With June such a popular month for weddings and my oldest son getting married this summer (in a barefoot wedding in Woodstock, N.Y., with a “Game of Thrones” themed reception) and other friends and relatives tying the knot, I thought it a perfect moment to comment on the state of marriage.
Marriage is actually stronger today and on more solid ground than it has been in our history. Yes, I just wrote that. It defies conventional wisdom and what many believe and promulgate every day in our discourse. And it also probably sounds ironic coming from someone who has been married and divorced twice.
Let me explain my rather unconventional statement. I look at marriage as a direct connection with the idea of a trusting commitment based on freedom and love. And when looked at it with that understanding, committed relationships with love as a foundation are more healthy and stronger today than ever before.
For hundreds of years (including in the Old Testament), “traditional” marriage was defined in the following ways: (a) it wasn’t monogamous for most of our history; (b) women in the marriage were seen as property and a possession with very limited rights; (c) the freedom to choose whom to marry didn’t exist for most people; (d) even when abuse was rampant, women didn’t have much choice about leaving; and (e) there was no notion of marriage based on romance, love or mutual trust and respect.
Today, the overwhelming majority of people see marriage in a vastly different way. While there are still many men (and some women) who cling to the traditional idea of marriage, most people would look aghast at the way traditional marriage existed over the centuries. There are still some stereotypes, which allow some men to see their wives as possessions and treat them as such. It is interesting that many women don’t discover this until they dare decide to exercise some freedom and lead better lives. In that instant, some men become very angry because how dare their possessions leave and make changes.
Women over the years had bought into this because the relationship gave them something they lacked – whether it was economic security, physical security or the ability to not have to be alone. Today, women (and men) see the most desired attribute of a fulfilling and meaningful relationship as mutual trust.
Despite the conversation and platitudes espoused regularly, and even with the divorce rate at today’s levels, on average marriages today last longer than they did for most of our civilized existence. People died younger, tragic circumstances happened regularly, and today people marry much later in life.
So when one looks at the length and strength of a bond based on love, mutual trust, commitment and freedom as the defining elements, marriage and relationships have never been stronger or healthier or more widespread.
I would point to five developments that highlight and are instructive in this change:
- People can now choose whom they want to commit to whether it is someone from a different class or race or someone of the same sex. This didn’t exist until very recently. This freedom has provided a greater ability to live out one’s deepest heartfelt desires and values. Interestingly, gay marriages on average last longer than heterosexual unions and are judged by the participants as happier.
- The development, availability and acceptance of safe and effective birth control has given people power to choose if and when to have children. This choice gives women (and men) the option of how to live out their commitment. In years past not having this choice anchored many women in unhealthy relationships.
- Women now work and in many cases earn more than men. This development, while unsettling to some men (and many male Fox News commentators) is good for strengthening a bond based on love and freedom. This gives women the opportunity to enter into their commitments for reasons other than economic ones, and to leave if their marriages are abusive or unfulfilling. This is a very recent change, and while upsetting to some who see marriage in the old way, it is time men (and women) let go of old sexist stereotypes.
- Men are now more involved in child rearing, and are providing more of a partnership in duties related to the home. While this has been a stereotype slow to change, where women did nearly all the home duties, the expectation is building that there be a shared commitment to work at home. Over time, this will give men a greater degree of emotional connection to their children and spouse, and give some needed relief from the stresses involved in managing a home.
- The changes in divorce and child support laws over time have begun to give women at least the ability to exit abusive relationships or ones lacking respect, and find a place to lead a more free and open life. One good outcome of this is that it has put men (and women) on notice that some behaviors won’t be tolerated.
I am not advocating for divorce, and I am still a big believer in marriage and the idea of a powerful soulful commitment based on mutual respect and trust. I just think that all of us need to look at marriage in the way it has positively evolved today. And let go of the stereotypes that we each became anchored to about what it means to be a man or woman in a relationship.
Once we can “divorce” ourselves from these old stereotypes, we can begin to see love and mutual commitment more clearly and understand that the evolution of marriage has been and will continue to be a very positive development for each of us and society as a whole. I do.