7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 8: Choosing a Life Partner (Mate Selection)

The Institution of Marriage and Family holds all of the rules and guidelines by which we pair off, support each other for a lifetime, have and rear children through to adulthood. The process of institutionalization of behaviors and thinking about marriage and family emerges through trial and error methods.  In Darwinian terms - institutions evolve out of social living - resulting in the survival of the fittest, most tenable methods for satisfying social and individual needs. For example, we needed a process of mate selection to propagate society.  Dating evolved as part of that process. Pairing off begins as a way for young people to develop and explore their abilities as a suitable "love interests", to engage the object of their hearts, and to have fun. Though partially unaware of the true meaning of the process, these adolescents will, in time, use dating as a way sort through the "pool of eligibles" to find the right person with whom they will have a family.

In times past, when love and marriage were not so inextricably tied together, mate selection was seen as too important a task to be left up to young people. Marriages would cement bonds between families with common economic interests. As property became more important, marriages were seen as a way to cement loyalties between people not tied by blood relation. It is more difficult to make war on your relations. Marriage became an arranged situation to secure these purposes. Thus, we have all the wonderful stories of monarchs marrying off their sons in prearranged agreements to the daughters of other monarchs. The practice of arranged marriage has been very common throughout human history. Parents or so-called matchmakers may arrange the marriage of two young people who have had little or no contact with each other.

Romanticism later is emphasized as nationalism becomes less important, and society becomes more capitalistic and highly mobile. Children are encouraged to choose their own mates here (within limits). Dating emerges as a device by which youngsters may get to know a wide variety of potential mates in a relative hurry. This began when young people started moving to the cities and finding opportunities to get to know each other through social means. Society also had to become more affluent to offer children the opportunity to choose without endangering carefully laid parental designs on their offspring. As institutionalization occurs, spontaneous and experimental behaviors are replaced with more regulated, patterned behavior - which is the case for dating. While always evolving, dating is probably here to stay. Our society has institutionalized roles for people to play while dating.  Dating roles are sets of behavioral expectations which limit expression of personal eccentricity in favor of normally recognized behaviors. Our personalities are modified to fit the expectation, rather than being allowed to freely be expressed.

By and large, social roles are strictly adhered to: For example: A young dating couple have fun, explore each other's strengths and weaknesses, and generally get to know each other. They do all this behind a rather rigid set of roles. After several dates, they decide they must be in love. They feel passionately about each other. They also enjoy their youth. Now suppose they marry. What would happen, if college sweethearts, immersed in university life (frat parties, casual and revealing dress codes, spontaneous make-out sessions) eventually marry. The wife continues to drink heavily at company parties, wear short skirts, tube tops, no stockings, and smooches on her hubby in front of his colleagues. He continued to develop into a business and family man. She remained the college girl. Failure to adopt the spouse role results in failure of the marriage.
The ideal in most modern societies is for people to select their own life partners. Few of us are likely to be persuaded that arranged marriages are better than those secured through individual choice.  There are a variety of qualities that people desire in a life partner.  In terms of qualities desired in a life partner, modern men and women place a high value on mutual attraction and love, education and intelligence, sociability, and good looks; and both men and women placed a lower value on refinement, neatness, and chastity. The tendency for men to want younger, good-looking women and for women to want men who are good providers seems to be universal.

Exchange theorists argue that there is a sense in which we can talk about mate selection as a process of exchange in which people seek equity. Even though we do not consciously think in terms of bargaining and exchange, there are always assumptions about what each mate will give and what each will receive. It is interesting to ponder how many marriages begin with differing expectations on the part of the partners.

Socialization for later marriage
Most of us emerge from adolescence with a positive marriage orientation - due to:

  • the romantic love complex of: norms emphasizing romantic love and attachment as the only basis for a lifetime commitment. marriage being the only legally supported way of publicly announcing romantic interest & exclusivity.
  • a preponderance of Marriage-like experiences: anticipatory socialization behavior of same-sex friends who date dating experiences / going steady / playing house. cohabitation
  • During these experiences adolescents learn social skills on an intimate level - the proper interaction habits to learn, such as "guys pay - girls don't pay!"
  • 83% of men and 77% of women cite love as the reason they married the person the did
  • 23% of married persons say they would not have married the person they did of they could do it over again - but almost all say they always expected to marry someone.
The Search for a Mate
In preparation for marriage, the more successful marriages have common elements.
    1. personal readiness - the individual has studied the spouse role and practiced the behaviors in it. -disengaging from close relationships that might interfere with commitment to a marital relationship -accommodating one's premarital lifestyle and patterns of gratification to the new marital relationship
    2. Financial adequacy is assured - marriage costs a lot of money, particularly if children are part of the deal. In addition to maturity factors, the main reason for failure of very young marriage is financial in nature.
Theoretically, there are millions of people you might marry, but realistically, there are relatively few.  Life partner selection may be viewed as a filtering process, in which homogamy is emphasized: marriage between two people who are similar in social and demographic characteristics, such as age, race, ethnicity, and religion. Some social scientists use the term assortative mating, which is a broader concept that refers to marriage between two people who are similar on one or more characteristics.

Theories of Mate Selection: The Stimulus - Value - Role Theory
(Murstein), also known as the Filtering Model of Mate Selection:

Proximity Filter - Exposure to the Pool of Eligible mates
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Stimulus Filter - Physical/Personal Attractiveness Filter
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Value Filter - Comparison/Similarity Filter
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Role Filter - Compatibility Filter
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This theory suggests that, through the process of Assortative Dating, we begin to narrow the field of suitable partners from many to one. We do this by submitting dates to a series of tests.  Assortative mating stresses the fact that mate selection is nonrandom. Hypergamy refers to marriage with someone who is from a higher socioeconomic background; in other words, hypergamy is a particular kind of heterogamy.   Age is the most prominent factor along which we sort people out in life partner selection. Age homogamy has been increasing since the beginning of the 20th century.  Over time, ethnic background has become less a criterion of selection.  Race imposes more constraints than ethnic background on our marital choices. As conflict theorists point out, a good deal of the competition for valued resources takes place along racial lines in the United States; consequently, we would not expect racial boundaries to be often crossed in marriage. Still, some intermarriage occurs.  Since the 1920s, the number of Protestant-Catholic marriages has increased dramatically, but nevertheless, religion has been and remains a strong homogamous factor. The highest rate of intermarriage may be among American Jews. Research shows that religious homogamy tends to increase both marital satisfaction and marital stability.

Men tend to marry women who are either at or somewhat below their own educational level. Educational homogamy is fairly strong and has increased over time in the United States.  Some scholars have argued that people marry those who will compliment their own personality. Spouses tend to be more like than unlike each other in their personalities.  The tendency to select a life partner who is similar to you is so strong that one person suggested we use the term assortative narcissism.

The Clockspring Theory - love develops between two people as their relationship progresses through a series of related and mutually reinforcing stages.  Love begins with:

Pairing Off -
We are Initiated into Dating as preparation for marriage:

  • Even in preschool we see marriage as heterosexual. we pay attention to what mommies and daddies do.
  • Marriage is taught to us as an attractive, personalized, and desirable status.
  • We are quickly pushed together in mixed sex play
  • we develop crushes (these are encouraged), and have imaginary steadies.
  • n adolescence we learn the cues that will serve us later in solving our identity crisis.
What factors are at work in assortative mating?
  • One factor is propinquity. To a large extent, propinquity reflects social class differences.
  • We tend to be attracted to those who are like us, but this is not necessarily the same as narcissism. Some people cross such social boundaries as class, race, nationality, and ethnicity.
  • There is still the factor of one’s family reaction to the selection of a mate. According to systems theorists, one task is to develop your individuality while remaining a part of your family of origin. When you marry, you do not just marry an individual; you marry into family.
  From Assortative/Casual to Serious/Exclusive Dating
Here more investment is put into the relationship - matched in equal parts by each partner. Friends who are not in serious relationships tend to be pushed away, replaced by "couples" who will do "couples" things recreationally. We have couples over for dinner parties, instead of catching a buzz with our friends down at the tavern. Engagement and/or Cohabitation fits here as a period of extended exclusivity. Exclusivity gives time to agree on and work out any fundamental living arrangements - finances, place of residence, spending patterns and provides time to re-examine the goals and means of the relationship. Exclusive dating allows each other's families time to adjust to the eventual marriage of the two and provides time to make a final check of each other in terms of common interests, values, goals, comfort in each other's company. it also provides time to work out final details of the wedding.

There are various liabilities and assets for marital satisfaction that can be divided into those of the context of the situation, individual factors, and couple characteristics. Three predictors are timing, equity, and communication.
  • Timing refers to how long a couple has known and dated each other, age at marriage, and general readiness.
  • Problems of equity may come up after marriage even when they did not exist before the marriage. These problems may also arise in such areas as home responsibilities and emotional support.
  • One of the most important factors in marriage is the pattern of communication. The ability to talk over problems and resolve differences effectively is particularly important. Effective communication and similarity tend to go together.
As in the case of assortative mating, a good many other factors go into a satisfying marriage. Problems can arise from a great many things, ranging from dissimilar attitudes to incompatible body clocks. One effort to determine which factors are most critical is PREPARE, an instrument devised by Dr. David Olson and his colleagues to predict marital success among those contemplating marriage. PREPARE measures eleven different areas: the extent to which the couple has realistic expectations, personality issues, communication, conflict resolution, management of finances, leisure activities, the sexual relationship, children and marriage, family and friends, equalitarian roles, and religious orientation.

Getting Married - Requirements for a Wedding include:

  • a marriage license
  • a wedding ceremony performed by a person legally permitted to so, with each person signifying his or her consent to the marriage.
  • Absence of duress, coercion, or undue influence on either party.
  • two witnesses of legal age to verify the event
  • Signatures on the license of the couple, the witnesses, and the official presiding at the ceremony. - recording of the event at the state capital
Legal Assumptions of Marriage:
A marriage contract is different from other legal contracts, in that parties do not usually draw up terms of agreement themselves. Contract provisions are finely printed by the state, and alteration of the contract must be state approved there are age requirements.
The Legal Qualifications for a valid marriage:
  • marital status - neither person can be currently married or separated.
  • age - marriage without parental consent is the voting age in any state. With parental consent - as early as 13 years of age in some states.
  • relationship (kin) - the law of consanguinity disallows marriage between blood relatives (2nd cousins may marry in some states). Law of marital affinity - forbids marriage of non-blood, but fairly close relatives.
  • waiting periods - last chance to reconsider - usually three days between application for license and actual legal ceremony.
Property Rights and marriage - Community Property is becoming the rule in the U.S. Community property states require all property accruing from the labor of either spouse during the marriage to belong to the marriage (belongs equally to both). Inclusive is all wages, salaries, and income from property, or investments. The benefit of community property laws is for the spouse who does not work outside the home - usually the wife.  Separate Property means that which was acquired before the marriage received during the marriage by one spouse only as a gift, or inheritance can become community property if commingled with the marriage's goods. Separate property states are few anymore but require that all income property is retained by the acquiring spouse. Usually some alimony rule is in effect., in the case of divorce.

Some Marital Social/Legal Obligations:

  • Husband is seen as the legal head of the family - in a sense, the wife loses her identity - names, residence, and assumes husband's.
  • Husband is responsible for financial support of wife in all states - husband can legally direct the family finances and must support wife and children in "the style to which they are accustomed".
  • Wife is responsible for things domestic - thus she can't accumulate capital from her labor without specific legal rights. Wife is responsible for child care and custody usually in the case of divorce. Husband and wife have exclusive sexual rights to each other and to no others.
  • Laws of adultery and fornication are present in many states.
  • Failure to permit sexual access is grounds for divorce.
  • Couple must reside together at least six months of every year
Marriage Contracts - all marriages are binding legal contracts - Interpersonal contracts where commitment is explicitly stated, a common future is encourages, companionship is expected, avenues for resolution of conflict is provided for, and personal growth is both expected and reasonably provided for.   There are also Prenuptial agreements in addition to traditional marriage contracts.  Here each partner has an understanding that this relationship that is significantly different from that of the other -> the only way to come to common terms is to explicitly state the expectations each has for the marriage.

The function of the marriage ceremony: to publicly signify the new status of the couple, to provide evidence of a personal contract (an exchange of verbal promises) in public (maybe for the first time.), and offers a chance for extended families to show off a little, meet each other, find goodness in each other.

From David Olson's Guidelines for a Happier Marriage

  • Individuals should not be encouraged to marry early.
  • Maturity and financial independence should come first.
  • No encouragement or pressure to marry at all. Single hood should be viewed as an acceptable status. -Encouragement to experiment in a variety of lifestyles in order to better select options most appropriate to the individual and couple.
  • Couples should be encouraged to relate openly and honestly rather than play the traditional dating-mating game.
  • Couples should not marry until they have established a meaningful relationship with each other and have resolved major difficulties between themselves.
  • Couples should not have children until they have established strong and viable relationships.