The Social Institution of Marriage

Article excerpt


Some like to play with dolls, some with cars. Some like to play with theories of global character, some with other theoretical perspectives. When I say play I use the word in the same meaning as John Dewey (2) did when he said that play is an activity for its own sake, the process is the goal. On the other side, in work the product or result is the goal. Therefore, I use the word play here for what we are doing when applying one or another theoretical perspective-or theory as some prefer to label them. The process of theorizing is the goal.

My opinion is that nothing is interesting unless one has shown that it is interesting. In everyday speaking oftentimes we say that something is interesting and often all agree that so is the case. But in scientific circles we should be aware of the risks of doing so. The risk is that we and also others believe that we have shown something of interest. But we have to show how what seems to be of interest really is so. That's why we have theories or theoretical perspectives. They are the tools we can use to demonstrate to ourselves and to others that the interesting is interesting. And as Kurt Lewin said: "Nothing is so practical as a good theory." (3)

What theory or theoretical perspective should or could we use? I would be ready to argue that as with other play our taste decides what we happen to see as reasonable. Many theories build, according to my understanding, upon the idea that we could predict what will happen in the long run. And that would be one of the rationales for using theories and another one is what I have said about finding what is interesting.

However, I fully agree with Ralph Turner when he says that the outcome of a process "... cannot be adequately predicted on the basis of the presence or absence of any set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but only by noting contingencies as they develop." (4) This means that we cannot reasonably predict in the long run only in the short run.

No one of us had predicted the changes presented below. We now try to understand the contingencies behind the changes. And we try to predict what will happen in the short run based upon noting the contingencies as they develop! I will deal with changes in the meaning of the term family and its changes as well as with the meaning of the term and concept of marriage; we now have terms for marriage, cohabitation, and living apart together-all varieties of the traditional marriage. The changes have mainly occurred since the establishment of this journal.

Let me take another example: when I was a young man all of us believed that we could predict the outcome of marriages, happiness in marriage, adjustment, or satisfaction, from knowledge about the two before they became a couple. Many studied that issue, for example, the spouses Martha and Robert Winch (5) did with their idea of complementary needs-a kind of heterogamy. I did with their idea as a background and also believing in the tendencies toward homogamy.

After many years we realized that such an attempt was totally unrealistic. And why? Mainly because we cannot predict anything in the surrounding society and that seems me the same fault when trying to predict family patterns or whatever in the long run. We could simply not predict, for example, unemployment and the couple's reaction to that, or what would happen when children arrive, what would happen with parents in law and lots of other issues we know can have a tremendous impact upon the relationships between the two.

I started reading Georg Simmel (6) and soon found that already in 1908 he was clear about the conception that there are two relationships in a dyad, and then Jessie Bernard (7) in 1972 started speaking about his and her marriage; then people listened to her (at least some did). We had simply to too high an extent seen the couple as one unit, as one dyad, with just one relationship and not two relationships-despite Simmel's contribution. …


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