How our concept of marriage has changed

December 20, 2019

We are living during a time of significant transition in the nature of intimate partner relationships and, consequently, the concept of marriage and long-term commitment is transforming dramatically. Why so?

Within the last 70 years the world has experienced:

  • The emergency of a large middle class out of the economic boom of the 1950’s.
  • The development of labour-saving innovations that transformed the lives of women - processed food, mass produced clothing, hot water, washing machines, and refrigerators.
  • Radios, televisions, and widely circulated newspapers and magazines brought news, information, and modern social concepts to the kitchens of women throughout the western world, not just those of certain classes or those who lived in the city.
  • Women everywhere began to ask themselves previously unheard of questions such as: “Why can’t I get an education? Why can’t I work outside of the home? Why can’t I open my own bank account and borrow money without my husband’s signature? Do I really need to have so many children? What do I want to do with my life?”
  • The invention and widespread availability of the contraceptive pill in the early to mid 60’s, which allowed women to decide how many children to have, or even whether to have any children at all.
  • The feminist movement that hit the western world in the 1970’s.
  • The gay movement, which introduced the concept of identity to sexuality.
  • The transformation of the concept of monogamy from marrying one person for life to marrying one person at a time.
  • The rise of individualism versus community, where a person’s individual happiness has become paramount, and intimate partner relationships have become the source of all that the village used to provide.
  • Love was brought into marriage. Happiness has become connected to emotional and sexual satisfaction.

This incredible evolution, or better yet, revolution has caused the concept of marriage to undergo a substantial metamorphosis. It is the first time in human history that we want a deeply committed, connected, passionate, fulfilling relationship with one person for the long haul, and we live twice as long as we ever have.

In the space of a few generations, we have gone from pragmatic, non-romantic marriages, where men drew their support from other men and women from other women, to expecting our spouses to be our best friend, our most intimate confidant, our emotional advisor, our constant source of unwavering support, our greatest champion, our intellectual equal, our consistently passionate lover, our perfect co-parent.

What this has done is put an unprecedented strain on the institution of marriage. So much so that marriage is on the decline and some experts in the field are predicting an end to this social construct, in its present form, in the foreseeable future.

Yet, the gender disparity is narrowing as women are becoming more autonomous, educated, and independently wealthy. Women are earning more, enjoying thriving careers, marrying later in life (if at all), having fewer children, and sharing more responsibilities within the family home with their spouses. All of which leads to a better quality of life for those women and men who still do choose to marry or enter into committed long-term relationships.

So some would argue that it is probably the best time in western history to be married as there has never been a greater degree of equality in relationships than there is now. Further, there has never been a better time to choose what kind of relationship to be in - marriage or otherwise. Possibly the more important note is not whether we marry, rather, who we choose to be in relationship with, why, and how.

Are you and your partner on the same page?