Getting Married

The Transition to Marriage

Legal Aspects of Marriage

Not only is marriage a set of intimate and personal promises, it is a legal entity. The state has a stake in marriage and family. 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.

The Meaning of Marriage - To legitimize children is key function.
Marriage makes institutional provisions for a preferred method of producing and nurturing children. NOTE: Legitimating sexual activity and living together is a Latent function of marriage.

Marriage as a Permanent Commitment
Marriage has always been viewed as long term, more or less permanent.

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 was established. People were older and more established. Now, as we marry earlier each decade, individuals are increasingly less prepared for marriage - both emotionally and financially.

Marriage as a sacrament - God's Holy Ordinance" Sacrament - Civil - Personal.

Stages of Marriage

  1. The Happy Honeymoon - the first year of marriage, some say. - Others say until children come.
  2. Disillusionment and Regrets - conflicts, regrets, 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.
  3. Accommodation - adjusting expectations for the relationship to realistic levels - working to rediscover the reasons for the marriage in the first place.
Marital Satisfaction over the Duration of Marriage

III. Styles of Marriage - refers to the way marriage partners perceive and treat each other.

Traditional marriage male breadwinner/female homemaker
vs.
Egalitarian = contemporary views of sex role equality
This is the modern ideal.

Thinking in terms of Scripts:

A less simplistic view comes from Cuber & Haroff's study of 400 couples, who had been married at least 10 years. They were attempting to identify "types" of marital styles that have developed in American Culture:

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-Congeneal 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 inertia.

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.

It is quite possible that marriages move back and forth between 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 relationship.

Marital Happiness and Enrichment
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 lifecourse

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.

Metacommunication refers to the style in which partners communicate.

Certain elements of the Style of Communication between partners affords a higher level of satisfaction.

  1. Complementary styles = each partner serves as a counterpoint to the other. That is - each partner takes a turn at talking - then listening. Flexibility is important here so that one person does not do all the talking.
  2. Conventional styles = the conversation is kept "light" and unstimulating to avoid conflict. This style reduces self-disclosure, thus reducing intimacy, commitment, and mutual dependence.
  3. Speculative styles explore the facts of an issue or problem - investigative. This style comes in handy with disclosure of feelings might get in the way of solving a problem.
  4. Controlling styles - allows each partner to compete for control of the other's behavior. This style is restricting and suffocating. "Lot's of "You should's"
  5. Contactful styles allow sharing of feelings and ideas. Each speaker is willing to express thoughts and feelings openly and willing to listen to the other. contactful communication is explicit, responsive, and accepting and involves a high degree of self-disclosure and trust.
Communication must be more rewarding than negative or aversive in order for marital happiness to be maintained. Happily married couples talk more to each other and make more use of nonverbal communications, and are more sensitive to each other's needs and feelings - than unhappily married couples.

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

A 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-since the time we have been taking notice- 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.

So the first "alternative" to heterosexual marriage is the one we have already discussed - Cohabitation.

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 males and females, long term relationships lately have become just as stable and committed as heterosexual ones. That is - gays are just a little more likely to have relationships that fail as are the "normal" crowd of heterosexual marrieds.

There was a time prior to the Eighties - 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 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 Bhuddist and Hindu oriented faiths. There are group sings and prayer sessions as well.


Annotated References

Acitelli, A.K., Douvan, E., Veroff, J. (1993). Perceptions of Conflict in the first year of marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 5-19. Perceived similarity between spouses is greater than actual similarity of responses. Perceptual congruence contributed more to the marital well-being for wives than for husbands. Destructive behaviors were found more accurately perceived than were constructive ones.

Kurdek, L.A. 91991). Predictors of incrases in marital distress in newlywed couples: A 3 year prospective longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 27, 627-636. Husbands who showed an increase in marital distress over 3 years had less education, lived with their future spose prior to marriage, and did not pool their finances during the first year. For wives, increases in marital distress were realted to less education, lower income, having stepchildren, anticipating rewards and few costs, failure to pool financies, and high emotional investment.

Lye, D., & Biblarz, T. (1993). The effects of attitudes toward family life and gender roles on marital satisfaction. J. Family Issues, 14(2), 157-188. Husbands who endorse an egalitarian division of household labor report higher levels of marital satisfaction than do those who reject egalitarianism. Wives who favor an egalitarian division of housework report lower satisfaction than do traditionally oriented wives. When men are less traditional than their wives, disagreements are reduced. When wives are less traditional than their husbands, disagreements are increased.

Orbuch, T.L., Veroff, J., & Holmberg, D. (1993). Becoming a married couple: The emergence of meaning in the first years of marriage. JMF, (Nov), 815-826. Most courtship stories are collaborative in nature, lack conflict, and somewhat dramatic. Husbands are presented as initiating courtship 47% of the time. The marriage proposal is commonly presented as a combined endeavor.

Wallerstein, J.S. (1994). The early psychological tasks of marriage. J. Orthopsychiatry, 64, 640- 650. Women find the task of successfully leaving the family of origin and set up a new family the most difficult. Other tasks found to be important: -ability to refer to marriage as a'we-ness', establishment of sexual life, establishment of a zone of safety and nurturance, making psychological room for children while safeguarding the privacy of the couple, building a fun and interesting relationship, maintaining a vision of the other that combines idealizations with reality.


Forward to Sexuality in Marriage

Back to Syllabus