"Why Would Such a Person Dream about Heaven?" Family, Faith, and Happiness in Arranged Marriages in India

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Marriage is a fundamental and important institution across the large majority of cultures and societies around the world (Myers, Madathil, and Tingle, 2005). Studies have shown that marital quality directly correlates with physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Waite and Gallagher (2000) found that husbands and wives invested in a long-term relationship live longer, healthier, and wealthier lives, as well as have more satisfying sex lives. Bennett (2005) showed marital status is correlated with psychological well-being cross-sectionally as well as longitudinally. Results of Frech and Williams (2007) indicated that marriage improved the psychological well-being of those with depression even more than those without. And not only is marriage beneficial for the individual, but Nock (2007) showed that it has significant benefits for society. He argued that the promotion of marriage should be of significant interest to government because of the way it promotes health and protection for families, and the way it contributes to couples maintaining stable and orderly lives. For these and multiple other reasons, marriage has been the focus of a vast number of studies yet continues to need further exploration.

Defining Arranged Marriage and Marital Success

Across the cultures and societies in the world exist various models and approaches to the institution of marriage (Cooperman, 2004). Of particular interest to this study is the practice of arranged marriage. Arranged marriages have existed for millennia, and are widely instituted among many cultures around the world. Contrary to common belief, arranged marriages are not necessarily forced (ten Veen, 2005, Zaidi and Shuraydi, 2002). For the purposes of this study, arranged marriage is defined as the arrangement of a marriage exclusively by a third party (someone other than the couple getting married) or by a "joint-venture" of the third party and the child/person getting married. The term "success" with regards to marriage is defined as a high degree of marital satisfaction, measured by the Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS) (see appendix). The marriage of each of the participants in the study was deemed "successful" in this regard, as participants were screened to ensure that only marriages with high levels of marital satisfaction were analyzed. The purpose of this was to ensure that results focus on satisfaction in marriage, not just marital longevity which could be caused by a society in which divorce is socially unacceptable.

Perceptions vs. Reality of Arranged Marriage

Contemporary arranged marriage in India now takes a number of forms often varying according to region and other factors. Child marriages, once common, are now illegal (although still sometimes practiced). It is often assumed that, even in an arranged marriage, persons have the "right of refusal" so that there are relatively few forced marriages. Often marriage in urban areas and even many rural parts involve two adults choosing each other as romantic partners, and then seeking the approval of the parents. They still go through the formal processes of an arranged marriage in order to honor personal choice and respect that marriage binds two families in profound ways. Thus, choice and love are sometimes part of contemporary arranged marriages even if the forms of arranged marriage may be followed for traditional purposes.

Perceptions of Americans concerning the idea of arranged marriage are typically negative (Hart, 2007). Perceptions and stereotypes about arranged marriage deserve to be addressed and questioned. Studies have shown that differences in marital satisfaction between arranged and non-arranged marriage couples are typically insignificant (Myers, Madathil, and Tingle, 2005). Schwartz (2007) found that ratings of passion, intimacy, and commitment were not significantly different between arranged and non-arranged marriage groups. …