Family in Lifespan Perspective
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
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
Most of us emerge from adolescence with a positive
marriage orientation - due to:
The Search for a Mate
- 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
- a preponderance of Marriage-like experiences:
anticipatory socialization behavior of same-sex friends
who date dating experiences / going steady / playing
- 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.
In preparation for
marriage, the more successful marriages have common
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
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
mating, which is a
broader concept that refers to marriage between two people
who are similar on one or more characteristics.
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.
Theories of Mate Selection: The Stimulus - Value - Role
also known as the Filtering Model of Mate Selection:
Proximity Filter - Exposure to the Pool of
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.
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Stimulus Filter - Physical/Personal
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Value Filter - Comparison/Similarity Filter
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Role Filter - Compatibility Filter
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
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:
What factors are at work
in assortative mating?
- 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
- n adolescence we learn the cues that will serve us
later in solving our identity crisis.
From Assortative/Casual to
- 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
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.
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
- 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.
Getting Married - Requirements
Legal Assumptions of
- 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
- 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
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:
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.
- 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
- waiting periods - last chance to reconsider - usually
three days between application for license and actual
Some Marital Social/Legal
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.
- 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
- Laws of adultery and fornication are present in many
- Failure to permit sexual access is grounds for
- Couple must reside together at least six months of
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
- 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.