Those who don’t marry for love in our culture are considered unlucky, suspect, manipulative, exploitative, and bad. We feel they are either doing something wrong or there is something wrong with them. It makes us feel everything from sympathy to contempt for these folks because most of us were taught that love is the only “right” reason to tie the knot.
But if you really think about it, love is a luxury. When you marry for love, it generally means you have all — or at least most — of your other needs met (like food, shelter, warmth, etc). That may explain why those with fewer financial resources also have lower marriage rates: If you’re worried about your survival or safety, you’re not going to be focusing on finding the man or woman of your dreams — unless of course this dream person is your ticket out of your terrible home life, dreary financial picture or scary “singledom.”
Procreation has always been a factor in why people married, but up until about two hundred years ago or so, people in the West married more for political or financial gain than for love.
The Victorian Era and the Industrial Revolution (1800s) created two important changes in how people lived: Romance became all the rage and technological advances made life much easier. Prior to these developments, divorce was incredibly rare but when love entered the picture as the reason to marry, dissolutions became more commonplace.
Women’s Rights, No-Fault Divorce laws and the greater emphasis on the pursuit of personal happiness in the ‘70s, opened the door to more choice and, therefore, more divorce. Dissolution rates spiked up to 50% (up from 11% in the fifties) and have not changed much in the last 50 years.
We’ve come a long way with technology and modern living but have we actually come too far in our conjugal love-centric culture?
What experts like Andrew Cherlin (Marriage-Go-Round) and Stephanie Coontz (Marriage, A History) tell us is that, in our attempt to make marriage stronger by raising the bar to meet our higher love and romance needs, we have seriously weakened the institution. These are both highly changeable emotions: When love wanes, the marriage gets shaky; when the romance stops, the nuptials die.
People whose primary reason to marry is other than love — such as to have children with someone they believed would be a good co-parent, to have financial security, or for companionship — generally have longer and perhaps better marriages because their choices are made for a defined purpose. Additionally, their expectations of marriage and their mate are less unrealistic. Their spouse wasn’t expected to be “The One.” They merely needed to be Mr. or Mrs. “Good Enough.”
Some people call this settling, but we are seeing the wisdom of marriages like these more and more.
I’m not saying love shouldn’t be on the list of things that need to be in your relationship, but it doesn’t need to be number one (and perhaps shouldn’t be).
Here are the three reasons I think marrying primarily for love is not wise:
1. Love is a changeable emotion. As quickly as you fall in love, you can fall out of love. Then what? Either the relationship ends or it becomes toxic. If love is your primary connection, the glue is gone.
2. Love does not make for a strong enough foundation. Yes, love is strong but, due to the fact that it can evaporate, it is not something that can stand alone as the basis for a long-term relationship (especially when kids are involved). Anything built on a foundation of love is subject to crumbling.
3. Love is far from “all you need.”You need mutual respect, shared goals and compatibility way more than you need love to have a sustainable, lasting relationship. People “fall in love with love” just as Kim Kardashian showed us, because they think it will carry them the distance. We all want to be wanted and we love to love yet, if you had a recipe for a strong, healthy relationship, it might look like this: 1 Cup respect; 1 Cup shared goals; 3 Cups compatibility, 1 Tablespoon love, 1 teaspoon attraction (optional!).
What do you think?
I’m currently writing a book entitled, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, (Seal Press, 2014) with journalist Vicki Larson. If you have a marriage that was based more on companionship, co-parenting, safety or financial security than on love, please fill out our brief survey by clicking on link below:
If you are open to being interviewed by us, be sure to put your contact info at the bottom of the survey or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a Covenant Marriage (a more religious marriage based on love and service for God — legal only in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana), I’d like to hear from you too. And please forward this request on to anyone else you know who may be interested in speaking with me.
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As a child of divorced parents, Susan knows first-hand how disruptive an unhappy marriage and subsequent marital dissolution can be. When her mother and father split in 1981 (on their 28th wedding anniversary), marriage counseling was unheard of and emotional divorce support virtually nonexistent.
Her own experience, combined with years of working with couples in distress – both in striving to save their marriage or transition out of it – led Susan to become passionate about offering support to people at perhaps one of the most crucial junctures in their lives.
In 2000, Susan founded the Transition Institute of Marin and began providing information and counseling to this underserved population.
In 2010, Susan completed a meditation book for those challenged by difficult emotions during and after divorce entitled, Stronger Day by Day, Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce.
Susan’s latest book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, is a collaboration with journalist Vicki Larson. You can learn more about this project by clicking on The New I Do page.
Susan has helped hundreds of people gain clarity in their relationships. Her private therapy practice consists of couples, individuals (local and distance therapy clients) and the many relationship or divorce support groups she runs.
Susan in the Media
As an often-featured writer for the Huffington Post Divorce page, Susan also writes a regular column for PsychologyToday.com and Examiner.com.
Susan has been a guest on the CBS Early Show as well as numerous radio shows across the U.S. and Canada and has also been featured in: The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Psychology Today Magazine, Divorce Magazine, The View From the Bay and more.