Marriage’s ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’: Altering expectations and rising inequality improve best marriages, but undermine average marriages
Today Americans are looking to their marriages to fulfill different targets than in the past — and although the satisfaction of these goals requires especially big investments of time and energy within the marital relationship, on average Americans are in fact making smaller investments in their marriage relationship than in the past, according to new research from Northwestern University.
Those conflicting realities don’ t bode well for the majority of marriages, according to Eli Finkel, teacher of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and sciences plus professor of management and institutions at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and the lead author of the study. But today’ ersus best marriages — those where the spouses invest enough time and energy in bolstering the marital partnership to help each other achieve what they seek from the marriage — are thriving even more than the best marriages of yesteryear.
Exactly what accounts for these divergent trends?
Many scholars plus social commentators have argued that will contemporary Americans are, to their peril, expecting more of their marriage than previously. But Finkel, who wrote the article in collaboration with Northwestern graduate student students Ming Hui, Kathleen Carswell and Grace Larson, disagrees.
“ The issue isn’ to that Americans are expecting more vs less from their marriage, but rather that this nature of what they are expecting has changed, ” Finkel said. “ They’ re asking less of their marriage regarding basic physiological and safety needs, but they’ re asking really their marriage regarding higher psychological needs like the need for personal development. ”
According to Finkel, these changes over time in what Americans are seeking from their marriage are linked to broader changes in the nation’ s economic and cultural circumstances.
In the decades after America’ ersus Declaration of Independence in 1776, the nation primarily consisted of small farming villages in which the household was the device of economic production and income labor outside the home was rare. During that era, the primary functions of marriage revolved around meeting basic needs like food production, shelter and physical safety.
“ In 1800, the idea of getting married to for love was ludicrous, ” Finkel said. “ That isn’ t to say that people didn’ to want love from their marriage; it just wasn’ t the point of marriage. ”
Starting around 1850, the nation began a pointy and sustained transition toward urbanization, and the husband-breadwinner/wife-homemaker model of marriage became increasingly entrenched. With these changes, and as the nation became wealthier, the primary functions of marriage revolved less around basic needs and more around needs pertaining to love and companionship.
“ To be sure, ” Finkel observed, “ marriage remained a fiscal institution, but the fundamental reason for having a wedding and for achieving happiness within the marriage increasingly revolved around love plus companionship. ”
Beginning with the various countercultural revolutions of the 1960s, a third model of marriage emerged. This particular third model continued to value love and companionship, but many of the primary functions of marriage right now involved helping the spouses engage in a voyage of self-discovery and private growth.
“ In contemporary marriages, “ Finkel notes, “ Americans look to their marriage to help them ‘ find themselves’ and to pursue careers and other activities that facilitate the expression of their core self. ”
Finkel is generally enthusiastic about these traditional changes, as having a marriage fulfill one’ s needs for self-discovery and personal growth can yield incredibly high-quality marriages. Yet, he has uncertainties about whether the majority of American marriages can, at present, meet spouses’ new psychological expectations of their marriage.
According to Finkel, when the primary functions of marriage revolved around shelter and food production, there wasn’ t much need for spouses to obtain deep insight into each other’ ersus core psychological essence. As the principal functions shifted to love and then to self-expression, however , it became more and more essential for spouses to develop such insight.
Those marriages that are successful in meeting the two spouses’ love and self-expression goals are extremely happy — happier than the best marriages in earlier eras. However, according to Finkel, divorce rates stay high, and average marital satisfaction among intact marriages is declining slightly, because most spouses just are not putting the amount of time plus psychological investment required to help each other’ s love and self-expressive needs. Spouses with children possess reallocated much of their time to extensive parenting, and spouses without children have reallocated much of it to longer workdays.
The good thing is that there are relatively straightforward ways to permit your marriage to breathe. The suffocation model is all about supply plus demand.
He factors to a seemingly simple, but very effective, option, a 21-minute writing treatment that he and his colleagues developed which could help preserve marital quality with time in which spouses wrote about conflict in their marriage from the perspective of the third party who wants the best for all involved.
“ In general, if you want your marriage to help you achieve self-expression and personal growth, it’ s crucial to invest sufficient time and energy in the marriage. If you know that the time and energy aren’ to available, then it makes sense to adjust your own expectations accordingly to minimize disappointment. ”
“ The Suffocation of Marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow Without Enough Oxygen” will appear within Psychological Inquiry later this year.