December 17, 2013
Last post, we all had a good little laugh about the rules of courtly love. But as silly as they look to us, they were taken very seriously at the time (the time, of course, being the Middle Ages). However, we must remember that these were the rules of a game – albeit a very elaborate one – that was designed to NOT interfere with the sanctity of marriage.
How’s that again? Asking and giving of ladies’ “tokens” (usually a scarf or handkerchief), singing of love songs, and outrageous flirting…all with someone else’s spouse?! Our modern sensibilities go “tilt” at the very thought!
But remember…for most of history, husbands and wives were not brought together by love, but by the desire to consolidate power, money, and influence (unless you were poor, in which case, marriage was about making a living). Of course, if love (or, more properly, respectful affection) were to “grow” between partners, that was considered a good thing…as long as it didn’t get out of hand. (And adultery was no joke – a cheating queen could lose her head…for treason!) But what we would consider love – that heart-racing, appetite-suppressing, sleep-depriving state of romantic intoxication – that was something our ancestors thought of as a kind of madness; certainly far too volatile and capricious an emotion upon which to base something as important as marriage.
But the geography of marriage did change over time, influenced not only by the rules of courtly love, but also by the invention of the plow, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the women’s rights movement, and myriad other social changes.
Fast-forward to more-or-less present day.
The divorce rate has been falling steadily for about the past 40 years…but so has the marriage rate. Part of the reason for this has been the acceptance of new relationship options. Non-marital cohabitation has been rising since the 1970s, and has now hit historic highs. Births outside marriage are more numerous – and less stigmatized – than ever before. More people are staying single, and staying single longer before marrying. And yet, most people say they want to marry at some point in their lives. So why is marriage, as an institution, on the rocks?
Because we want more. We expect more from marriage, and we’re pretty disappointed when it doesn’t deliver, so a lot of us bail.
For thousands of years, the basis of marriage has been livelihood, procreation, and survival. But these days, that just isn’t good enough. We may still want livelihood, procreation, and survival, but we also want love, intimacy, trust, and good communication. We want our spouse to be our best friend. The problem is, as we shall see, that the old “rules of the game” could never foster the kind of intimate sharing and mutual growth we’re looking for in marriage today.
Tune in next week for:
The Closed Contract – Clause 1: Possession/Ownership of your Mate
Credit where credit is due: The basis of my discussion of the “Closed Contract” and the “Open Contract” of marriage comes from a ground-breaking book called Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill. Originally written in 1972 (updated in 1984), it does come off a bit dated in some spots, but the concepts and observations are surprisingly timely. Despite its title, the book is not primarily about polyamory, spouse-swapping, or “swinging.” It’s about how partners relate to each other within a marital relationship. It’s a fun read, and one of the best guides to a healthy relationship of ANY kind I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it!
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage