Watch any Hollywood romance, and you might think the best reason to get married is passionate romantic love because the purpose of marriage is the satisfaction of the couple. But marriage is about more than the couple and their feelings. According to an FRC Issues Analysis brief titled “Why Marriage Should Be Privileged in Public Policy,” marriage is “the basic social building block” and “produces a stronger nation that benefits many future generations.” MARRI research shows over 150 reasons why marriage should be protected by society.
Unfortunately, the marriage institution has been weakened by decades of widespread divorce. Let’s analyze this social phenomenon.
In the past, marriage was not only the social institution that protected and provided for children, but also an economic “investment” and a safe haven. While the couple experienced romantic love, the relationship did not exist for their mutual emotions. Until the 18th century, couples were often married according to the wishes of their parents.
The rise of Romanticism encouraged a new view of marriage with the idea of “true love.” The sexual revolution took this further when it redefined relationships as a means to personal fulfillment: “Whatever works for the couple, to enhance their emotions and bring passion to the relationship, is what marriage should be all about.” Soon these emotions and sentiments became independent of childbearing, assisted by the appearance of the Pill, which helped separate sexuality both from mutual self-giving and from childbearing.
With the legalization of no-fault divorce, it became clear that marriage was only about being “in love.” This relationship was now independent of common good, community, generosity, hard work, self-giving, children….it was only about feeling an emotional bond.
Today, since marriage is considered a private transaction, any couple is free to manipulate and even reinvent marriage. As modern “love” is individualistic, so is modern marriage. The soul of marriage has become “myself.”
This new vision of romantic love convinced people they would be happier. Unfortunately, it was an illusion. The divorce rate, often due to infidelity, has only increased. The 2011 MARRI Annual Report on Family Trends documents that in the U.S the divorce rate from 1958 to 1978 went from 2.1 to 5.3! When passionate love is the reason for marriage, it can also be the reason for its dissolution when the romance disappears.
What’s the problem? Emotions and sentiments change, mature, and grow with the couple. Does this mean that married people fall “out of love”? Of course not. But it means there must be more to marriage than feelings. There must be a mutual understanding of what you want out of life, a union in your priorities, and a solid friendship. Love must be nourished in everyday life, not just passionate encounters.
So what is the answer to our growing divorce rate? We must learn to build a marriage commitment that is based on more than passing emotions. We should plan for unions that are strong enough to do what marriage was designed to do – benefit future generations.