By raising the bar, have we weakened the institution?
Those who don’t marry for love in our culture are considered unlucky, suspect, manipulative, exploitative, and bad. We feel they are either doing something wrong or there is something wrong with them. It makes us feel everything from sympathy to contempt for these folks because most of us were taught that love is the only “right” reason to tie the knot.
But if you really think about it, love is a luxury. When you marry for love, it generally means you have all—or at least most—of your other needs met (like food, shelter, warmth, etc). That may explain why those with fewer financial resources also have lower marriage rates: If you’re worried about your survival or safety, you’re not going to be focusing on finding the man or woman of your dreams—unless of course this dream person is your ticket out of your terrible home life, dreary financial picture or scary “singledom.”
Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W., is the co-author with journalist, Vicki Larson, of The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, (Seal Press, September 2014), Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go (August 2008), and Stronger Day by Day: Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce (July 2010). She also authored an eBook entitled, The Top Ten Misguided Reasons to Stay in a Bad Marriage.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Procreation has always been a factor in why people married, but up until about about 200 years ago, people in the West married more for political or financial gain than for love. The Victorian Era and the Industrial Revolution created two important changes in how people lived: Romance became all the rage and technological advances made life much easier. Prior to these developments, divorce was incredibly rare but when love entered the picture as the reason to marry, dissolutions became more commonplace.
Women’s rights, no-fault divorce laws, and a greater emphasis on the pursuit of personal happiness in the 1970s opened the door to more choice and, therefore, more divorce. Dissolution rates spiked up to 50 percent (up from 11 percent in the 1950s) and have not changed much in the last 50 years.
We’ve come a long way with technology and modern living but have we actually come too far in our conjugal love-centric culture?
What experts like Andrew Cherlin (Marriage-Go-Round) and Stephanie Coontz (Marriage, A History) tell us is that, in our attempt to make marriage stronger by raising the bar to meet our higher love and romance needs, we have seriously weakened the institution. These are both highly changeable emotions: When love wanes, the marriage gets shaky; when the romance stops, the nuptials die.
People whose primary reason to marry is other than love—such as to have children with someone they believed would be a good co-parent, to have financial security, or for companionship—generally have longer and perhaps better marriages because their choices are made for a defined purpose. Additionally, their expectations of marriage and their mate are less unrealistic. Their spouse wasn’t expected to be “The One.” They merely needed to be Mr. or Mrs. “Good Enough.”
Some people call this settling, but we are seeing the wisdom of marriages like these more and more.
I’m not saying love shouldn’t be on the list of things that need to be in your relationship, but it doesn’t need to be Number One—and perhaps it shouldn’t be. Here are the three reasons I think marrying primarily for love is not wise:
1. Love is a changeable emotion.
As quickly as you fall in love, you can fall out of love. Then what? Either the relationship ends or it becomes toxic. If love is your primary connection, the glue is gone.
2. Love does not make for a strong enough foundation.
Yes, love is strong but, due to the fact that it can evaporate, it is not something that can stand alone as the basis for a long-term relationship (especially when kids are involved). Anything built on a foundation of love is subject to crumbling.
3. Love is far from “all you need.”
You need mutual respect, shared goals and compatibility way more than you need love to have a sustainable, lasting relationship. People “fall in love with love” just as Kim Kardashian showed us, because they think it will carry them the distance. We all want to be wanted and we love to love yet, if you had a recipe for a strong, healthy relationship, it might look like this: 1 Cup respect; 1 Cup shared goals; 3 Cups compatibility, 1 Tablespoon love, 1 teaspoon attraction (optional!).