Is marriage viable in our society anymore?
Lets take a brief look at the history of marriage for a moment. Correct me if I’m wrong because I’m not a scholar on this issue. I’m going to take this next snippet of text from a messageboard. It’s accuracy could be considered questionable, but it sounds about right.
How old is the institution?
The best available evidence suggests that it’s about 4,350 years old. For thousands of years before that, most anthropologists believe, families consisted of loosely organized groups of as many as 30 people, with several male leaders, multiple women shared by them, and children. As hunter-gatherers settled down into agrarian civilizations, society had a need for more stable arrangements. The first recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into a widespread institution embraced by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. But back then, marriage had little to do with love or with religion.
What was it about, then?
Marriage’s primary purpose was to bind women to men, and thus guarantee that a man’s children were truly his biological heirs. Through marriage, a woman became a man’s property. In the betrothal ceremony of ancient Greece, a father would hand over his daughter with these words: “I pledge my daughter for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring.” Among the ancient Hebrews, men were free to take several wives; married Greeks and Romans were free to satisfy their sexual urges with concubines, prostitutes, and even teenage male lovers, while their wives were required to stay home and tend to the household. If wives failed to produce offspring, their husbands could give them back and marry someone else.
When did religion become involved?
As the Roman Catholic Church became a powerful institution in Europe, the blessings of a priest became a necessary step for a marriage to be legally recognized. By the eighth century, marriage was widely accepted in the Catholic church as a sacrament, or a ceremony to bestow God’s grace. At the Council of Trent in 1563, the sacramental nature of marriage was written into canon law.
Did this change the nature of marriage?
Church blessings did improve the lot of wives. Men were taught to show greater respect for their wives, and forbidden from divorcing them. Christian doctrine declared that “the twain shall be one flesh,” giving husband and wife exclusive access to each other’s body. This put new pressure on men to remain sexually faithful. But the church still held that men were the head of families, with their wives deferring to their wishes.
Obviously marriage has taken many forms over the years. Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry. Today we also have debates with gay marriage. In general, society doesn’t have a very long memory when it comes to history. We accept whatever our society and/or religion deems acceptable and we forget that other cultures throughout history have done things differently. We also tend to forget that society evolves. As such things change. Should gay marriage be legal. Some say “no”, some say “yes” and others say, “ok, but don’t call it marriage” as if that makes much of a difference.
But how viable is marriage these days? Is our society evolving past marriage?
My argument starts here:
I believe the decline of marriage began with the women’s rights movement. My logic is this. With women gaining more equality in society, higher paying jobs, sexual independence and personal independence we have also seen the divorce rate skyrocket over the last few decades. Some people say this is due to the media, outside society tempting people to live a certain way. While I will not disagree that this does most probably play a large factor, that is really a result of the times. There is not just one thing at play here. Life influences art and vice versa. But I believe that as a result of women becoming more independent and seeking the same spoils in life as men do, we have created a system where marriage is becoming less viable. No longer is it primarily the women’s job to stay at home and play the housewife and raise the children. Women are expected to gain college degrees and obtain well paying jobs. In fact many household today would not be able to survive without both partners income. Everybody essentially needs to carry their own these days. It is no longer the role of the man alone to provide for the entire household. In many cases, society has restructured itself so that even if the man wanted to, he would need a very well paying job to even maintain a lower to middle class lifestyle.
When the man provided for the household, the man was also considered the head of the house. The wife had a certain degree of power but typically knew her place in the family structure. With both partners being equally independently minded (having been raised in a society that now promotes such equality and independence in both genders) the division of authority in the household has drawn a finer line. This is only to be expected. Both genders are now expected to perform the same duties and functions with equality.
If conflict arises from two independently minded people living under the same roof, the point of authority becomes less clear. Whereas in the past the female might give in to the man who is the head of the household, today we are more likely to see the power struggle continue perpetually. Often the only outcome being a separation of the powers. A divorce.
Who is to say which is the best system. Under the old system the family unite remained in tact. But often it was the female who gave up a lot of control and power and often time happiness.
Today, marriage is looked at much differently. It hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s still big business. But it’s become more of a question of how long that marriage will last. It is said by both statistics and scientists these days, that often most marriages reach their breaking point around the four year mark. I would assume that one could also insert the word “relationship” in the place of marriage for those same statistics. I know from personal experience, my two longest relationships reached their breaking point at the four-five year mark.
Scientists say that the reason behind this might have something to do with the evolutionary state of mankind in raising their young. That often two people will stay together until their young reaches the four or five year old mark where the child becomes somewhat self sufficient.
I know this was true for myself. My ex wife and I didn’t separate until our son was three and a half years old. We didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the way it turned out.
I don’t believe that life long marriages between people will ever disappear. But I think they are likely to become more rare. Or they are likely to start later in life once two people have had some time to live and learn. But our society has shifted to the point where marriage is no longer a requirement for survival or raising young. So it’s not at all unexpected that we would see it decline over time and perhaps shift entirely from a life long commitment to a series of short term marriage commitments. If in fact two people do change and grow apart over time, rather then together, should it really be considered a negative if a marriage fails? Or perhaps it is our perception of what is considered failure that will change.