The Case for Early Marriage is a Case for Courtship

04.04.2013, 10:32 AM

I appeared on HuffPost Live last night to talk about delayed marriage and its consequences. One thing that I didn’t get to say, but that is extremely important to say, is that there is no such thing as a right age to marry for everyone. However, there is such a thing as a right way to go about courtship (if I may use that ancient and beautiful word): to be intentional in relationships, and specifically, to court with a view toward marriage. And if young adults do this, more young adults will get married in their early-mid 20’s.

Also, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote the Slate article, “The Case Against Marrying Young,”  noted that many young adults are wary of getting married young because they saw their parents get married young and get divorced. This is a legitimate concern.

However, as I noted, what many working class young adults are instead doing isn’t any better: they are still forming intimate relationships and starting families – the only thing that’s missing, as they say, is “the piece of paper.” And when these young couples break up – and many of them do break up – they experience something like an invisible divorce. For instance, consider the emotional state and family situation of Ricky, the four-times engaged but never married father I wrote about recently.

So many working class young adults find themselves in a predicament: get married and make themselves vulnerable to divorce, or delay marriage and make themselves vulnerable to a string of broken relationships, and if they have children, a fragmented family.

The way out of this predicament, I would suggest, is for communities to come alongside young adults and encourage them to embrace intentional relationships and to embrace “the marriage idea”: the commitment to love and sacrifice for your spouse and family until death. In other words, for communities to rebuild marriage as a formative institution that guides young, passionate lovers to becoming old, mature lovers.

And I emphasize the role of communities here, because it really does take a village to build and sustain a good marriage.


30 Responses to “The Case for Early Marriage is a Case for Courtship”

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  2. Mont D. Law says:

    (The way out of this predicament, I would suggest, is for communities to come alongside young adults and encourage them to embrace intentional relationships and to embrace “the marriage idea”: the commitment to love and sacrifice for your spouse and family until death. In other words, for communities to rebuild marriage as a formative institution that guides young, passionate lovers to becoming old, mature lovers.)

    So your solution is to get a non-existent community to encourage young adults to pursue a strategy they don’t have skills or resources to succeed at?

  3. Diane M says:

    @Mont D Law “So your solution is to get a non-existent community to encourage young adults to pursue a strategy they don’t have skills or resources to succeed at?”

    It’s an idealistic solution that would require lots of work from people outside the Ohio community he is studying. It would require building up communities again.

    It would be hard, but if people really committed to doing it, it could work.

    From your comment in the other thread, I think you solution involves convincing Americans that not only should they support health care for everyone when we can barely get any health reform at all, they should invest massive amounts of money in giving people jobs, housing, food, education, child care, and counseling. That would be just as hard to do, maybe harder.

  4. Diane M says:

    @David Lapp – Unfortunately, I have a lot of negative associations with the word “courtship.” For me it conjures up stories about young people who don’t even date before marriage and young women who promise to do what their parents tell them.

    However, I do like the idea of slowing down the process of romantic involvement and being intentional about it.

    I think one important step is to get young people to see that living together and changing partners frequently is not an improvement on getting divorced, at least not for their children. (The parents may save themselves some headaches and money, but the kids end up worse off.)

  5. Diane M says:

    This article seems like a good summary of the costs and benefits of later marriage in our society:

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/late-marriage-and-its-consequences/

  6. La Lubu says:

    Diane M., how is it possible to build communities without massive economic investment in previously abandoned geographic areas over the next couple of generations, and massive investment in granting USians in the bottom four quintiles access to competant, experienced, professional mental health treatment?

    I’m not kidding. How could it even be possible? It takes a critical mass of people with economic and social stability to consider such a thing, and that critical mass is nonexistant in large swathes of the US. I could probably name forty cities just off the top of my head here in Illinois where the differences in quality-of-life statistics have dropped dramatically between my age (45) and when I was my daughter’s age (13), and frankly when I was the age my daughter is now is when the downhill slide started accelerating. I almost left a tl/dr comment on Amber’s post but though better of it; the basic gist is that the wheels fell off the rust belt well over a generation ago, and it was the result of massive disinvestment in us.

    David: I don’t want to throw Ricky and other young men similarly situated on the scrap heap, but Ricky is unmarriageable, and his four engagements don’t change that fact. Had he married, he’d just have a divorce and a couple of breakups under his belt. Maybe two divorces. He doesn’t have job skills that are marketable at a living wage in this economy (and that is a big change between his and his grandfather’s generation; his grandfather’s generation was easily able to support a family on the same skill/educational level—thank you, labor unions! Please come back!), but that isn’t his biggest problem. Ricky is an alcoholic. An alcoholic that was raised in a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic home. And he isn’t alone—the stats you quote as being in your Knot Yet report indicate that very close to half the population of so-called middle America has a substance abuse problem. Half the population. Sit with that for a minute. This is an epidemic public health problem. It’s a public health problem that cannot be addressed merely by telling prople to stop drinking or stop using; the underlying issues (hat tip to Mont for mentioning PTSD) must be addressed or other destructive behaviors rise up to replace the substance abuse.

    The coping skills one learns to survive in a highly dysfunctional environment do help a person survive that particular environment. But those same coping skills become dysfunctional in other environments. This is a macro problem; a structural problem, yet mainstream USian thought is that these are individual failures that can be addressed with a “can do!” attitude, a little elbow grease (“go for a walk!”), and more prayer. That advice has been and continues to be an abysmal failure. We don’t tell people that they can positive-think their way out of cancer or heart disease or tuberculosis; we shouldn’t expect they can with substance abuse or any other mental health concern either.

    Nor should we expect that marriage can function as a form of cheapo, accessible-to-the-masses therapy. And I phrase it that way because it is a popular myth on my end of the street…that one just needs a “good man” or “good woman” as the case may be, and everything will work out eventually.

    And…there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding a religious community that one is a genuine part of. I’m so glad I found mine—I didn’t think such a thing was ever going to or even could exist for me. But….there is a limit to what religious communities can provide. First, like marriage, religion is also not a substitute for therapy. Next, because most of the unchurched young people are that way because they choose to be—they don’t believe the same things that the religious communities of their area do. Back in the day, some teacher or another recommended me for some summer day camp run by some religious organization…Methodist? Lutheran? Non-denominational Christian? I don’t remember…I just remember it wasn’t Catholic and I’d never heard of ‘em before. My folks thought someone was calling for a job for me, so they gave the bubbly youth minister that called asking for me the number where I was. Seemed like a really nice person over the phone (though he wouldn’t give me the name of the person who mentioned my name to him)….but I “passed”. I passed because I wasn’t interested in the religious aspect of it. The summer camp sounded fun, but I’d rather hang around the neighborhood doing a whole lotta nothin’ than have to pray in things I didn’t believe in. That was pretty much an endemic attitude among young people in my neighborhood. We were all unchurched, except for my friend whose father was a deacon. It wasn’t really hostility to religion; it was more “why bother? I don’t believe in what they (the churchgoers) do.”

  7. mythago says:

    Isn’t that ideal – of marriage as sacrifice and love until death – exactly what we’ve been discussing as the cause of young adults not marrying? They see that ideal already. They don’t think they’re ready for it, or that they will be unable to live up to it with their current romantic partner.

  8. Diane M says:

    @mythago – I don’t think that’s exactly it, although I’d like to hear what the Lapps and other researchers think.

    “Isn’t that ideal – of marriage as sacrifice and love until death – exactly what we’ve been discussing as the cause of young adults not marrying? They see that ideal already. They don’t think they’re ready for it, or that they will be unable to live up to it with their current romantic partner.”

    I think it’s true that the young adults are talking about not wanting to divorce and therefore not getting married. That is one thing that is stopping them.

    However, I think they also see marriage as something where you have to be established financially.

    And I think there are also some very romantic ideas about love. Not just that you have to be in love to get married, but that you have to somehow know that this is the one, the only right person for you. (And if you read advice for women, he has to prove, prove, prove that he loves you enough or he’s not the right one.) And worse – if it’s work, it’s not really love. Love is just supposed to happen.

    Some of the romantic ideas make it hard to see how any relationship ever could last. (And I am 100% in love with my husband after many years together.)

    Being careful to avoid divorce and wanting to be financially stable – that makes a lot of sense. The problem I see is that the young people aren’t saying, I don’t want to break up with someone I have a child with, I don’t want to have a child before I have the money. Or maybe they are, but the babies just come.

  9. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: The problem I see is that the young people aren’t saying, I don’t want to break up with someone I have a child with, I don’t want to have a child before I have the money. Or

    It sounds like you’re asking why people are delaying marriage, but not childbearing. There’s a simple reason for that: women, in particular, *can’t* defer childbearing indefinitely, they’re on a strict biological timetable. (This is not the case for men, of course). If you wait until you’re financially stable enough to marry before having children, you risk losing your chance to have children at all, or to have more than one or two.

  10. mythago says:

    That ‘strict biological timetable’ is not quite as strict as linkbait headlines would like us to believe – particularly if one doesn’t want more than two children.

    @DianeM: yes, and all the things David is talking about *are* romantic notions of marriage. I don’t understand the argument that because young people are delaying marriage over a romantic ideal, the solution is more of the same.

  11. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: That ‘strict biological timetable’ is not quite as strict as linkbait headlines would like us to believe – particularly if one doesn’t want more than two children.

    The rate of fertility decline can be overstated, sure, but it is a fact that women’s biological timetable is more strict than for men. As for desired number of children, most educated/professional women end up having fewer children then they desire. That’s a big problem. We need to figure out ways to boost fertility among educated women, and a big part of that should be making it easier/more socially encouraged for them to have children younger.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_and_female_infertility

  12. mythago says:

    “More strict than it is for men” is a pretty meaningless phrase; while women in their 70s can’t have biological children but many men can, that’s hardly something that should be terrifying to women planning their families. (It also ignores the growing body of research about the correlation between paternal age and birth defects.) I’m also curious as to the assertion that “most educated/professional women” (whatever that means) would love to have bigger families.

  13. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Mythago,

    Re: (It also ignores the growing body of research about the correlation between paternal age and birth defects.)

    While that risk does exist, it’s been heavily overstated. The recent research shows that having a father over 40 increases the risk of autism, for example, twofold rather than fivefold (as some previous studies suggested), and is a weaker influence than the age of the mother. Regular exercise and healthy diet is also known to improve sperm quality for older men.

    Re: I’m also curious as to the assertion that “most educated/professional women” (whatever that means) would love to have bigger families.

    Glad to help. You may want to peruse this blog post by Razib Khan, where he looks at data from the General Social Survey. The upshot is: while education doesn’t have an influence on how many children women actually *want*, it strongly affects how many they end up having. Women who don’t graduate high school typically want 3.6 children, and end up having 2.4. Women who complete college want 3.0 and end up having only about 0.85; women with graduate degrees want about 3 and end up having 0.75. The trends are fairly clear.

    (I’d also add, as an aside, that I love Razib’s sarcastic, mocking tone here: “the ignorance of the typical modern” is a great phrase).

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/09/the-educated-want-more-children-than-they-have/

  14. Diane M says:

    @Hector St Claire – I don’t think that the reason women are not delaying childbearing is fear of the biological clock. They are having children in the early 20s and could wait longer without becoming infertile.

    It’s also important to realize that although fertility problems are more common for women in their 30s, many women have not problem getting pregnant then.

    But for this question, college educated women have just as much of a biological clock issue, but they make different decisions; they want a marriage commitment before they have children.

    I think economics is more relevant than biology here – for college-educated women, the cost of having a child earlier is higher. They have more opportunities to get good jobs and to marry a responsible husband.

    re: biological clocks in general: It is certainly true that women have an earlier biological clock than men, but it is also true that men in our society need to pay more attention to their own biological clocks. Raising the risk of having an autistic child is serious (and the studies have shown that the man’s age matters independent of his wife’s age).

    As this article shows, there are other issues of older parenting that we often overlook. The children of older parents need to provide elder care when they are younger, they lose their parents at an earlier age, and they get less help from grandparent.

    Those are issues that apply to men as well as women.

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/110861/how-older-parenthood-will-upend-american-society#

  15. Diane M says:

    @Mythago – I’m confused about what you’re saying. If people are delaying marriage because they don’t want to make sacrifices, isn’t that different from the romantic idea of love making things easy?

    “@DianeM: yes, and all the things David is talking about *are* romantic notions of marriage. I don’t understand the argument that because young people are delaying marriage over a romantic ideal, the solution is more of the same.”

    I’m not sure what David Lapp would say, but I think one thing that would help would be to change the social idea that marriage and love should be be easy or you should move on.

  16. mythago says:

    You keep hammering on that idea, which I don’t think exists, frankly.

  17. Diane M says:

    Mythago – I see suggestions that love should be easy all over the Internet. They are not sophisticated arguments, usually so much as comments and crude jokes.

    There are also many people who believe that it is part of our cultural message, so I am in good company at least.

    I don’t have a good way to say how common it is to believe that love should come naturally and not be work or who believes it. My impression is that it’s something younger people go for.

    Anyhow, here’s a writer who thinks love and marriage shouldn’t be work:

    http://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/health-wellness-articles/is-staying-in-love-a-choicehttp://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/health-wellness-articles/is-staying-in-love-a-choice

    A very unscientific popsugar poll – the majority think that love should take “a little” work, but “it shouldn’t feel like work if it’s meant to be.”

    http://www.tressugar.com/Should-Love-Take-Work-10379537

  18. mythago says:

    @Diane, you’re conflating love and marriage, and suggesting that because there is a cultural myth that love is easy or strikes like a thunderbolt, that marriage, too, is easy, and if it doesn’t work out you just get another one. I don’t see where you get that from, given “forgiveness culture” and the plethora of articles in those same magazines about working to fix things; “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” (which is a column about troubled couples solving their problems to live Happily Ever After) is one of the most popular features in women’s magazines, IIRC.

  19. Diane M says:

    @mythago – The woman in the article I liked to is talking about love and marriage. She thinks it should not be hard.

    The idea I see isn’t just that love should hit from nowhere. It’s that love and relationships should not take work/be hard.

    I have enjoyed “Can This Marriage Be Saved” columns since I was a teenager. I am surprised by the idea that young people are turning to them for advice. Are they?

  20. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: But for this question, college educated women have just as much of a biological clock issue, but they make different decisions; they want a marriage commitment before they have children.

    Yes, which I think is more than a bit. Given how much we tend to delay marriage, waiting for a marriage commitment often means you end up without as many children as you’d like.

    While most people would probably say it’s better to be married before having children, many people (including me) would also say, it’s better to have children *unmarried* then not to have them *at all*.

    Re: They have more opportunities to get good jobs and to marry a responsible husband

    I’d prefer we set up society so that women were able to de-emphasize early career development in order to focus on childbearing during their high fertility years, and where they could count on both the state, and their partners (and maybe extended families) to help them with supporting their children.

  21. La Lubu says:

    Diane M., the opinion in the Harper’s Bazaar article sounded very reasonable to me—not flighty at all (the author has been married for eight years, and together with her husband for ten). I especially liked her description of the couple with the Roomba: “These people don’t even like each other enough to make their apartment presentable to each other. That’s not hard work; that’s basic respect.” What is disagreeable to you about this article? (the other link appeared to be a poll).

    More importantly, why on earth is marriage “supposed” to be a relationship that is inherently fraught with so many problems it feels not just like a “second job” (as per the linked article), but a second job with an (fill in your favorite expletive for domineering, argumentative, boorish person) boss? We don’t set up that meme for other close-knit interpersonal relationships; what is the advantage of doing so for marriage?

    The impression I got from the first article was that of a woman who basically has the same idea about marriage as I do, except she is married. She can’t figure out where all this “work” is supposed to be, because if two people are in a relationship and have good, basic communication skills and respect for one another, it isn’t any more “work” than any other relationship. The couple with the Roomba didn’t really have sweeping the kitchen floor as their problem.

  22. Diane M says:

    @LaLubu – It’s interesting to me that we have such different reactions.

    I should start by saying that when people talk about marriage should be easy versus marriage should be work I am never quite sure if we mean the same things by easy and work. Am I hearing work to mean put in some effort to work out your problems while someone else hears it to mean put up with any behavior no matter how horrible?

    Anyhow, I would not call the author flighty, but I do think she is wrong. I think she sounds like she means something very different from what I do.

    I think this attitude she describes would lead to divorce when things get tough:

    “it should be easy. It should be a joy almost every day to be married, to feel relief and gratitude, and if it isn’t, you’re in the wrong marriage.”

    In real life, marriage is not a joy every day. You are not always relieved and grateful for your flawed partner – and they must have days when they wonder about you.

    Loving someone, living in the same space, working together day in and day out is not easy unless you are two saints.

    When I hear statements like the above, I think, oh, the author has never had to deal with any real conflicts or problems in her marriage/life. She’s still married because life is easy for her. That’s nice, but, not very real.

    Then there’s the example she gives of the couple who can not work out how to share chores. Resolving small conflicts like that is part of the work of marriage. If you can’t, then getting help to figure out what’s going in is the work of marriage.

    “I thought to myself, “This relationship is doomed. These people don’t even like each other enough to make their apartment presentable to each other. That’s not hard work; that’s basic respect.”"

    What strikes me here is that she sees the fact that they can’t work out a conflict as a sign that they don’t like each other. She doesn’t see it as a sign that they are immature or selfish or lack communication skills.

    I think that this way of looking at love (or like) leads to breaking up. If you can’t work out a conflict, it must mean he doesn’t even care about you. So why put any effort in to changing things?

    But if you think, the problem is we don’t know how to work out our conflicts and something has gone wrong, you can do something about it.

    All couples argue about chores. A couple that has gotten stuck and can’t resolve their conflicts has a real problem – but that is not evidence that they don’t love/like each other.

    The author also talks about a couple that have grown apart and are living like brother and sister. Their marriage clearly has problems. However, simply staying together is not working on a marriage. The author seems to think the couple should just not be together – but it is possible that they could revive their feelings and be happy again. They started with love. The author doesn’t know much about the couple and why they stay together, but from what she says, they are a great example of why you should work at your marriage.

    I find the following statement she makes particularly irritating and frankly crazy:

    “Love is a commitment, but the idea of choosing to work at your marriage sounds like a drag.”

    Nobody would say that working at your marriage is fun. However, it is what the commitment is about.

    The opposite is to suggest that if you’re fighting about who should do the chores, you should just give up and walk away. By her logic if he really loved me, he would care about making the apartment look the way I want it, right?

    Another quote from the article:

    “Imagine that your spouse might disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow. …

    If that thought doesn’t cause enough panic and heartbreak and sorrow to overwhelm you, you’re in the wrong place with the wrong person.”

    If you’re happily married, that thought is terrifying. And even if you’re mad at your spouse, the thought might bring you back to the idea that you love them.

    However, she’s putting it all back onto feelings. If you don’t feel that, then you should give up on the relationship.

    There are relationships that are destructive and should end. You can tell this not by how the couple feels about each other, but by how they act (they might actually love each other and be devastated by the thought of losing each other). Abuse falls into this category. Not doing your share of the chores does not.

    What the author’s way of looking at things misses is this:

    Feelings do change. They also change back.

    Having changed feelings is not proof that the relationship is not meant to be.

    Working on a relationship (spending time together, working out your conflicts, improving your communication, etc.) can bring back feelings. This makes people happy.

    There are many, many couples who have been married longer than Kuczynski who say that it takes work. They have done the work and are glad and happily married.

  23. La Lubu says:

    Diane M., thank you for your detailed response; I think it highlights our different reactions to the article.

    First, I think it’s important to recognize the different connotations the word “work” has among different people—”work” is a loaded phrase among working-class people or “limbo” people (those who had working-class origins but through education have moved into the professional white-collar middle class economically….but haven’t fully adapted culturally). “Work” has a strong connotation of (a) disagreeable chore that (b) requires a great deal of effort that (c) one never receives any credit or thanks for and (d) involves micromanagement by an (e) domineering boss that (f) has arbitrary or otherwise unfair standards and (g) does not treat one in an egalitarian manner….that one has an adversarial relationship with by default.

    And if that is the background noise in your head when you hear of “work”, it stands to reason that “work” analogies for interpersonal relationships and communication are less than helpful. Working class people have clear lines of power differential and authority at the jobsite; it sets up an adversarial tone to compare the communication in that arena with communication in what is supposed to be an egalitarian arena.

    Next, I didn’t interpret her article as referencing feelings, but action (hence, the bit on the Roomba). After all, feelings divorced from action are meaningless and unknowable. The Roomba wasn’t about poor communication; it was about a power struggle. The person who bought the Roomba was trying to make an end-run around what the real issue was—the power struggle. And that doesn’t work—there are too many daily potential sites of conflict when it comes to power struggles.

    What is most curious to me is how different the language is around friendship than it is around romantic relationships, and I think that is because of certain toxic memes about romantic relationships, starting with the assumption that men and women are very different (with different values and different communication styles) and continuing with the assumption that romantic relationships are not/should not be egalitarian (like friendships) but rather hierarchical (like workplace relationships between labor and management).

    So the author of the article doesn’t understand the hubbub about “work” because she is in an egalitarian relationship with a partner who is also egalitarian-minded. Because they share a certain baseline assumption about how to resolve conflict, they don’t experience the little things of the daily grind as conflict. The “labor”, whether physical or emotional, doesn’t register as such because it is below a noticeable threshold.

    Her friend who bought the Roomba had a different problem. It wasn’t the daily crud from a working kitchen that was the issue, but the fact she wasn’t adhering to a certain role in assuming that to be her job and doing it—there was a power struggle about the kitchen floor that was (probably—after all, they did get divorced) not limited to the kitchen floor.

    I don’t think that latter scenario is likely to be helped by better communication skills. The old “Honeymooners” skit about “I’m the boss, and you’re nothing!”/”Yeah, you’re the boss of nothing!” won’t hold.

    I don’t think feelings change in and of themselves. I think they change in response to changes in behavior—they change in response to environment (I mean, barring clinical depression that is the result of biochemical changes in the body).

  24. Diane M says:

    @LaLubu – I don’t think the Roomba story gives us enough information to infer that the couple has been having lots of power struggles (or that they don’t love each other). We can’t come to the conclusion that it was really about the husband pushing his wife to do the work either.

    From the article:
    “A few years ago, a friend told me she bought a Roomba as a relationship solver because neither she nor her husband could be bothered to vacuum the kitchen.”

    My reaction to the above is that a Roomba one way to solve the problem. Taken by itself, there’s nothing wrong with it (if you have that kind of money). However, it is a way to avoid conflict and if you do that all the time, the relationship may not be very deep.

    I think it gets at a bigger issue though.

    Upper class couples often side-step the chore wars.

    Upper class couples have enough money to hire nannies and pay for lovely pre-schools and private schools with after-school care. They can hire people to clean their houses and mow their lawns. If they don’t like to cook, they can buy food somewhere nicer and healthier than McDonalds.

    (This is one reason it is frustrating to listen to a woman who is a CEO talk about finding a supportive husband so you can balance work and family.)

    Most college-educated couples probably aren’t as well off as Kucynski and her friends, but they may be able to afford some help avoiding the chore wars, even if they do it by having one partner work fewer hours for pay.

    But the implication of this all is – couples without money may have more conflicts to resolve. Not just about money or life being hard. About the basics like chores.

    Re: upper class – Kuczynski’s father ran for President of Peru, her husband is an investor, and she has many famous relatives per Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Kuczynski

    (more later on other things when I get a chance)

  25. Diane M says:

    @LaLubu – “I didn’t interpret her article as referencing feelings, but action”

    I think she is really talking about feelings. Based on what she says and the way she says it, I think it’s fair to think she means, if you love him, you will do this. So the action or non-action is proof about the feelings.

    The way I see it, if she were talking about actions, it would mean, yes, you have to do certain actions to be happily married. And that would get to a view of marriage as work, not just fun that you do naturally because you love each other.

    “I don’t think feelings change in and of themselves. I think they change in response to changes in behavior—they change in response to environment…”

    I don’t think there have to be changes in the partner’s behavior for feelings to change. If your partner behaves hatefully, you sill stop loving them. However, your feelings can change in other ways. If you want to keep love alive, you have to spend some time together. You need to be romantic. You might also become bored because things aren’t new anymore or so busy you don’t know each other. Or you might get stuck arguing in destructive ways that make it hard to love each other. Those are all changes in feelings. You can do something about your behavior to try to change the feelings back, but it’s about feelings, not just behavior.

    I’m not sure we would be far apart in practice, though. I would suggest that if your partner is being hateful, you should get away from them. I would suggest that a couple needs to work at their relationship to prevent or deal with problems like not spending time together, not feeling romantic, or having bad patterns in arguments.

  26. Diane M says:

    Since we still have plenty of room on this thread, I did want to point out one thing about the idea of working on your marriage.

    At the beginning of Kuczynski’s article, she talks about a couple that have become like brother and sister. The woman is unhappy and tells Kuczynski not to copy her.

    My interpretation of this is that the couple love each other and work together well. They have a life they have built. They sound like they aren’t having sex.

    One of the things that I hear when I hear the phrase “you have to work at your marriage” is you need to spend time together, to be romantic, to have sex. This does not sound like a bad thing.

    Maybe it’s a way for couples to give themselves permission to have fun together.

  27. La Lubu says:

    I still think the most likely scenario about the “Roomba” couple is power struggle. Sweeping the kitchen floor only takes a couple of minutes, so it is unlikely it’s about just that particular chore. If they both just “couldn’t be bothered”, then they’d just live in a messy house and wouldn’t argue about it.

    I agree with you that upper-class couples outsource the work, but (from what I’ve seen and experienced) working-class couples will eventually offshore the person who isn’t doing his or her share—it’s that big a deal, and it’s about respect (so Kuzcynski’s use of that term really resonated with me). While it’s definitely the case that the housework ratio has improved over the past couple of generations, it’s also true that there are still solid pockets of resistance to that trend. What else I notice: girlfriends aren’t expected to shoulder as much housework burden as wives (in my SES). While living together increases the amount of chores one has (two people make more dishes, laundry, clutter and errands than one) if both aren’t doing an equal amount, getting married also increases the number of “bosses” (the spouse plus in-laws) one has to take the chores one does for granted while offering plenty of criticism if some things remain undone.

  28. Diane M says:

    LaLubu, I think this is an incredibly important point:

    “it’s important to recognize the different connotations the word “work” has among different people—”work” is a loaded phrase among working-class people…“Work” has a strong connotation of (a) disagreeable chore that (b) requires a great deal of effort that (c) one never receives any credit or thanks for and (d) involves micromanagement…”

    This makes a lot of sense to me. If I thought marriage was supposed to be like my summer fast-food restaurant job, I think I might quit.

    Work for me has some of the same connotations you talk about – I’ve had jobs I did not enjoy. But work means more than just “job” to me.

    I suspect for many upper middle class people, work also means you put in an effort and then you achieve something. It pays off for you. The goal is probably something you have for yourself. “Work” can be a much more positive word for them.

    So if marriage advocates want to figure out a way to promote marriage, maybe they are going to need to use a different word than “work” to describe the effort and commitment that marriage requires.

  29. La Lubu says:

    Re: feelings vs actions: the only reliable way to determine someone’s real feelings is by noting their actions. Not what they say, but what they do. I think that is a critical lesson to learn in life, especially for people (like myself) who have grown up in deeply dysfunctional homes where there is such a wide gap between spoken feelings and actual behavior. Feelings *do* guide behavior; it is valuable to pay attention to when and where the behavior matches the spoken feelings and when it does not—that way, it is easier to make proper judgement calls.

  30. Diane M says:

    @xyz – “Mandate pre-nuptial agreements (if legally possible) to remove the fear / risk of losing one’s property and assets.”

    I think that if you want to have marriages that last and benefit society, you can’t really remove the fear of losing your property and assets.

    1. There is some evidence that couples that pool their money are more likely to stay together. Pooling money does risk losing property later if you divorce. On the other hand, it also makes you more likely to save and accumulate wealth if you don’t divorce.

    2. Being able to put more into caring for children and less into wage-earning is one of the benefits of marriage for children. In some cases, it may be one of the incentives to marry for a woman. You need to provide a safety net for women who do this in case of divorce. (Although I suppose you could write your pre-nup to reflect this.)

    Anyhow, overall I agree with WBW – if you want a prenup, why get married? I would add exceptions for older people with children, who’ve been married before, but in general, if you don’t want to share property, maybe you should live together.

    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/03/21/the-power-of-the-prenup/if-you-want-a-prenup-you-dont-want-marriage