History of Marriage – and Divorce

Whenever society encounters divorce, you can count on someone to speak up to defend “traditional marriage” against those who would attack it by allowing married couples to divorce too easily. By “traditional,” they usually mean a marriage of love in which one man and one woman fall in love and stay together for life. What we’re learning from recent research is that this idea of marrying for love isn’t traditional at all but a recent invention.

For most of our history, men and women didn’t fall in love and get married. They married for money, or help on the farm, or to cement family ties. If they happened to learn to love each other later, that was a welcome development, but it certainly wasn’t a requirement for marriage. In her book, MARRIAGE, A HISTORY: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, Stephanie Koontz examines the relative recent devlopment of marriage for love.

Here’s the fascinating corollary to Koontz’s finding. Now that marriages are based on love, they have become less permanent. When a marriage was based on politics, or land, or duty, both spouses could count on it to endure. They may not care much for each other, and might be quite unhappy with each other, but they stayed married.

But when we demand that one spouse LOVES the other, and given that love is inherently fickle, Koontz says, it’s little wonder that we find ourselves with an increase in the rate at which marriages disintegrate.

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