People who don't marry for love in our culture are considered unlucky, suspect, manipulative, exploitative, and bad. From our perspective, they are either doing something wrong or there is something wrong with them. It makes us feel a range of emotions for them -- everything from sympathy to contempt, 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."
Procreation has always been a reason to marry, but up until about two hundred years ago or so, people in the West married more for political or financial gain than for love.
The Victorian Era and the Industrial Revolution (1800s) 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, marital dissolutions became more commonplace.
Critics point to Women's Rights, No-Fault Divorce laws and the greater emphasis on the pursuit of personal happiness in the '70s, for opening the door to more choice and, therefore, more divorce. Rates spiked up to 50% (up from 11% in the fifties) 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 needs, we have seriously weakened the institution now that marriage is based on love and romance -- 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 were made with a 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 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. This is true for passionate, physical love as well as "soul-mate" love.
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: 3 Cups respect; 2 Cups shared goals; 2 Cups compatibility, 1 Tablespoon love, 1 teaspoon attraction (optional!). (Of course a relationship has many more ingredients than this but you get the idea).
What do you think?
A version of this article appeared in PsychologyToday.com
Note: Journalist, Vicki Larson and I are currently writing a book entitled, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers, (Seal Press, Fall 2014). If you have a marriage that was based more on companionship, co-parenting, safety or financial security than on love, please contact me at email@example.com. we'd like to interview you.
If you have a Covenant Marriage (a more religious marriage based on love and service for God -- legal only in Kansas, Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana), we'd like to hear from you too. And please forward this request on to anyone else you know who may be interested in speaking with me. Please send me an email through my website at www.changingmarriage.com.
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