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The Purpose of Marriage, Family: Part I

Divorce and Marriage Related?

If we’re going to deal with the subject of divorce, we should talk about marriage, too: shouldn’t we?

Marriages are funny things for humans: they happen for a variety of reasons — love, land, libidinal, nuclear family creation.  I loved being married, knowing that there were rules for my behavior (unlike my father) and that I was going to be introduced to some new roles — father, co-parent — that I couldn’t have gotten any other way.  These interpersonal unions have been happening for a long time…even in hunter-gatherer societies.

“All In the Family” — The Ultimate Benevolent Autocrat, Patriarch

My idea of marriage was, of course, shaped by how my parents behaved.  (I was scared of the idea of being married well into my 20’s.)  The culture also influenced my perceptions: when Archie (Bunker) would say to Edith: “stifle,” I would wonder “who could be treated with that much disrespect and still stay in the relationship?”

I’m divorced twice and, sometimes, wonder “What happens to that love and commitment that I felt at the beginning?”  That sense of promise that love was all that mattered…that together, we could conquer any foe?

I have a partial answer: that love, that sense of devotion gives way to deep-seated fears.  And, like so many others, I ended up running away from what terrified me: that my wife had found out the truth about me: that I was not acceptable, that I was not loved or cherished anymore.  That I was not lovable.

So why do we get married?  In our Western culture, why do we still see marriage as a gift?  (It’s changing, though: marriages in 2010 were at a record low, 5% down over 2009, less than half of adults are married: see Pew Center’s research.)

Arranged marriages (Unicef, ABC News) — these represent 90% of all marriages in India, for example — have a global divorce rate of 6%.  Cultural norms are at work, obviously, that contrast with the 50% divorce rate for first marriages in the United States.  Legal obstacles, too.

Harville Hendrix’s Breakthrough Work: 20 Years Old

What theories explain the differences?  Harville Hendrix, a psychotherapist with some breakthrough ideas, suggests that arranged marriages don’t have the same set of expectations…the partners don’t enter the union with “the unconscious illusion that the unmet needs of childhood will get met in marriage.”

I think the purpose of marriage is the idea that Meg Wheatley shared at a conference back in 1992 when she said, quite glibly, “the family provides the container in which each of us is free to experiement with who s/he wants to be.”  

If we can accept that as the purpose for marriage, how does the splitting up impact this “work?”  I’ll deal with that in another post.

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