Family in Lifespan Perspective
9 - Getting Married
Most Americans want to marry,
and most - 90 percent or
more - will. The chances of marrying depend on a
number of factors. The marriage rate, the proportion of
unmarried women aged fifteen and over who get married in a
year, fluctuates considerably over time. Rates have
generally dropping since 1970 in the United States. The lower rates reflect such
things as delayed age at first marriage and increasing
numbers who remain single for one reason or another.
The lower marriage rate, combined with the rates of
divorce and widowhood, means that the married proportion of the
population in any year as declined over the last few
decades. The question of who will and who will
not marry is not merely one of preference. Some people are
involuntarily single because of the marriage squeeze,
which is exacerbated by certain social factors and
conditions that work further to delay marriage or prevent
People marry for different
- The expectation is that you will get married. All
societies have the institution of marriage, and there
are norms and expectations that govern it. Thus,
marriage as an institution is important to the
well-being of the total group.
- Most Americans still value a monogamous union that
results in children and lasts a lifetime. The motivation
to marry is linked to social ideals. At the same time,
it is reasonable to expect marriage to contribute to
your personal fulfillment.
- Most people who get married say that one of the
reasons is to have children.
- Some people view marriage as a practical solution to
various problems and challenges.
get married for a variety of reasons and because their
experiences of marriage are quite diverse, we would expect
to find different types of marriage. Classified by the
nature of the relationship, there are different types of
- Devitalized couples are dissatisfied to some extent
with all of the dimensions of their relationship.
- Financially focused couples agree with each other on
how to manage their money.
- Conflicted couples are dissatisfied on a number of
dimensions, but satisfied on more than a single
- Traditional couples are satisfied with most of the
dimensions of their relationship, but have at least one
source of dissatisfaction.
- Balanced couples are quite satisfied, but have ongoing
problems with financial management.
- Harmonious couples express great satisfaction with
each other and with their relationship.
- Vitalized couples are highly satisfied on all of the
dimensions of their life together.
people marry, they have certain
expectations about what their marriage will involve.
Some of these expectations may be unrealistic. Even when
partners have realistic expectations, they may be
incompatible with each other. However, since a marriage is
a social contract between two people and the governing
body or "State", private expectations may not always be
considered in the standard marriage contract.
also bring to the marriage their private contracts,
which basically involve assumptions that each makes about
the nature of the relationship and their mutual
obligations. When private contracts clash, it is
frequently over role expectations. Couples who want to
avoid problems will find themselves engaging in a process
of negotiation about marital roles. Negotiation is a
process of working through clashing expectations; the
private contracts must become joint knowledge. Not all
clashing expectations are negotiated that easily. It is
important for couples to recognize the existence of
private contracts, the probability of differences in
expectations, and the importance of negotiation for
working through the differences. Instead of waiting until
problems arise to clarify and negotiate private contracts,
a couple can avoid at least some of the problems of
marriage by formulating a marriage contract prior to the
wedding. Instead of a legal contract, some couples write
informal marriage contracts in order to clarify their
contracts are meant to facilitate the ongoing
development of intimacy, not bind partners to an
Singlehood to Marriage
To get married is to enter a new social world, and
there are adjustments to be made.
Commitment is a part of the process
leading up to marriage. Commitment can vary over time,
both in the process of leading up to the decision to wed
and in the marriage itself.
- Jessie Bernard argued that every marriage is really
two marriages: his and hers. In terms of conflict
theory, men and women have different interests. Men seem
to derive more from marriage than do women. It is also
true that women have to make more adjustments in
marriage than do men. Furthermore, women are more likely
than men to have their private contracts violated.
- Adjustment in some marriages is more difficult because
they begin at a disadvantage. For example, if the woman
is pregnant at the time of marriage, there is the
additional adjustment of becoming partners.
- As argued by exchange theorists, if you have not
worked out a marriage contract, you will have to work on
the problems of equity and consensus. A relationship
based on equity and consensus seems to come rather
easily to some couples.
- Many marriages have some tension because of the
relationship between the mother-in-law and
daughter-in-law. In spite of their importance, in-law
relationships have been the focus of little research. In
terms of adjustment, it is important to note that the
in-law relationship is more likely to be a positive than
a negative one. In-laws, then, can help couples in their
- For Americans, commitment in marriage seems to mean
three things: promise, dedication, and attachment.
Commitment means a promise of dedication to a
relationship in which there is an emotional attachment
to another person who has made the same promise.
- Commitment is a valuable resource in marriage. Those
who are committed to their spouses as person have fewer
marriage problems, express their love for their mates
more often, and have higher levels of marital
satisfaction. Commitment also gives the partners a sense
of security, and has benefits that go beyond enriching
the marital relationship.
- Commitment can change. One way to build commitment is
to make sure that each partner feels a sense of equity
in the relationship. Commitment also grows as people’s
satisfaction with their relationship increases. Finally,
commitment can be built by planning shared activities
that will be gratifying to both partners.
Some Legal Aspects of
Marriage - Not only is marriage a set of
intimate and personal promises, it is a legal entity.
The state has a legal stake in marriage and family since
it serves the interests of society to maintain some
level of control over who in our society can marry. The
selection of one's mate, the rearing of one's children,
the protection of and distribution of personal property,
and the decision to end a marriage are NOT strictly
personal issues, but are also matters pertaining to the
social contract of marriage.
Who can marry? Eligibility
is based on:
of state eligibility standards are to ensure the
legitimization of children (clearly defining parental responsibilities
so the state doesn't have to impose itself), protection of
spouse from exploitation (the very young or mentally ill
may not be cognitively or physically mature/healthy enough
to make choices on their own behalf). Further, the
protection of property rights figure into marriage
law. The restriction of sexual activity to persons
who are experienced and wise enough to defend their own
interests reduces exploitation and is related to the
state's need to prohibit incest. Finally, the state is
very interested in making sure no one is married to more
than one person at a time (prohibition of bigamy).
- Age - a person must be of legal age (21 years of age
in most states) before they may marry without permission
from their legal guardian, and above some age (16 or
older in most states) before they are permitted to marry
- Gender - currently there are no state statues
permitting persons to marry others of the same gender.
- Health - some illnesses preclude legal marriage,
particularly in the area of mental illness.
- Kinship to prospective spouse - laws of consanguinity
deny marriage to blood relatives closer than 2nd
- Requirements are, in addition to age, gender, health,
and kinship requirements : - a license and a state
sanctioned public ceremony (a wedding).
In the world's cultures
there have been many forms of marriage, and kinship patterns.
Once married, couples
enter into their culture's kinship pattern that will track family generations. All cultures do
this for obvious reasons - humans desire to know their
family roots - to maintain family responsibility and to be
able to derive meaning about their place in the world and
their respective destinies. In cultures with
Monogamous or Polygynous dominate marriage forms, a Patrilineal form of kinship is utilized
where wives and children take on the husband/father's
family name. This doesn't shut out the mother's side
of the family completely, but it does favor the male side
of society. To defend against the inherent sexism
and to help ensure the maternal side of identity of
children, women sometimes hyphenate their names upon
marriage (e.g., Mary Jones becomes Mary Jones-Smith upon
marriage). Their children will be the Smith kids,
but even so - in naming children, parents sometimes work
maternal names into the middle names of their
children. I have a friend - Russ Burton, whose
actual name is Russell Daniel Patrick Burton III - packing
a lot of family history into his identity.
Sometimes, parents will give the maternal last name to the
child's middle name (for example, if John Jones and
Mary Clark marry and have a male child, they might name
him John Clark Jones). The couple has to take up residence
somewhere. In the western world, monogamous couples
will desire to seek residence by themselves - moving into
a new residence (neolocal
For financial reasons, this is not always feasible, and
early on in the 20th century couples often moved in with
their parents (matrilocal residence if they lived with her
mother and father - patrilocal residence if they moved in
with his father and mother).
- Monogamy simply means marriage to one person at a
- Polygamy means a plurality of spouses.
- Included here are Polyandry (1 wife + more than 1
- Polygyny (1 husband + more than 1 wife)
- Group Marriage is rare in the world's cultures and
usually describes what is sounds like it does.
- The most popular form - the form that is most often
chosen by the people of the world is Monogamy, even in
those cultures that still allow Polygyny to occur, most
husbands of the world either cannot afford more than one
wife or otherwise choose only one wife at a time.
The Social Meaning of Marriage
From the state's point of
view, the meaning of marriage is to legitimize children
and track property disposition. Marriage makes
institutional provisions for a preferred method of
producing and nurturing children, with legitimating sexual
activity and living together is a latent (secondary)
function of marriage. From a cultural perspective, marriage is seen as a
permanent commitment and has always been viewed as long term, more or less
permanent. Even though we have divorce as an option
that is frequently exercised, hardly anyone marries with
the intention of ending the marriage before widowhood. At
the turn of the century, when the divorce rate was very
low, individuals usually married later in life, when the
financial means to fund a family had been more or less
established. Later on in the century, individuals may have
been a little less prepared for marriage - both
emotionally and financially.
In addition to a
permanent status, marriage
also has a spiritual, sacred dimension - marriage as a holy
sacrament. While the state makes no claim to the
religious side of marriage, many in our culture do so - we
empower clergy to perform marriage ceremonies which often
take place in a church, chapel, synagogue or other holy
place. The blessing of God are requested and candles
are lit, prayers are made, and religious music is played.
The public dimension of marriage is also
important. The reason why marriages are most often
performed in public places is a sociological one.
The public ceremony is an announcement to society that the
couple being wed are to be supported in their attempt to
make a life together. By acknowledging their
wedding, society is condoning the marriage and offering
its protection, as if to say "these two people are married
and everyone should do what they can to keep them
After the ceremony, the
couple begins their married life together and, as it
happens, marriage has stages of development.
The first stage is the honeymoon period, which is essentially the
first year of marriage and lasts roughly until children
come. In many ways, the couple is getting used to each
other and attempting to reconcile their expectations to
the reality of their lives.
During this stage and
just after, a dark stage - disillusionment and regrets - make begin, and is
characterized by personal conflict, doubts about the
decision to marry, and ambivalence about the marriage,
feelings of being cornered or trapped. For the marriage to
continue happily, each partner must somehow work through
their disappointments. If successfully navigated,
this stage gives way to accommodation,
where partners adjust expectations for the relationship to
realistic levels and work to rediscover the reasons for
the marriage in the first place.
Most married couples experience first-year
changes, due to alterations in people’s feelings.
Behavior and activities also tend to change. The amount of
time spouses spend talking with each other declines
slightly. More importantly, there is a significant decline
in behavior that reflects affection. In other words, by
the end of the first year, couples are well on their way
to a realistic mode of living together.
The Unique Role of Sex in
Marriage - Sex is the
glue that holds a relationship together. How much "glue"
the two of you need is not a pre-set amount -- that is up
to you. But if your sexual life is working well, then
you'll feel better about yourself and you'll feel
healthier. - Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Marital sex may be more
complex than non-marital sex because of the degree of
personal involvement in the other person. There is
much more to lose if sex in marriage is unsatisfying.
People have repeatedly stated that the more intimate and
emotionally meaningful the marriage relationship - the
more deeply satisfying the sex.
There are some
Prerequisites for Sexual Compatibility in marriage.
Understanding one's own sexuality requires thinking
through any conflict between one's sexual feelings and
one's upbringing, learning how one's body and mind react
to sexual stimuli, and experiencing a somewhat wider
variety of sexual stimuli from which to select favorites.
Most importantly, communicating with each other about sex
- taking time to understand what each other wants,
desires, and needs from the sexual part of the
relationship - can become a large part of the solution to
any aspect of intimacy.
By keeping one's real
thoughts about sex only to oneself, the chances of having
a completely satisfying sexual deal are left to luck and
the mind reading capability of one's partner. Each person
will be different and may not be consistent in sexuality
- sex in the mornings versus the evenings, need for
feedback, being aware of the other persons verbal and
nonverbal cues, mood, environmental factors.
Having realistic expectations is really the only way
ensure healthy sex lives, and to have well grounded
expectations is to have some experiences with one's
partner. Even the initiation of sex can be
problematic if a couple doesn't have a set of signals with
which they can communicate to each other. Being aware of
our partner's desires, making needed adjustments when
feasible and desirable, and planning our sex life rather
than depending on spontaneous sexual encounters. Requires
thought, time and effort.
Know this: for a
fulfilling sex life, it is not orgasms that count as much
as intimacy. Researchers have found sexual
satisfaction in marriage follows a curvilinear form.
This doesn't have to be
the case. Typically, sex and marriage in the first few
years is relatively carefree, like the couple
themselves. In those middle years, children have
come along, work, debt, worry all tend to crowd in on the
marriage relationship. After the children leave home
in the later years, and work is coming to an end, couples
can enter a time where their relationship can be more
important. By saving time each day, week or
month for the marriage itself, a couple can flatten this
curve a little and have satisfying sex all along the life
course. It is interesting that women who have reared
their children and moved in to mid-life often are able to
enjoy sex more and are willing to participate more
Styles of Marriage refers to the way marriage
partners perceive and treat each other. Traditional
marriage has the husband/father as breadwinner while the
wife/mother is the homemaker, sort of a 1950s family
comedy type arrangement. Life in the 21st century
poses different demands on men and women.
Egalitarian = contemporary views of sex role equality is
the modern ideal.
A less simplistic view
comes from Cuber & Haroff's studies of couples, who
had been married at least 10 years. They were attempting
to identify "types" of marital styles that have developed
in American Culture:
It is quite possible that
marriages move back and forth between one or more of these
"types" - especially since the study in which the types
were discovered only looked at marriage from one point of
time for each couple. It is also quite possible that the
marriage partners may have different conceptions of the
- Conflict-Habituated marriages are characterized
by constant disagreement and quarreling. Such couples
thrive on conflict and verbal skirmishes. The
Stimulation provided by fighting holds the marriage
together. Few Marriages were found to be of this type.
- Devitalized marriages - by far the largest
part of the sample and most common type of marriage
after 10 years. The once close and loving relationship
has drifted into an emotional divorce and empty
marriage. The couple is indifferent to each other, but
manage to stay together. Few disagreements due to few
actual conversations. Many may feel that it is natural
for marriages to become dull. Others feel that the
relationship is better than none at all, while still
others feel a need to remain married to fulfill some
social or personal responsibility. It is possible that
these folks are just in a mid-life slump.
- Passive-Congenial marriages may have been dull
from the start. There is no sense of loss of an exciting
and satisfying relationship because there never was the
feeling of possession of one. These are marriages of
convenience, the couple remaining together because of
- Vital Marriages are the ideal type of
warm, loving relationships where the partners are
interested in each other and committed to each other and
the marriage. There is room for autonomy and personal
growth for each partner, as well as a fair amount of
consideration of the other person in making personal
decisions. Conflicts are rare and low key when present.
Such a couple has common goals and are willing to work
to maintain a high sense of the partnership.
- Total marriages are MORE vital than vital ones.
These people cannot think of anything but the other
person. They may work together, as in a family business,
and are more integrated.
Marital Happiness and
Most people marry with
the hope and expectation of being happy - more or less -
forever. Is eternal marital bliss possible?
There are some clues to
the secret of marital happiness over the life course Terms
such as marital happiness, marital satisfaction, and
marital adjustment are used interchangeably. Most couples
find that marital satisfaction tends to sag a little
during the period from the birth of the first child to the
launching of the last one. Measurement of marital
happiness and satisfaction section is skipped here, except
to note that there are problems here. One must be very
cautious in interpreting findings from this research. The
Importance of communication cannot be overemphasized.
Marriage Enrichment is a Program (there are
several) usually brought to the public through churches or
other public institutions. Marriage Enrichment is
primarily for untroubled, relatively happy couples who
want to increase the net satisfaction they experience from
their marriage. Communication exercises are performed, eye
gazing, and awareness heightening factoids are presented.
M.E. provides a preventative and growth producing function
to already well functioned marriages.
Alternative Marriage Patterns - Note About Normality: The only way to talk
about "normal" behavior or "normal" activities that makes
sense is to refer to Statistical Normality - What "most"
people" do, What Most think.
Of course it is possible
to think of moral and ethical belief systems that guide
our behavior and thinking; however, these are very private
and very personal and do not necessarily include anyone
but ourselves. In the sense of statistics - most people -
96% - find themselves in a long term, heterosexual, one
man, one woman relationship. There have always been those
in our society who find ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES more
appealing than the normal way of living. There have always
been those who choose homosexual relationships, group or
communal relationships, or some other approach. Recently,
given the global transition we seem to be going through,
such "fringe" relationships seem to get more print space,
or headlines, than in the past. So they seem more
prevalent. They are probably more accepted today, just as
cohabitating couples are more accepted than in the past.
- Open Marriages - the O'Neills wrote a book in 1972 -
based on their experiences living an open marriage. By
this they meant that their personal relationship could
be treasured and special even though they shared their
lives with others - married or not. In their view, one
person could be better able to meet the other's
emotional, social, economic, and sexual needs if they
were free to explore these same aspects of life with
others. Quickly, Open Marriage came to be known as a
"sexually open one". The O'Neills divorced in 1975 - and
wrote book about the failure of the open marriage
concept in their case.
- Gay Marriage - Among homosexual men and women, long
term relationships can become just as stable and
committed as heterosexual ones. That is - "gays" are
just as likely to have relationships that succeed fail
as are 'straights". There was a time prior to the 1980s
that male homosexuals appeared to be quite promiscuous,
with sex partners running into double digits. However,
it is a statistical fact that today homosexuals who are
interested in long term relationships are just as likely
to make such a relationship work as are heterosexuals
with the same interests. Just as likely - promiscuous
heterosexuals are just as likely as homosexuals who are
promiscuous to fail at relationships over time.
- Communal Marriages - another alternative form is the
commune. Communal living arrangements come in a variety
of forms. There are no organized group marriages in the
U.S. - where the male group "marries" the female group.
Almost all communes are heterosexual in nature and
monogamous. In the 1960's and 70's some "family groups"
were formed - such as the Merry Pranksters and the
Family Dog in San Francisco. These arrangements lasted
only a few years and were organized around the drugs and
psychedelic music subculture. Today most communes share
in the joined labor and economic efforts of the members.
Childcare is shared, each person works outside the group
and contributes paychecks to the "family income". Many
of these groups have a religious orientation as well,
ranging from fundamentalist Christians to Buddhist and
Hindu oriented faiths. There are group sings and prayer
sessions as well.