Write an essay analyzing marriage………………….


The Oxford Dictionary defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman that is officially sanctioned by the laws that govern the jurisdiction in which it takes place (2012). The dictionary also defines marriage as the union between partners of the same sex in territories where such a union is allowed by law (Oxford Dictionary, 2012). Marriage is in essence a contractual agreement, made between two persons that binds them together by law indefinitely or until one or both parties decides to terminate the arrangement (Hall, 2006). Marriage also constitutes a social institution. It is upheld by social norms, values and beliefs that define accepted standards of behavior for married couples. According to Johnston and Hausman, marriage is not restricted to the married couple but also extends to the families and friends of both parties, who are linked together by the marriage (2006). This paper examines the different dimensions of marriage and explores the future of the institution in contemporary society.

Determinants of Marriage

Decisions made by individuals in choosing marriage partners are influenced by demographic, psychological, cultural, and social factors (Dribe and Lundh, 2010). Demographic factors that influence marriage include socioeconomic status and age (Dribe and Lundh, 2010). The decision made by an individual in choosing their marriage partner may be influenced by the desired characteristics of the prospective partner in terms of these factors.  According to Martin Dribe and Christer Lundh, The socioeconomic status of a heterosexual male may also determine his marital status (2010). Men who are unemployed and homeless are less likely to be married than employed men in well paid jobs. Similarly, age is a great determinant of marital status in the United States (Dribe and Lundh, 2010). Legally, marriage is expected to occur between two adults in accordance to the law.

Culture pertains to the norms, values, beliefs and tendencies that are accepted among various societies. With regard to marriage, culture exerts influence through tradition and customs. For example, arranged marriages are integral to the traditions of many societies in Asia and are a product of culture (Marks, 2005). These norms are exported to the United States by immigrants coming from countries in this region.  According to Loren Marks, Religion forms a key component of culture and also has a direct influence on marriage (2005).  Different religions have different values, beliefs and conventions that guide behavior among their members.  Most religions frown upon intermarriages with people of other religions therefore limiting the choice of partners that an individual has (Marks, 2010). Similarly, most of the major religious groups in the world do not condone same sex marriages despite its increasing acceptance and legalization in western society. Religion also places emphasis on the importance of marriage and is a key supporter of the institution. Most religious groups discourage divorce and emphasize the binding nature of the union.

Types of Marriage

A conventional marriage in western society is characterized by a person deciding to enter a relationship with another person out of mutual love and affection which may result in marriage after some time. This sort of marriage is influenced by personal decisions which are made by both parties (Hall, 2006). However, a person may be influenced by external forces such as family and the norms that characterize their culture.  Endogamy, which is characterized by marrying in side one’s own race, social class, or ethnic group may result from familial and social pressures. Arranged marriages usually take place in the context of endogamy. Arranged marriages involve selection of marital partners on behalf of the individuals to be married. Endogamy is common among Asian communities such as Hindus and orthodox Jews and is an integral part of their culture (Marks, 2005).

While western standards of behavior require people to marry out of love, some people choose to marry for practical reasons. A marriage of convenience exists when the partners undergo the formal processes of marriage as part of a beneficial arrangement that may be mutually advantageous or one-sided.  A marriage of convenience may be made for political reasons. An aspiring political candidate may understand that voters are more likely to attribute credibility to married candidates as opposed to single or divorced ones, causing the candidate to get into an arrangement with a model spouse in order to raise the chances of winning the election.

Dribe and Lundh observe that a person is more likely to choose a more economically stable individual for marriage (2010). This shows the impact of socioeconomic status on marriage choices. Marriages can be orchestrated in order to benefit one or both parties financially. For example, individuals may get married in order to benefit from their partners wealth. Additionally, some high paying jobs give preference to married individuals which may result in marriages made under pretense by eligible candidates who are unmarried or divorced.

Interracial marriages involve the union of persons of different races. Marriages between individuals belonging to different religious groups, ethnic groups and countries may also fall in this category. This form of marriage stands in stark contrast to endogamy and some people in exogamous marriages face criticism from their religious groups, families and society if they originate from conservative backgrounds (Marks, 2005).

Domestic partnerships do not constitute marriage but they involve cohabitation of two individuals in a sexual relationship. The individuals may or may not have children in this arrangement and may live in the same way as a conventional married couple. According to Cherlin (2004), cohabitation is becoming gradually accepted as a substitute for marriage by society.
With regard to the various forms of marriage to which an individual may choose to subscribe, it is generally accepted that the true essence of marriage lies in a loving relationship between two individuals committed to one another and bound by affection and mutual trust. In my own opinion, marriage should be a mutually beneficial relationship that is grounded on economic and emotional interdependence between two persons that are in love with one another, coupled with equality of status among the partners. In my view, marriage based on these principles will prove to be viable in the long run. This form of marriage may have beneficial social effects, particularly with regard to child upbringing, since research shows that children in unbroken families fare better than those coming from split families (Wallerstein and Kelly, 1980)

Stages of Marriage

Fincham and Bradbury identify three stages in the life cycle of marriage: buildup of a close relationship, marriage maintenance, and the final phase of distress, decline and breakup (1990). In the first stage concerning the buildup of a relationship, the partners evaluate the benefit that the relationship is likely to yield in comparison to alternative relationships as a basis of deciding on whether to continue with the relationship and whether or not the relationship will be viable in the long run.

The second stage is characterized by the couple working to maintain the marriage (Fincham and Bradbury, 1990). Marriage may be maintained by using blockades against external disruptive forces coupled with the partners’ efforts to satisfy their spouses. Fincham and Bradbury observe that in this phase marriages are categorized according to solidarity and status (1990). Solidarity involves the couple’s ability to maintain trust, self disclosure and manage conflict. These are key elements crucial in maintaining intimacy in the relationship. Marital contentment is also achieved through egalitarian measures in allocating authority (Fincham and Bradbury, 1990).

The stage of deterioration and breakup is characterized by marital distress in terms of increasing economic and psychological pressure, issues in fairness and a lack of equity in the marriage, the decline of mutual trust among partners and lack of motivation to continue with the relationship in the face of suitable alternatives (Fincham and Bradbury, 1990).

Despite lacking experience in marital life, I have observed the lives of married people close to me with a view of understanding how their marriages relate to the established concepts that seek to define the stages of marriage. A point in case is the engaged couple next door to my apartment. To me, their engagement was rather hasty since according to my knowledge, the relationship has only lasted one month. According to Fincham and Bradbury (1990), the stage of relationship buildup is characterized by the partners evaluating the levels of happiness and satisfaction they are likely to achieve in the relationship in light of viable alternatives that present them. Looking at this description, I would conclude that the couple next door has resolved their issues in this stage and is in the process of transitioning into the next stage of marriage.

The Future of Marriage

            Contemporary western society expresses pessimism towards marriage. According to Metz, undue attention is paid to the negative effects of marriage on individuals, particularly regarding its impact on women’s lives and career aspirations (2007). The current depiction of marriage exhibits the potential dangers that marriage presents especially to women in terms of its life threatening aspects of childbirth and the psychological toll that marriage inflicts on them (Scott, 2007).  According to Glenn, the advantages that marriage presents to individuals and society are largely disregarded in current attitudes towards marriage among scholars involved in the study of the institution, thus undermining the status of the institution in society (1998).

The need by people to make public their commitment to one another is crucial in creating a lasting relationship. People still engage in marriage today because the formality involved in making a contractual agreement binds them together and enables them to resist internal and external pressures that may undermine their relationship (Fincham and Bradbury, 1990).

The universality of marriage as an institution cannot be contested since virtually all human cultures have the institution of marriage as an integral part. This implies that marriage does have a purpose that is proven to be advantageous to both individual persons and society. Marriage in contemporary society cannot be viewed to be any less important than it was in the past as it still serves society in bringing in new and productive individuals into the world, in creating a sense of social stability due to its binding characteristics that hold families together, and in the formation and maintenance of new social links.


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Retrieved 29 February 2012 from: http//www.haworthpress.com/web/MFR

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Wallerstein, J. S., and Kelly, J. B. (1980). Surviving the breakup: How children

and Parents Cope with Divorce. New York: Basic Books.

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