated by competing needs of older and younger generations.Values we hold dear to our hearts often exist because of the "hidden agendas" of our society. It is important for each of us to examine our values closely.
2. People marry because they love each other: Love is the name we give for all the feelings and emotions surrounding early courtship and the biological, physiological and sociological needs we have to mate and have children.
3. Having children increases marital satisfaction: While children may enhance life satisfaction in general, and certainly places us in a new target population for media, Satisfaction with the marriage itself actually declines with the birth of the first child among most new parents. Studies show that marital satisfaction continues to decline until the last born child enters late adolescence.
4. A good sex life is the best predictor of marital satisfaction: Among most healthy Americans, a good sexual relationship in marriage is an indication of a good marital relationship - complete with intimacy and caring and nurturance. In other words, good sex is indicative of a good marriage. A poor sexual relationship indicates an ineffective communication pattern in the couple.
5. Half of all marriages end in divorce: Depends on how one counts - this is true of new marriages (for folks married from 1970 onward).
6. The danger of myths: Many of the common beliefs about marriage are flat wrong. Myths about marriage (and any other social institution) serve the purposes of the larger society, but often do not serve the purposes of individuals.
What do Healthy Marriage have in common?
Asked of 351 long term married couples (15 years or more): 15% said they were unhappy (one or both partners.) BUT STAYED TOGETHER OUT OF A SENSE OF DUTY (RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, OR FAMILY TRADITION). The happy group reports these reasons for staying married.
A theory is an explanation of the way things are. Social scientists use theories not only to explain but also to guide research.
Four theories are used in the Courtship, Marriage and the Family course: