The Myth of Traditional Marriage

Ooh, baby.

According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse.  If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable.  And why that may not be a terrible thing.

The phrase “traditional marriage” [1] is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage.  Just what does marriage look like over time?  Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much?

I just finished reading an interesting book called Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephenie Coontz.  The book explains some of the global marriage practices that currently exist and have existed through time.  It also describes what the author considers the real cause of the downfall of marriage:  connecting love and marriage.

Protection vs. Oppression Theory

Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?

Depending on whom you ask, marriage was either invented by men to protect or to oppress women.  And some men would argue that marriage was invented by women to domesticate men (a pouty version of the protection argument).  Let’s take a look at those arguments briefly.

The protection theory is similar to the argument that biology is destiny:  because of the long human female gestation period, women need someone to protect them while they are physically vulnerable during pregnancy and nursing. Therefore, marriage was invented so that women would have a male (not vulnerable during pregnancy and nursing) to protect her and her offspring as a biological imperative to promote the species.  The world must be peopled.  Here are the holes in this theory:  1) historically, communities do a better job protecting females than do husbands (specifically other women do), 2) infant mortality rates were high throughout human history with or without marriage, so marriage was hardly effective if this was its aim, and 3) women aren’t as physically vulnerable during these times as this theory implies.  Women are physically capable to continuing their normal work during nursing and pregnancy.

The oppression theory states that men historically used marriage to enslave women, and that perhaps it was even invented for this aim:

Peter Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her

Put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well.

The pumpkin shell of course refers to pregnancy, meaning that men could subjugate their wives by impregnating them which would keep them from straying, tying them to their husbands.  Historically, women were not allowed to divorce, marital rape was legal and condoned, and in many societies, women who were unfaithful could (and still can be) killed.  Female children were essentially traded property from a father to a husband, used to create ties between families with large properties.  Women who dislike taking their husband’s last name have the equally patriarchal alternative of keeping their father’s last name.  Feminist win!

When marriage became about personal happiness, it became fair game to question its exclusions. Traditionally, gay people married heterosexuals to protect lands or produce heirs.

A kinder version of the oppression theory posits that marriage was invented to harness the female workforce; wealthy men required women to handle their domestic affairs and protect their hearth and home so they could go to war, travel, conduct business, or pursue political gain.  Some wealthy men had so much land that they even required a domestic workforce of multiple wives.  Wives follow wealth, chronologically. [2]

Traditionally, Why Did People Marry?

Today people usually list the following reasons for people to marry:  1) companionship and love, and 2) to have children.  But these reasons are relatively new, and often lead to divorce as we have more choices available to us.  If you marry for love, when the honeymoon’s over or the companion becomes irritating, why not divorce and try your luck again?  The ties that bind us are much less strong than they used to be now that we have more rights, more education, more ability for spouses to earn independently, and more choice.

Historically, people married for entirely different reasons:

  • To share labor.  It was much easier to run a farm or a family business as a married couple than it was to run it as an individual.  And children were often the best way to increase the family workforce.  Even in the wake of urbanization, children were required to get jobs to contribute to the family income.  In today’s world, this reason to breed has become the provenance of welfare queens, but it is a time honored tradition for children and spouses to increase the family’s wealth through direct labor contributions, unlike the 1950s model in which the husband became a sole breadwinner.  A thrifty wife who could clip coupons replaced a hardy wife who could fell trees or cobble shoes, and the home became a refuge from the economic world, not an extension of the economic world.
  • To connect to other families.  Rather than marrying for spouses, most historical marriages were designed to connect in-laws to each other through the union of their children.  Those getting married usually had no say in the matter. [3]
  • To protect lands and investments.  As families grew in wealth, they began to use marriage to privilege children born within a marriage as “legitimate” and able to inherit so that lands, titles and estates would not be divided.  Thus marriage was a way to ensure one’s financial legacy would remain intact.  The right of primogeniture (eldest sons inheriting) which is an extension of this figures into both Downton Abbey (in the pilot episode, Lady Mary is to be disinherited because the estate is entailed to a male heir, dreamy but dull cousin Matthew) and Pride & Prejudice (the unlucky Bennets have five daughters, meaning the reviled Mr. Collins will inherit their family home on the father’s death, leaving his widow and daughters penniless).

Polygamy = property

Why marry at all?  Interestingly, most people who married were wealthy.  Peasants often had no need to marry unless it was to pool resources, and when they did marry, it was generally a casual agreement, not sanctioned by the state or the church, just recognized by neighbors and family members.  They had  no wealth to protect.  Marriage was by the wealthy, for the wealthy, a materialistic endeavor through and through.

We recently attended a family wedding in which the vows included the idea that the marriage was uniting two families.  Given that both of the new spouses are independent adults, and that the extended families mostly met for the first time at the wedding (if then), this notion seemed ridiculous.  If they divorced, I would never see those people again.  And yet, historically, these ties were often the primary reason for the marriage.  These vows were a reminder of the history of marriage and the fact that “love” didn’t used to be what bound the couple together; it was their extended families.

When Love Came to Town

He’s a doctor, natch.

One reason Jane Austen’s books endure is that they capture the era in which love and personal happiness were first becoming accepted as a valid and preferred reason to marry.  Her heroines are proposed to by relative strangers (compared to the familiarity of our relationships today), and they do the unthinkable in refusing to marry someone who can offer them financial security solely on the basis that they don’t love that person or believe the match will make them happy, even though they have no other immediate prospects.  Their actions are normal to us today, but for that time, they were somewhat new and far riskier.  Unmarried women had to rely on the kindness of relatives for financial support.

This also hints at why marriage is more unstable than ever.

If we go back to the very dawn of time, communities often provided the kind of support that we now equate with marriage.  Communities protected and raised children, divided labor, took care of the infirm, and assisted with wet nursing and childbearing.  Marriage wasn’t required to do those things.  Over time, people entered a marriage when it was a financial advantage, particularly when individual property rights came to exist, and when the couple was financially ready to make that happen.  They often didn’t even have to marry due to pregnancy, and monogamy wasn’t necessarily the norm.  Affairs were tolerated throughout the history of marriage, and only became less tolerated for women when men were wealthy enough to care more about splitting their inheritance than splitting labor. [4]

What has changed?

  • Marrying for love is the norm, even among most western “traditional” marriage proponents (although not so in other cultures which prize family and community obligations more than individual choice).
  • Urbanization has led to fewer family or couple-run businesses.  Working spouses work completely independently from each other.
  • Bastardization is now seen as unfair and wrong; primogeniture has all but died by Season 3 of Downton Abbey.
  • Child labor laws exist, so having children has become a financial drain, not a boon.
  • Divorce is easy to get and not stigmatized as in the past.  Sociologist Paul Amato reports that while divorce lowers the well-being of 55-60% of children it actually raises the well-being of the other 40-45%.
  • Birth control allows women to limit how many children they have and when.
  • Women can support themselves financially, and the wage gap has greatly narrowed.  Stay at home mothers only predominate in the richest 5% (where their social skills can enhance earning power) and poorest 25% (where they literally can’t afford to work due to marketability and costs of child care).
  • Low income women are finding that remaining single is financially smarter because low-income men are often a financial drain on their already limited resources.
  • Benefits that used to be restricted to married couples had to be extended to non-married people in alternative arrangements due to market demands.
  • People are living longer than ever.  Marriages, as a result, are lasting far, far longer than they ever did before.

When divorce laws are stringent and it’s difficult to get out of bad marriages, not only does domestic abuse flourish, but so does spousal homicide and suicide.  According to economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, states that adopted unilateral divorce laws consistently saw a 20% drop in suicides among wives and significant drops in domestic abuse.  The real “threat” to marriage is choice, particularly female choice, but choice is also what makes marriage more likely to be happy and healthy and not result in death.

Marriage has become more joyful, more loving, and more satisfying for many couples than ever before in history.  At the same time it has become optional and more brittle.  These two strands of change cannot be disentangled.

Marrying for love is short-sighted and frequently ends in divorce if spouses grow apart, don’t treat each other well, or are unhappy in their marriages over time, but marrying someone you respect and are friends with creates a different type of marriage, a longer lasting one.  One thing that really drives a wedge in marital understanding is strict gender roles.  The more couples see their spouse as greatly different from them in terms of needs, feelings, abilities, or desires, the less likely intimacy is.  Relating to others as gender stereotypes is superficial and reduces empathy.

Most contemporary couples expect to share breadwinning and childrearing roles more equally than their parents or grandparents did.  When they adopt a more “traditional” division of labor after the birth of a child, this often destabilizes their relationship and increases their stress rather than relieving it.  A wife who formerly worked outside the home feels isolated, lonely, and undervalued.  Her husband doesn’t understand why she isn’t more grateful that he is putting in extra hours at work to support the new addition to the family.  When such a couple adopts a traditional division of labor after the birth of a child, both parents usually end up dissatisfied.  The more traditional the roles, the more dissatisfaction. [5]

What do you think about the future of marriage?  How should we strengthen marriages?

  • What is the best measure of marital success?  Self-reported happiness?  Divorce rates?  Number of children?  Is it impossible to measure?
  • Is ready access to divorce positive or negative for individuals and society?
  • Would arranged marriages, with the support and insight of both families, be stronger than marrying for love, which is often mere infatuation?  Or are parents too prone to exploit their children in these types of matches (e.g. dowries or connections over their child’s happiness)?
  • Are traditional gender roles helpful or harmful to marriage in your experience?  Defend your answer.
  • Should we quit idealizing the love match in order to strengthen marriages or is the love match essential to helping people want to marry and want to find happiness in marriage?



[1] Obviously, polygamy isn’t included in what Mormons are calling “traditional marriage” so precedent isn’t the only thing to define “traditional” marriage.

[2] I’m not saying she’s a gold digger.

[3]   Even in contemporary India, many unions remain arranged marriages under the assumption that the elders know their children best and can make the best decisions about their child’s future happiness.  Love and companionship will follow if the parents choose well:  “Some people still prefer the arranged marriage, especially in the countryside where tradition is still strong. The thought is that your parents know you very well, and will make the decision based on experience and not emotion. The divorce rate with arranged marriages is lower, because both families are heavily involved and there are many people committed to making the match work. But the tradition is on the way out. . . . Many families still choose to uphold the appearance of an arrangement. Their children will come to them and say: ‘I fell in love.’ And they’ll say: ‘OK, let us arrange it.'” Jammu, India

[4] These are northern European norms, the basis for the American marriage tradition.  Norms in Asia, even today, are very different.  People still marry when they are financially dependent on parents.  The bride moves in with the groom’s family and has specific duties she must perform in the extended family.  If they are displeased with her, she may be at real risk because she is entirely in their charge and often living away from her own familial support network.  Bride burning in India is one of the horrible outcomes of this traditional marriage arrangement.

[5] Philip Cown and Carolyn Pape Cowan, “New Families:  Modern Couples as New Pioneers.”


  1. Epic.

  2. – If I remember Coontz argues that gay marriage is a logical consequence of the “marriage as a love match” paradigm. It is a result of marriage having been disentangled from its historical social and political functions over the last few centuries, not a cause for that disentanglement. Therefore it’s ironic that many of the most staunch defenders of traditional marriage appeal to the postwar Western nuclear family as ideal when that model actually represented a radical departure from historical norms that eventually helped set the stage for gay marriage.

    – I’m glad we don’t see marriage as a union of two extended families these days because I did NOT marry my in-laws thankyouverymuch.

    – Modern Mormonism is an odd hodgepodge: we basically embrace marriage for love, we practice a doctrine of sealing rooted in the old-school idea of establishing dynastic ties, and the institutional church promotes an ideal of “traditional” marriage that is neither particularly traditional nor easy to square with our own not-too-distant marriage practices. We’re all over the place.

  3. Great post, Angela C. and great comment by Casey, esp. the part about Modern Mormonism. The phrase “traditional marriage” is so meaningless as to be laughable. Angela asks, though, in her closing remarks, if we should quite idealizing the love match. I actually think that we should just plain quit idealizing marriage. The truth is, it’s really hard work most of the time and it can, if done well, lead to some measure of happiness. However, it’s not for everyone, nor should we act like it is, IMHO. Restricting the issue to Mormon culture/ideology for just a moment, my experiences as a young single adult, a married adult and a divorced adult have been that many members can’t see the difference between holding up something as an ideal on one hand and judging people harshly who don’t have that ideal on the other. If the whole idealizing thing just sort of stops, that might be a good thing.

    Additionally, the phrase “find happiness in marriage” is just a bit troubling because it not only implies that marriage offers a unique kind of happiness (which I believe it does) but also that it’s the only thing/relationship/institution that can make us truly happy (which I believe is untrue). So maybe it’s healthier, if happiness is one’s goal, to think about what things in general might make one happy, and whether marriage is part of the picture or not is just sort of up to the individual.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    “Traditional” does not traditionally include prehistoric civilizations. It’s usually something your grandparents remember their parents doing. It might even embrace customs a few centuries old of a whole region. It doesn’t have much to do with how the Etruscans or the Olmecs lived.

  5. This article seems confused on a number of points.

    First, it’s not clear whether it is about the motivation that individuals have to get married (“If we look at why people used to get married…”) vs. the origins of the institution itself (“marriage was invented…”). Those are actually distinct questions.

    Second, it appears to focus exclusively on marriage as a formal, legal social institution. This is a distinctly anachronistic way to view marriage. It also allows one to argue that two individuals who entered into an exclusive, monogamous relationship, cohabited, raised children together, shared property together, and maybe even solemnized that marriage through some kind of religious or cultural ritual were not really married. (e.g. “Interestingly, most people who married were wealthy.”) Now, if the argument is really that throughout most of human history men and women were not bonded in exclusive relationships that’s something that would be quite relevant, but it should be stated explicitly and I’d like to see some evidence of it.

    Third, the reasons for the “invention” of the institution of marriage are extremely dubious. We get to choose between protection and oppression, which are the two primary variants of sexism. What about non-sexist possibilities, like cooperation?

    Fourth, the idea that marriage is an invention at all. (Hence the scare quotes in the previous paragraph.) Language was not invented. It evolved. Nation-states were not invented. They evolved. Markets were not invented. They evolved. And yet we are to believe that the institution of marriage was the result of deliberate, willful invention? This is an incredible claim.

    Biologically, humans are defined by two related things. Our offspring have an incredible capacity to learn from their environment (most notably their social environment, as in language acquisition) and our offspring are helpless for an exceptionally long period of time (relative to all other animals). This is the obvious origin of the practice of monogamous pairing for the purpose of raising children: they are expensive (thus the pairing) and evolution dictates that the man and prefer to pass on their own genes (thus the monogamy). Thus, the two core tenets of “traditional marriage” bypass all modern history and get back to our biological nature. Romance may be a modern embellishment, but in that vein so to were political and economic unions. Each of these embellishments built upon the kernel of marriage, which is an evolved strategy for procreation of our highly unusual species. So much for “invention.”

  6. Brilliant.

  7. The traditional marriage crowd specifically appeal to how many centuries, even millennia back the “tradition” spreads.

  8. A great article, but footnote 2 is glorious.

  9. Gee whiz. If you read it in a book it must be true. I guess all those scriptural references to love between spouses on up through the Shakespearean plays about love and relationships are all baloney. And to think I wasted all that time courting my wife when I could have just drawn up a partnership agreement and had her sign it.

  10. John Mansfield is right. “Traditional marriage” refers to pretty lightweight notions of tradition. Tevye would be shaking his head.

  11. I guess if you ignore the church’s teachings and accept Stephenie Coontz’s findings as incontrovertible, the idea of traditional marriage does seem a little silly.


    Here is an article from the NY TIMES that validates what you’ve written and demonstrates how marriage has evolved in a pattern that reflects Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  13. Reminds me of a recent article I read about how free with sex people were in Georgian times. It’s not so much a description of how everyone did things in those times, but of how rich people did things. It gives us an easy narrative to bludgeon others with. Kinda like when people use the Bible to fit their narrative; it’s using a sparse account of history to “prove” yourself right.

  14. So…. this is a book review?
    I have to agree with most of Nate Givens’ comments. But maybe he didn’t go far enough. I am sure that most readers of this blog would not be surprised to hear that marriage is ordained of God, and it has been since Adam. I know I was surprised that this hasn’t come into play yet.

    This view would trump any ideas of which continent/culture/century gets to define ‘traditional marriage’

  15. Glenn:

    That marriage is ordained of God doesn’t trump/eliminate the fact that human beings have, for centuries, also seen fit to define marriage in ways that work for them. And to assume that the fact that God ordains marriage ends any discussion about what marriage is is particularly ironic considering the LDS church’s own problems/history with marriage. When we read the scriptures, we process, analyze and understand the scriptures according to our own experiences/perspectives, etc. Not everyone interprets a given scriptural passage in the same way despite the fact that the scriptural passage is inspired by God. So why is it problematic if people make marriage as a concept or practice work for them the way they need it to?

  16. “marriage is ordained of God, and it has been since Adam.”

    “And yet we are to believe that the institution of marriage was the result of deliberate, willful invention? This is an incredible claim.”

    Glenn and Nathaniel Givens appear to be at loggerheads here.

  17. trevorprice924 says:

    Being an avid fan of marriage, this book has been on my reading list for awhile. Angela, in your opinion, does seeing where marriage has been help you understand where it is today? In other words, will understanding the evolution of the institution help me have a better marriage today?

  18. “Marriage=ordained by God from the time of Adam” is critical to Mormon theology (and I happen to agree with it), but it shouldn’t excuse us from ignoring how marriage has actually functioned in human history. Or maybe we should start a blog called No Marriage Before Adam (NMBA) and argue in circles about what we think our theology compels history to be rather than look at the evidence!

  19. Elizabeth Gilbert in Committed, her follow up book to Eat, Pray, Love gives a well researched historical account of the evolution of marriage and I especially like how she quoted from this anthropologist on p. 121 – “As the anthropologist Lionel Tiger wrote trenchantly on this topic: “It is astonishing that, under the circumstances, marriage is still legally allowed. If nearly half of anything else ended so disastrously, the government would surely ban it immediately. If half the tacos served in restaurants caused dysentery, if half the people learning karate broke their palms, if only 6 percent of people who went on roller coaster rides damaged their middle ears, the public would be clamoring for action. Yet the most intimate of disasters…happens over and over again.”

  20. “’Marriage=ordained by God from the time of Adam’” is critical to Mormon theology (and I happen to agree with it), but it shouldn’t excuse us from ignoring how marriage has actually functioned in human history.”

    I don’t think anyone suggested that. Theology certainly seems relevant to the discussion.

  21. Glenn and Nathaniel Givens appear to be at loggerheads here.

    Glenn stated marriage is ordained of God. I stated that marriage wasn’t invented. The obvious implication is that it wasn’t invented by humans. Which is perfectly compatible with Glenn’s statement. To ignore that is sophistry.

  22. “To ignore that is sophistry.”

    And to write that is weird. If you want to have a bee in your bonnet, Nathaniel, this isn’t the place. Try to relax a little.

  23. I’m curious as to why nothing about Adam and Eve was even mentioned in a blog post by a member of the Church? Seems like a massive oversight (to me). Marriage was invented by God and was first exhibited in Adam and Eve. Core tenants of our doctrine teach this (a quick search on will back all this up). We know that marriage is indeed ordained of God and not invented by humans. It has changed throughout time and includes some odd practices, but it doesn’t change the truth about marriage. The temple is the critical key and template for traditional marriage. Guess I’m just confused as to why LDS doctrine wasn’t mentioned in this post (if it was indeed written by a member of the LDS church) and the title reflects that it is a myth (by stating that traditional marriage—the marriage pattern from Adam and Even) is a myth. Am I correct in tying these things together? Does the author believe that traditional marriage is a myth? That Adam and Eve and their God-ordained union is a “myth”?

  24. The Other Clark says:

    So many non sequiters, I don’t know where to start: I’ll just list a few:
    “Women are physically capable to continuing their normal work during nursing and pregnancy” Maybe in today’s 1st World environment, but not historically.

    “The pumpkin shell, of course, refers to pregnancy” What? And nursery rhymes as evidence? Since when is this accepted?

  25. Good heavens, people, read the actual words of the post. Making accusations that don’t fit the post itself is either ignorant, lazy or willfully disingenuous.

    I believe in marriage, but Angela is spot-on. The “traditional marriage” model we tout so adamantly right now isn’t even an unchanging model in our own relatively short religious history, much less one that extends in purity back through time.

  26. Cade, there are a number of errors in your comment, though I think I appreciate the sentiment. There is a difference between examining marriage (the human institution) vs examining marriage (the LDS doctrine). This post is not about LDS doctrine. That said, a few clarifications:

    1. There is no historical evidence outside of LDS scripture that Adam and Eve were married. Establishing this via scripture does not resolve the matter. Further, there is no historical (or scriptural) evidence that the marriage of Adam or Eve is the pattern for traditional marriage. The only source for this belief is the temple liturgy, which is canon (actually this is an interesting question) but not scriptural.

    2. The temple is not the critical key and template for traditional marriage. It is the critical key and template for the new and everlasting covenant, which is decidedly NOT traditional in form or substance. The critical key and template for western traditional marriage is probably Catholicism mixed with other practices. In common parlance, references to “traditional marriage” have less to do with the underlying rite and more (or everything) to do with the gender of the participants.

    3. There are myths and there are myths. Yes, Adam and Eve and their marriage is a myth (cf Joseph Campbell). Traditional marriage is a myth (i.e. we made it up).

  27. Steve Evans-

    Try to relax a little.

    Sorry, I thought this was the Internet. :-)

  28. If anyone is interested in a longer take on some problems with claiming traditional marriage is a myth based on historical analysis, I wrote a longer version of my original comment: The Primordial Origins of Marriage.

  29. “Making accusations that don’t fit the post itself is either ignorant, lazy or willfully disingenuous.”

    Or a coping strategy when you really hate something but can’t think of a real counter-argument.

  30. Nathaniel: PRECISELY! Something is wrong on the internet!!

  31. Marc, then I guess I don’t understand what your argument is. Which of Coontz’s/Angela’s claims do you dispute? I don’t recall anyone arguing that traditional marriage is silly–just that…well tradition ain’t always so traditional :)

    Although one potential problem with the OP is when it discusses the protection vs oppression theories of marriage–I didn’t remember that from Coontz’s book and don’t have it handy so I did a quick google search and found this review on her web site:

    “Coontz rejects the theories that marriage came into existence among our Stone Age ancestors so that men could, alternately, protect or subjugate women. The ‘protective or provider theory of marriage,’ according to which human society evolved via women’s trading sex for food and protection, she writes, is ‘the most widespread myth about the origins of marriage.’

    …She rejects, too, the ‘oppressive theory’ according to which marriage came into being to allow men the free exchange and exploitation of women…

    Coontz argues that, rather than existing to oppress or protect women within the bounds of an exclusive and isolated male-female relationship, the marriage bond evolved because it served the needs of much larger kinship groups — creating cooperative ties for the purpose of sharing resources and keeping the peace that stretched far beyond individual families or tribes”

    So if anyone rejects that binary, so does Coontz :). But while the last paragraph may or may not be compatible with modern Mormon theology, it does seem roughly in line with how at least the Old Testament seems to view marriage.

  32. Steve Evans, You’re my hero.

    The pushback on the post is interesting to watch and perhaps makes the point that just believing something is true or fixed or unchanging just because we want it to be is both a) a well-nigh universal human tendency and b) not very helpful or useful. Maybe we should all try to relax a little.

  33. Duty Calls!

    (I’m not sure if the image will embed, but I thought it was worth an experiment.)

  34. trevor price: “in your opinion, does seeing where marriage has been help you understand where it is today? In other words, will understanding the evolution of the institution help me have a better marriage today?” That was my hope in reading it. On some level I think yes. It’s easy enough for me to say in my middle age (upper 40s anyway) that marriage needs to get over the notion of infatuation and being “in love” as the starting point. But we have (as LDS even) really bought that notion. It’s hard not to when every movie we watch is all about soul mates and the impossibility of making it work with anyone but “the one.” There’s a big difference between appreciating and cooperating with a spouse and having blinders on about their flaws or about who they are. And historically, marriage was a fairly miserable business, particularly for women, but not always great for men either when there was little choice involved.

    I wanted to get some foundational discussion out there with today’s post, but I intend to do a follow up piece about what I think we can do as LDS to improve our marriages in light of all this history. We make some mistakes that are the same as everyone else, but a few mistakes we make have a unique twist. And marriages are obviously very important to us as LDS people. We ought to figure out how to do marriage well.

    Nathaniel: I think you mostly object to the section on Protection vs. Oppression Theory. These are theories commonly referred to by different sociologists and feminists alike when discussing marriage. They are just theories to interpret what they see. I included them because they are often talked about whenever the history of marriage is mentioned, and it’s important to keep a broad discussion like this in context. The author posited cooperation as another reason (as mentioned later in my OP), training youngsters a trade. This was more necessary when families vs. communities became economic centers (e.g. a family with a farm or trade). So, yes, cooperation is a reason to marry, and it prevailed until urbanization and even beyond (although the male breadwinner model was invented after urbanization to create a reason for cooperation that no longer naturally existed since family members could earn independently of one another).

  35. I see Casey beat me to the punch on explaining the author’s view on the Oppressive and Protective Theories.

    “It’s usually something your grandparents remember their parents doing.” Even my own parents’ description of their marriage (and their parents’ marriages) are very different from the reasons we marry now. I once told my mom it sounded like she was agreeing to become dad’s employee, and she cocked her head and said, “Yes, it really was a lot like that in our day.”

    IDIAT: “And to think I wasted all that time courting my wife when I could have just drawn up a partnership agreement and had her sign it.” Well, maybe if you are Tom Cruise you could get away with that. The point is actually that now that we have choice and women can support themselves financially, you HAVE TO court her and not just pay her parents some money or draw up a contract or have a title to offer or some awesome family connections. So, yes, you could have gotten away with a contract a few hundred years ago far more easily than you could now.

  36. Someone mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy. Be aware that Maslow has poor empirical backing. It sounds good, but is accepted far too uncritically.

    And as for God ordaining marriage or it evolving–sounds kind of like all of Gods creation: foreordained yet created through evolution which to us appears random other than in its end result (ie humans in his image).

  37. Thanks for the overview, Angela. The questions you list at the end of your post are great. I wish we could dig in deeper when marriage comes up as a topic at church and discuss some of these things.

    I also recently enjoyed reading Coontz’s book. I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s a popular survey work, with all the benefits and limitations that genre entails. Like Angela suggests, Coontz is essentially saying that perhaps the most “traditional” thing about marriage is its ongoing renegotiation—its shifting iterations, its changing role in the structure of society, and the changing expectations people have when they enter into, suffer through, enjoy, or terminate a marriage relationship, etc.

    IOW, Nathaniel above calls attention to the fact of differences between the origins of an institution versus the motives people have for entering it. Of course, analyzing where motives/expectations and origins intersect is a method sometimes used by Nathaniel’s father in books like the forthcoming Wrestling the Angel.

    Anyway, the book itself begins by discussing some of the mythical, anthropological, and common-sense theories of the origins of marriage, then moves into the high-stakes marital dramas of the ancient world of a few centuries B.C. (mostly involving upper class snoots), then up through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when gender roles morphed in a variety of directions (I’m reading G. Eliot’s Middlemarch right now and my head is spinning trying to separate where she is describing expectations with approval versus disapproval!), on to present debates about gay marriage, no-fault divorce, cohabitation, and other things—conversations of great interest to we Mormons.

    I think no matter your ideological background (liberal, conservative, whatever else; these labels too often hamper informed engagement), I think you’d be repeatedly surprised by stories Coontz tells and by data she cites. Also, a bonus I didn’t expect from the book: I actually learned a number of interesting things that I think might improve my own marriage. If only I could make my wife listen and obey the principles I learned from Coontz.


  38. As to the title of this post, “The Myth of Traditional Marriage,” the “myth” referred to, if I understand Angela correctly, is that what is being held out as “traditional marriage” in the gay marriage debate generally by those opposing gay marriage and in the Church specifically as the “ideal” of marriage — the post-WWII American suburban stereotype of romantic marriage with a man working for income to provide for the family and a stay at home mother with 4+ kids at home to nurture — is a myth. That is, that picture of marriage as “traditional” marriage, as opposed to being a (very nice) temporally and geographically constructed particular expression of marriage that happens to be widely dispersed as the accepted norm today based on nearly ubiquitous cultural programming, is a myth because marriage has looked so different at so many points throughout human history.

    This is even true for the Church. It is a “myth” that this post-war suburban model of marriage is “traditional”, even for us. I think many Mormons today are unaware that Mormon Apostles in the late 1800s, in an apologetic effort to prove the greatness of polygamy, gave many impassioned sermons on the concept that romantically-based monogamy — that exact form of marriage that is now being held up as the ideal and as “traditional” — is a degraded form of marriage that can only lead to societal collapse (even pointing to Rome as an example).

    In the current usage of “traditional” marriage — in the debate against gay marriage — why doesn’t the “traditional” point to resource-based marriage? Or arranged (politics-based) marriage? Both of those endured for centuries or millennia, whereas the current model of Victorian marriage with the 1950s romantic gloss has only been around for 100+ years (60+ years if one takes the 1950s model as the literal antecedent for this, which seems very likely). The reason is that we know (even the anti-feminists among us) that the older “traditional” marriage is bad for women and is based on a view of women as not being legal or moral agents in their own right, but rather as moral subordinates of and legal dependents on their husbands. This is a fact of history that has only been remedied in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Thus, we cannot point to earlier times than that as the antecedent for “traditional” in “traditional marriage.” It would be barbaric to put women back into that framework of not being legal persons and moral agents in their own right. (The Adam and Eve narrative in the temple cannot be normative on this point because it can be — and has been — interpreted as descriptive of either vision of marriage, the egalitarian, romance-based union of man and woman we hail today as the “traditional” form of marriage, or the crassly materialistic version of “traditional” marriage that reigned throughout human history until Victorian times, with admittedly many “enlightened” exceptions on the ground of couples who courted and fell in love and had those kind of marriages before such marriage became normatively “traditional” in either political or religious discourse beginning in the late twentieth century. Someone above pointed out these themes in Shakespeare and any consumer of world literature knows that this conception of love-based marriage is not entirely absent during the periods in which the other theories of marriage were “traditional” based on the common understanding of the purposes of marriage during those times, which has been summarized by Angela in this post.)

    All of this leads to frustration with use of the term “traditional marriage.” What it is currently being used to describe is actually a very, very young “tradition”, between 60 and 100 years old.

    BUT, none of this quibbling changes the basic intention of people who make reference to “traditional” marriage in their opposition to gay marriage — in that specific usage, “traditional” means monogamous opposite gender, as opposed to same gender, marrying. That is really all that those who use the term “traditional” marriage mean when they use it as short-hand in their opposition to gay marriage. So all of this “thinky” stuff by Angela and Coontz and anyone else is irrelevant. Because it is true that there isn’t a clear historical precedent for gay people to marry each other. To the contrary, it is true that the bulk of history weighs against homosexuals, which is their entire point in the current political and cultural debates: they’ve been deprived by law and society, throughout human history, of human dignity. So it is actually true that gay people marrying each other, which is ironically an outgrowth of the very “traditional” post-war view of marriage as based in monogamous romantic love (as Angela points out), is NOT “traditional” by definition. (But aside from the fact of opposite gender marriage throughout history, it seems a stretch to point to any particular kind of opposite gender marriage and say that it is “traditional.”) It bears mentioning that also implicitly loaded in the term “traditional” marriage in this bare-bones usage in the political debate is the idea that it is right and good that same-sex marriage has not occurred in any significant instance, if at all, in history.

    I might also add that the religious answer, for many, to the point about gay people having been deprived of human dignity throughout human history appears to be simply to shrug and say they deserve it because engaging in homosexual sex acts is arguably explicitly described as a sin in the Old Testament and referred to by allusion as such in the New Testament. The term “traditional marriage,” in this context, becomes a shorthand for that — the justification for excluding gay people from marrying each other because marrying entails having sex (though allowing them to marry someone of the opposite sex). And then no answer is seen as necessary to the further question of the happiness and fulfillment in life of people who are born gay. (Though a few have indeed grappled with this problem, including blogger J. Max Wilson in one of the best treatments I’ve seen of it from within the Mormon perspective — his post acknowledging the burden of “super-chastity” that is placed on gay people in the Church, which is a far better approach than denying that gay people exist, which is the route that some have taken. I can’t link his post at the moment because his blog seems to be down, but assuming his blog comes back online at some point, Google Sixteen Small Stones Super Chastity.)

  39. John Mansfield says:

    In other news, it turns out the pro-life and pro-choice movements aren’t really for life or choice in general; they’re just against or for legalized abortion. In an argument over whether marriage should remain a strictly mixed-sex association or not, those preferring “traditional” marriage, are talking about one issue only, the one issue that is on the ballot or before the legislature or court, and they are preferring that on that one issue matters stay the only way anyone they ever knew could remember.

  40. Fowles: “is a myth because marriage has looked so different at so many points throughout human history” And even in contemporary cultures in non-western areas of the world. Marriage in Asia is still very different from our western traditions (although it too is evolving). Newlyweds in Asia still live with the groom’s parents in most cases and don’t set up their house independently. That’s most definitely traditional there and far more consistently traditional than our current western norms. Obviously that sounds like a huge downgrade to most of us!

    Hodges: Yes, I liked how the book talked about the recent focus on marriage preparation or pre-marital counseling (not LDS necessarily) as a way to address the far higher expectations and more transitory nature of marriage in our day. I’ll be talking about that in my follow up piece.

    Of course, human being love the idea of a love match. We love to feel infatuation and in love. I just took my pre-teen daughter to the One Direction concert last night and 60,000 screaming girls attest to our infatuation with infatuation. It’s been true through history, but it hasn’t always been linked to marriage as it is now, and marriages weren’t expected to be the source of ongoing romantic feelings until death do you part as many hope today.

  41. Go with a reliable source – Wikipedia on Marriage. It’s about as good at defining traditional marriage as someone in a book saying they know the definition of traditional marriage.

  42. “Marc, then I guess I don’t understand what your argument is.”

    Hi Casey. My only disagreement with you was the idea that scripture or doctrine was irrelevant to the discussion. I thought your comment that, by adding a scripture to the discussion, someone wanted to “start a blog called No Marriage Before Adam (NMBA) and argue in circles about what we think our theology compels history to be rather than look at the evidence!” was a little unfair under the circumstances.

    “Well, maybe if you are Tom Cruise you could get away with that.”

    Best comment of the day.

  43. I’d like to reiterate what was perhaps lost in the essay of a response by John f. (Yes I read through all the comments just to see if anyone else caught what was so glaringly obvious to me) “traditional” has never claimed to be the why behind marriage and the base of this article. Couched in the terms of the gay marriage conversation “traditional” means between a man and wife who are monogamous. That aspect of marriage has a long history. The motivation behind marriage has continually evolved and may continue to do so, but I don’t think that is really the issue here.

  44. I keep reading headlines like the “Myth of Traditional Marriage” and so I read the attached articles, assuming they will tell me that my previous supposition–that men and women have for millennia engaged in relationships in which they tried to create and rear children–was incorrect. And then I read those articles, like this one, and all they say is that men and women have in fact, for millennia, engaged in relationships in which they have, in fact, tried to create and rear children, but that the motivations for so doing have changed here and there. While interesting, that’s not nearly as groundbreaking as the titles to these articles would suggest. At best, articles like these should be titled, the “Myth of the Love Marriage,” not the “Myth of Traditional Marriage.”

    I guess, as always, the real fight is in the definition, rather than the substance.

  45. Marc: I never meant to imply that scriptures are irrelevant, just to highlight that the way marriage is talked about in at church ignores the actual history of marriage–including our own! But I’ll grant that I may have misread you and responded too sarcastically. Anyway, nobody who limits their comments to just a few sentences with zero block quotes can justly be compared to NDBF Gary :)

  46. We have a tendency to define “tradition” to suit ourselves, and there’s no question that, as a number of commenters have pointed out, the word has been used for its connotation rather than its meaning. However, humans are also forgetful creatures, generationally speaking, and many of our “traditions” are not much more than a century – say, four or five or a few more – generations old. Wedding rings, for example, show signs of emerging in the early to mid-19th century, but aren’t “traditional” until sometime in the 20th (much less always worn on the third finger of the left hand).

    American indigenous culures without written languages tended to take a long view of traditions; thus the Lakota Sioux had “always” had their sacred roots in the Black Hills, even though unmistakable archaeological evidence has them being driven west from Wisconsin and Minnesota in the late 1600s and early 1700s. But, of course, with no written history, they couldn’t (and didn’t) know that.

    If we don’t read our history, we might as well not have it – which is one of the things Coontz ends up saying, intentionally or no. In 1850, marrying for love was a foolish thing; Henry Higgins’ diatribe against it in My Fair Lady/Pygmalion is by no means completely anachronistic by his period, around 1890-1900. Tradition extends back as far as what our grandparents told us when we were young, as well as we can remember it.

    All of that goes to say that the current model has in fact become traditional marriage, and the word is once again used not with any sociological precision, but to elicit an emotional reaction from the listener to sway their opinion. In 50 or 100 years, one-on-one marriage (gender irrelevant) will probably be seen as “traditional” in the face of some other “terrible threat” which will no doubt shake the Earth to its core and bring on the Apocalypse. If we haven’t just done it now. ;)

  47. +1 jimbob.

    What I find unsatisfying is that these articles also seem to be masquerading as discussions in order to chip away at intellectual foundations of marriage. Pro-marriage (man/woman) supporters like myself, however, already were subjected to the destruction of our view of marriage when gay adoption was allowed, so there is no reason to try to rewrite or lecture us based on historical views about marriage.

    The battle is lost, because the trump card will always fall back on the idea that even if we insist on marriage being reserved for families (with exceptions permitted in childless male/female pairings at the margins due to infertility, lack of children, etc. but which nevertheless honor the same complementary gender patten), gay adoption provides for gay families and therefore in the eyes of the state marriage must be extended.

    A couple decades ago, of course the vast majority of the people pushing for gay adoption would never had conceded this slippery slope point, but Kennedy’s vote in the recent Supreme Court case pretty much necessitates gay marriage because of gay adoption (if the familial defense is invoked).

  48. sorry that your view of marriage was destroyed there, Ricky.

  49. Religion lost the debate about homosexuality and the accompanying issues when it based its core arguments on false assumptions (like saying homosexuality is unnatural) and claims it wasn’t willing to support fully (like children deserve to be raised by a mother and a father). People can’t make stupid, inaccurate claims and then castigate others for not accepting those claims. Also, heterosexual people are responsible for any eroding of marriage – and that is so obvious that it’s amazing it even has to be said. If the only way to win an argument is to change the core terms in such a way as to rewrite history, those who do so, at the very least, should own that change and stop complaining when others highlight it.

    This isn’t the “fault” of “others”; if there is going to be blame assigned, that blame belongs to “us”.

  50. I don’t think of traditional marriage as a love match. Traditional marriage was about securing the wellbeing of yourself and your children, or if the parents were involved, securing the wellbeing of your children and grandchildren. Men and women needed each other to produce children and have a complete life with status and financial stability for themselves and their offspring. People chose for themselves, or their parents chose for them.
    I think it is wrong to assume that poor people didn’t marry. They did. Sure you always had some men who wanted to escape responsibility. Or some women who chose/were coerced into relationships that did not involve marriage. But still marriage was the norm.
    My family history is full of marriages.
    I know that many marriages were arranged. As we know, arranged marriages do not seem to be worse than marriages based on love. Those of us with successful marriages today usually have success because of the commitment of marriage, not because we are in love all the time.

  51. Listen, Steve, I’ve been coming to this blog for seven-and-a-half years. I’m no dummy. I know traditional marriage.

    Now I’m going to eat. The menu tonight is french fries with french dressing and french bread. Oh, and to drink, Peru.

  52. Intriguing post, Angela! Much to ponder (thanks for totally hijacking my evening with those great questions at the end…)

    But one thing I just can’t get over now that I know the true meaning of Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater. If Peter is a pumpkin eater, and he put his wife inside a pumpkin shell, which pumpkin shell metaphorically represents Peter’s unborn child, is Peter guilty of uxorcide or filicide cannibalism? Either way…THIS IS NOT BE A BENIGN CHILDREN’S POEM.

  53. BradM: Just when I thought it was safe to assume I knew the roots of a nursery rhyme, I googled it and found an alternate theory on Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater that also makes a lot of sense. Peter = the Catholic church, and the wife that they couldn’t keep was when priests had to become celibate. Why a pumpkin shell is anyone’s guess, so I’m not sure it’s wrong. The feminist interpretation is one I heard decades ago, probably in college. Basically who knows? I personally don’t want to be put in a pumpkin shell either literally or figuratively.

    +1 jimbob and Steve

    New Iconoclast: well said.

    I’m not sure what the phrase “marriage is ordained of God” means exactly. What other things are ordained of God that don’t apply only to Mormons? If it just means God thinks marriage is a good idea, well so do I! Although some of the people who marry seem to be ill-suited to its rigors, and it is a more rigorous exercise than ever before. Much easier when there were higher rates of maternal death, and marriages didn’t have to endure for quite so many decades.

  54. Splitting hairs. Let’s just call the damned thing, “that marriage arrangement which God currently approves of.”

    There. Does everyone feel better now?

  55. Casey: NMBA ftw.

    Fowles: that comment should be a post.

    Angela: great post. And I agree 110% with this:

    I’m not sure what the phrase “marriage is ordained of God” means exactly. What other things are ordained of God that don’t apply only to Mormons? If it just means God thinks marriage is a good idea, well so do I! Although some of the people who marry seem to be ill-suited to its rigors, and it is a more rigorous exercise than ever before. Much easier when there were higher rates of maternal death, and marriages didn’t have to endure for quite so many decades.

  56. ” pro-life and pro-choice movements aren’t really for life or choice in general; they’re just against or for legalized abortion.”

    Quite false. The Right to Life group I edited a newsletter for over a period of years was staunchly against the death penalty.

  57. @Casey “I’m glad we don’t see marriage as a union of two extended families these days because I did NOT marry my in-laws thankyouverymuch.”

    Your comment may be tongue and cheek, but I do see many younger folks with this attitude, particularly before getting married. In-laws are a spouse’s *direct family* and, if you have children, a person’s children’s family (to state the obvious, but sometimes overlooked facts). These are primary relationships: one’s spouse and their offspring call their in-laws things like “mom” and “grandma”. There is no escaping it–by virtue of marriage, we adopt our spouse’s family. We can ignore that relationship, but it’s about as easy as ignoring one’s own family.

  58. JKS,
    “I know that many marriages were arranged. As we know, arranged marriages do not seem to be worse than marriages based on love.”

    We don’t know this.

  59. “Worse” is an incredibly elastic term, which is part of the point of this post.

  60. My own opinion on arranged marriages is that when parents truly have their child’s best interests at heart, they probably are more likely to be good matches than ones entered into based on feelings of romantic love. But we also know that there have historically been many abuses in the arranged marriage system. When parents exploit their children for political, monetary or personal gain, when dowries are at stake, when children have no right of refusal and consent is trumped by parental authority, that’s when arranged marriages can create misery. A balance between consent and parental involvement is probably ideal.

  61. “There is no escaping it–by virtue of marriage, we adopt our spouse’s family. We can ignore that relationship, but it’s about as easy as ignoring one’s own family.”

    Ah, and there’s the rub! See, I find it much easier to ignore my own family than the other side! (Not that my family doesn’t get along; we just don’t have frequent get togethers). But that just proves that you’re right, especially if one spouse is more accustomed to frequent Family Events. Personally, I could handle with a lapsed catholic model of extended families: Christmas, Easter, and maybe a couple of weekends when it’s convenient :)

  62. I love this thread. We have people chastising Angela for not citing Adam and Eve as a source of marriage and then happily picking up evolutionary psychology/athropology arguments about how it evolved only to protect offspring. Fun!

    What I can’t believe is that no one has looked to a true Mormon source for understanding traditional marriage: Johnny Lingo!

  63. I appreciate your overview of marriage in this article. I know Stephanie Coontz as well as the Cowans through an organization called the Council on Contemporary Families. You might want to join! Cutting edge info there.

    If you’re interested in the future of marriage, I’d invite you to read my latest book (co-authored with journalist, Vicki Larson) entitled, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014).

    I’d love your feedback and I hope your readers will check it out as well. Thanks again for your post.

    Susan Pease Gadoua

  64. rah speaks the truth! Any man who didn’t pay for his wife in cows is not practicing traditional marriage.

  65. Angela,
    There is a study just beginning that explores domestic violence in arranged marriage (in the US) to see if the rates are higher than loved marriages. It doesn’t bode well for arranged marriage. Further, the line between arranged marriage and forced marriage is often blurred. Families who practice arranged marriage often also feel a husband has a right to beat a wife, if only lightly.

    Ultimately, it is not the outcome of the marriage that should be the measure of whether arranged or love marriages are better, but rather the power partners have to choose–free will, or the power to negotiate their own futures. It doesn’t matter if the marriage is “good”–no violence, fairly good life, if one or both partners did not choose it.

  66. M Miles: “Families who practice arranged marriage often also feel a husband has a right to beat a wife, if only lightly.” This is certainly true in countries where wife beating is culturally tolerated and legal, and in their first generation immigrants no doubt, yet it would be impossible to prove that it is the parental arrangement that causes that attitude. In fact, dowries (crassly, you break it you bought it could be reversed) also contribute to that notion, but you could have parental arrangement or involvement without dowries. I certainly agree with you that rights and choice are the best way to ensure happiness in marriage.

  67. Susan Pease Gadoua: Thank you for coming by. I’ve pre-ordered your latest for my kindle. Can’t wait to read it! I’ll also check out your youtube on divorce. Great stuff for those of us invested in strengthening marriage.

  68. I appreciate the thought that went into this analysis, but there are a few assumption tossed off as truth that may or may not be accurate.

    For example, “Women are physically capable to continuing their normal work during nursing and pregnancy.”

    Glad if this was your experience. It is not for many of us.

    Women used to die from nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, and nowadays they may need to be hospitalized on IV nutrition or on drugs that affect their concentration. A registered dietitian in the Chicago area has made a thriving practice of helping women through nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, but she has told me that her patients are often professional women who assumed that they would be physically capable of continuing their work, panicked when they got so sick and had an abortion, and have now planned another pregnancy, arranging leave or reduced work hours plus her guidance and support. There is also research from England that inability to keep up in the workplace is a major reason for women to seek an elective abortion.

    And while only perhaps 5% of women suffer to that degree, nausea is only one of the many complications/health issues that may be caused by pregnancy, including extended bedrest, musculoskeletal injury, damage to urinary tract, gestational diabetes that becomes permanent, and so on.

    And studies on breastfeeding in the US consistently show that women employed full-time are much less likely to persist through six months.

    So adding it all up, a non-trivial percentage of women DO find that they cannot continue their normal work during that season of their lives. It isn’t just theory.

    “When they adopt a more “traditional” division of labor after the birth of a child, this often destabilizes their relationship and increases their stress rather than relieving it. A wife who formerly worked outside the home feels isolated, lonely, and undervalued.”

    Again, “traditional” is not really defined here, so hard to figure out how it relates to LDS couples. Is this a 50s-style Dad Knows Best relationship? Or is it “full and equal partnership” where homemaking and child production is viewed as equal to wage-earning?

    When we lived in student family housing at BYU, it was so sweet to see what happened every afternoon starting at 4 p.m. There would mostly be women on the playground, but as the dads arrived home from campus, they would often take over with the kids, letting mom cook dinner in peace, have time alone, or head off to class herself. When both partners were there, they shared the parenting.

    So it was a shock when we were living in student family housing at another university a year later, and a dad came home, plopped on the couch, and ordered his wife to get a beer. She hustled to comply. I tried not to stare. “It’s only fair,” she explained. “He works all day, I don’t.”

    So yeah, I can see a wife treated like that feeling undervalued.

    But many LDS couples consider both partners to be working and contributing equally, even if in different ways. And a lot of parents who have spent a season at home find that they learned great organizational skills and may retrain into another profession when they return to the workplace.

  69. Naismith: The part about women being able to work during and after pregnancy is a historical observation made in the book, debunking the “protection” theory of marriage. The point was that it’s not a biological imperative that women not contribute financially during pregnancy. Obviously, there are some women for whom this is not the case, but it would have to be a much higher percent for the biological imperative to drive marriage behavior across the entire species (e.g. as happens with some other species in the animal kingdom).

    The quote you asked about was referring to a “traditional” division of labor meaning women doing the work in the home, men doing the work outside the home. Although studies showed it to be a real source of contention in marriages that began under a different arrangement, for all marriages it contributed to less empathy and understanding between spouses (as you can imagine when work is specialized in this way). Just as an operations person questions the work a sales person does or a marketing person thinks the communications person is overpaid, there is less understanding of roles we don’t personally hold.

    “But many LDS couples consider both partners to be working and contributing equally, even if in different ways.” Yes, and this is certainly critical to making marriages work. Mormon men, on the whole, change diapers and don’t see caring for their own offspring as “babysitting,” at least not those under age 40.

  70. Angela,
    There was no intent to prove that parental arrangement of marriage causes domestic violence. However the power dynamics are inextricably linked. I don’t know of any women who had autonomy to live away from a male relative, for instance, and then agreed to an arranged marriage. Dowries don’t always play a role in the US, yet even without a dowry someone else deciding her entire future leaves a woman in a powerless situation. She is not free agent and will likely continue her life with little agency.
    There is a reason that marriage as an arrangement determined by family members tends to wane in some communities as immigrants are in the country longer. This isn’t to say that arranged marriage is always bad, it is not. But to ignore the correlation with rates of domestic violence, ignores the power dynamics involved.

  71. this site seems so weird and contradictory. It claims to be a ‘Mormon’ site, but most of the posts go on and on against things that are critical to Mormon belief, such as traditional marriage. Is it really ‘Mormon’ or just ‘people who like to complain about Mormons’?

  72. I know! So weird.

  73. M Miles: Yes, I would definitely agree that the power dynamics contribute to domestic abuse. The book pointed out a few frightening things. First of all, for the past 200 years since love began to be linked to marriage, it has been passe and boorish to beat your wife even if it was legal. Prior to that it was (as revealed through literature and historical record) an expected necessity to beat your wife at times to keep harmony in the home. One law only stipulated that beating your wife should cease by 9pm so as not to disturb the peace. And yet any marriage that a woman cannot leave without material disadvantage is fertile ground for domestic abuse.

  74. The Other Clark says:

    “A woman, a watchdog, and a walnut tree; the more you beat them, the better they be.”

  75. I’ve heard a lot of talks from general authorities deriding the legal adoption of no-fault divorce as a predominate factor in the decline of “traditional marriage.” But as the article pointed out, it only exacerbates problems arising from the issue. Legally, fault divorce created a lot of other problems too. First, it took a lot of court resources to investigate and evaluate each petition for divorce to determine whether sufficient “fault” existed to grant it. The burden of this cost was placed on the state/taxpayers. Second, the divorce process would take longer and prevented people from getting remarried to new individuals–often leading them to simply begin living together outside of marriage. Third, if couples lacked the requisite cause to obtain a grant for divorce, they sometimes turned to crafting evidence of affairs, either maliciously against their spouse or in conspiracy with them. Either way, this involved someone committing perjury to the court and only creating more problems for the couple, the court, and any implicated third-party. All this in a futile attempt to preserve marriages that are essentially gone anyway.

%d bloggers like this: