Facts about Marriage
Why marry? What kind of question is that to be asking you as you plan your marriage? It’s a question that needs answering by both of you. Why you marry is one indication of how equal your marriage will be. People marry for all kinds of reasons today, including being too embarrassed to call off the wedding. As you prepare yourself to enter “the holy state of matrimony,” give some thought to the institution and the pros and cons of marriage. How do you and your spouse-to-be define marriage? Share your thoughts with each other before you wed. To get the conversation going, read on…
Mar-riage – The institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family; an intimate or close union.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
In earlier generations, almost everyone married and stayed married, usually because they wanted children. Now we have more options for intimate unions, not all of them including a wedding or children. And while people are still marrying, they are also marrying more often. Simple definitions don’t work anymore.
True, research shows marriage is good for your mental and physical health, sex life and bank account, but so are a lot of other things requiring less commitment.
Marriage is a topic of academic study at the University of Chicago where Don Browning is director of the Religion, Culture and Family Project. He thinks that our society is having a tough time figuring out just what marriage is and to come up with strong cultural and intellectual justifications. In the past, marriage was primarily a social institution, but it has become increasingly an individual matter.
“The many justifications for marriage advanced through the ages can be organized along a continuum between its communal and personal dimensions. The march of history increasingly has subordinated the communal and elevated the personal,” he believes.” The idea of marriage as an institution has lost favor. More and more, marriage is viewed as an essentially private intersubjective agreement or “pure relationship” only incidentally sanctioned by state or church, if at all.”
He has outlined five dimensions of marriage, which he feels are essential to understanding it as an institution and as “a living human reality.” All five dimensions contribute in various degrees to how marriage is viewed and practiced today.
- Marriage as organizer of natural desires. Early philosophers saw marriage as a way to handle natural inclinations such as sex drives and urges to procreate as well as to meet daily needs – the “Be fruitful and multiply” of the Old Testament.
- Marriage as a contract. For centuries, marriage has involved contracts although early on they were primarily between families or clans and involved dowry and bride prices. Clans and later the church governed broken contracts. Marital contracts were largely private until the Protestant Reformation when marriages required registration and legitimizing by the state.
- Marriage as a social good. As far back as Aristotle, people believed that the health of marriage and family was essential for the good of the larger society – particularly in bringing up children. Martin Luther went so far as to teach that marriage was an institution given by God at creation for the good of couples, children, society, state, schools and the common social life. The same principle lies behind the marriage education requirements recently instituted by Florida, Louisiana and Arizona.
- Marriage as sacrament and covenant. Both views “drape marriage with a royal robe of divine seriousness and approval.” according to Browning. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all have hierarchical patterns of marriage commitment to parallel man’s faithfulness to God. Thomas Aquinas made marriage an unbreakable sacrament to compensate for what he saw as the tentativeness of the male commitment to offspring.
- Marriage as Communicative Reality. Marriage between equal individuals for mutual comfort and assistance has been growing as a concept for the last 50 years and is a “significant shift from earlier formulations,” according to Browning. In much contemporary theology today, the personal aspects are considered as important as procreative and educational aspects of the institution, but as marriage has evolved towards greater economic, educational and political equality, so have the challenges of communication between equal partners.
To achieve equality in marriage, Browning encourages couples to “develop the communicative and intersubjective skills to implement this ethic in the countless small decisions of everyday life between spouses. Knowing what you want, how to communicate it and listening to the other will help in striking marital bargains, he suggests, but so will an ethnic of equal regard, grounded in respect “for the other as an end and never as a means only.”