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Are Love and Marriage Getting a Divorce?

Anna said, “If you love me you will marry me.”  Bob replied, “If you really love me you will live with me without marriage”. Anna then declared, “Marriage proves we love each other and we’re committed to one another”.  Bob then responded, “Anyone who believes marriage proves love might deserve to be committed”.  He sharply added, “If we really love each other we do not need marriage”.  Anna responded urgently, “Marriage makes me feel safe”.

With obvious frustration Bob replied “Marriage makes me feel unsafe, trapped and scared”.  Anna then firmly said, “Its marriage or its goodbye”.  Bob somewhat angrily remarked “Marriage apparently is more important to you than love or than me, so I guess it has to be goodbye”.  After a pause Anna rather softly remarked, “Perhaps we might keep discussing this.”  Also after a moment of reflection Bob responded in quiet, kind tones with, “Yes indeed, and I suggest we take it up at some later date”, to which Anna nodded agreement.

According to a recent poll almost 40% of Americans suspect legal marriage is becoming obsolete.  This percentage is even higher in some European and South American communities.  Every year the number of people living together as a couple without legal marriage goes up.

Every year there are more people who see legal marriage as either unneeded or actually detrimental to the process of being a successful couple and to the progress of modern society.  Throughout the developed world there seems to be a growing number who find legal marriage as having a destructive effect on psychological marriage and upon love itself.  So, we might wonder, will marriage and couple’s love get divorced from one another in the New World society of the future?

Could it be that we are going back to the way marriage and love were once seen long ago.  Did you know that in the 1100’s the French Courts of Love officially ruled that real love between a husband and a wife was impossible.  That was because they believed the marriage relationship was unable to be one of equals.  They vigorously believed equality between participants was required for the existence and success of true, romantic love.

According to a number of historians romantic love and legal marriage did not start to become commonly interwoven until the great experiments in democracy of the 1700’s.  Until then legal marriage was primarily for the attainment of progeny, property and political power.  For most men and many women True Love and real sexual satisfaction were to be obtained extraneous to marriage.  In many times and places formal marriage for the poor did not even exist, and marriage for underlings like slaves, indentured servants, surfs and many minorities was not allowed.  For them love occurred but if there was any form of marriage it was kept a secret and was punishable.

Originally it seems marriage and love were just things people did all on their own.  People hooked up together by unsanctioned choice, stayed together the same way or not, and their coupleness was entirely taken care of by themselves with some help from friends and family.  It is thought that not too long before the dawn of recorded history men invented marriage so that they could own women like they discovered they could own land and cattle, and love had nothing to do with it.  Some think that we are headed back to the form of self chosen and self governed marriage, and love relationships free of governmental, religious and societal control.

A surprising number of couples who have successfully lived together for years eventually get legally married and then divorce within about two years of the legalization their union.  A good number of them report that they think they would still be together had they not legally married.  Thus, it seems legal marriage was bad for what might be called their ‘love marriage’.  Have you heard the satirical prediction that eventually only Catholic priests, nuns and homosexual couples will be doing legal marriage.  Everyone else will have given up on it except, of course, for divorce attorneys.

It’s not time to give up on marriage and especially not love-based marriage, at least not yet.  A vast majority of unmarried people still want to get married; especially the many younger, never married singles who hope and plan to have a marriage in their future.  It still is true that most, but not all, of the cultures of the world have one form of marriage or another.  Also marriage has a way of evolving into different forms to fit various changing situations and conditions.  In lands where war wiped out most of the men and among the aged where there are more women than men women practicing ‘sharing’ husbands has been known to become somewhat popular.

Where women have been scarce marrying multiple men, and in one society marrying sets of brothers, has been the adaptive development.  ‘Temporary wives’ abroad for the traveling man, sub-husbands for powerful and wealthy women, official concubines, mistresses, and champion lovers for high-ranking royalty of all genders, arranged marriage, egalitarian marriage, serial marriage, homosexual marriage and bisexual threesome unions are all part of the long history of marriage around the world.  You see, marriage has never been the one thing we are sometimes taught to believe it is.  Nevertheless, marriage and especially marriage for love remains a very common and popular social institution in today’s world.

For a sizable minority of people intimate mate type love and traditional legal marriage are ‘un-joined’.  Amy describes living with her ‘two husbands’ and the children by both as providing all of them with an extraordinarily happy life.  Bill rotates between three major successful relationships without deception or emotional dissonance.  Celia lives in an artist commune and says she feels outstandingly well loved and would never live otherwise.  Don reports that his love and romantic life for decades have been fulfilled by having deep friendship relationships, some of which are ‘with benefits’.  Elaine loves and romances both males and females and speaks of abundant love saturating her life.

Ferris says his love relationship with his God takes care of everything.  Georgia tells of children, grandchildren, best friends and pets giving her more love fulfillment than she knows what to do with.  Harry says he and his love mate have lived happily unmarried together for 35 years.  Isis is very active in the polyamore movement and describes living as a polyamore gives her and her two teenage offspring a huge loving family life.  Do you think these people are telling the accurate truth?  Could people be quietly going about living these ways somewhere near you?  Could you be one of them?  Are you open to and tolerant of more ways of succeeding at romantic and mate style love than the standard married one?

Every year more people decide they can live and be well loved without legal marriage.  Of course, they may be living with someone in a state of psychological marriage and/or spiritual marriage.  Every year more people choose to live and love in one form or another of an alternate lifestyle.  Every year more couples decide they can glean the parts of legal marriage they want and leave the parts they don’t want behind.  That’s because issues concerning children, finances and property now can be taken care of by way of contracts and other legal instruments without anyone becoming legally married.

Couple love, sexual love, parent love and family love for many people function quite well without marital legality.  Social, family and religious issues usually can be handled without marriage paperwork being filed at a courthouse.  Even the ceremonies of marriage symbolically and socially expressing love sometimes occur without legalization.  Especially many of those who have been through a divorce avoid becoming legally married again, while at the same time they often work harder at having enriching, healthy, real love relationships in their life.  Growing numbers of younger adults plan to avoid marriage altogether but they certainly don’t plan to avoid love or sex in their future.

Now with all this in mind you may want to ask yourself what is best for you and your loved ones?  Would it perhaps be good for you to examine your understanding of the relationship between love and marriage?  Could it be that for you or for someone you love marriage and healthy real love may not mix well?

What about children you may ask?  Every year more children are being raised by non-legalized couples and by single parents.  Recent studies show these children are usually doing just as well or better than the children of the legally married on every standard applied.  They also tend to be far healthier mentally than the children of abuse-filled marriages.

Have you pondered if marriage might be bad for the stimulation of healthful real love in your life?  There are those that say they are far better loved outside of marriage rather than inside marriage.  Could you be one of them?  Could some of those near and dear to you be counted in this group?  Let me suggest that the important thing here is to find what is healthiest for you and for those you care about.  For some people not doing what is standard or what has become common practice works best.  Sometimes with love there are those that do better by traveling the roads less traveled, by pioneering new pathways and by exploring virgin territories.  There are those for which love grows strongest and greatest in uncommon ground.  Might you belong among these?

Of coarse, you may find it healthiest and most workable for you to do couple’s love in the context of legal marriage.  In most circles that is, and is likely to stay for quite some time, the majority viewpoint.  It seems that for a great many people they have to at least try legal marriage once.  In the modern world half of those who attempt legal marriage attain a fair amount of success by doing so.  Most of those say they married primarily for love and they stay married because of love.  Therefore, for a great many people love and marriage mix together quite well.  Also in the societies in which arranged marriages are common many say they grew to love their spouse and it is because of that love that they stay married.

However, it is a modern truth that a growing number of people are taking various non-traditional ‘other’ approaches to love and romantic connection.  Some of them may turn out to be members of your family, friendship group or your acquaintances.  A question you may want to ponder is are you able to deal with the ‘non-traditionalists’ of love and marriage as well as you do the more traditionalists.  If you are a non-traditionalist yourself the question may need to be reversed.  Can you deal lovingly, tolerantly and democratically with the traditionalists?

There are naturalists who hold that mother nature insists on variety in all things.  This is a truth concerning love and marriage because around the world and throughout history the relationship between love and marriage has taken many forms.  There even are whole societies in which there are many thousands of members who have no form of marriage at all such as the Na (also known as Nari or Mosuo), an indigenous people of southern China.  By all accounts they have much love, healthy children and highly functional, stable families usually led by a brother and sister in the role of never-incestuous co-parents.  They also have a great deal of sex with a great many partners.

There have been cultures in which virtually everyone was married, and societies in which only a special few married.  It is not generally acknowledged that all the major religions of the world including Judaism and Christianity historically have sanctioned more than one form of marriage.  These same religions also have understood and taught that more than one form of love can occur in relationships.  Then there are those who suggest that, as we speak, in our own Western world culture we are on the way to developing new ways of mixing love and our connectedness to special others.  So perhaps love and marriage as we have traditionally thought of them might eventually ‘divorce’.  However, at the same time love and new forms of marriage probably will emerge, combine and grow.  What do you think?

As always, go and grow in love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
How comfortably loving are you able to be toward both alternate lifestyle and traditionalist individuals, couples and others in love unions different than your own?


Image credits: “Stained Glass Doors, St. Peter’s Oxford” by Flickr user Bridgman Pottery modified for use here (with apologies) by Wade Watson.

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