Evolution or Dissolution: Is The Script On The Institution Of Marriage Changing?

Posted: October 2, 2015

With people steering their own courses and finding their own definitions of ‘family’, is the script on the institution of marriage changing?

The institution of marriage can be  easily called universal. It exists as the smallest possible social unit across different cultures ubiquitously. Its origin can be juxtaposed with the advent of various early civilizations in the world.

Marriage is a sacramental-legal status given to the association of two adults to live together for the fulfillment of procreation needs and recreational intimacy .Also, it serves as a strong family unit providing mutual security, togetherness and interdependence between the partners .

The past is past

Though marriage too is a contract and is governed by the law of the land yet this contract is as much an emotional and a sacred one as it is legal and lawful. It is expected of both the partners to make it work by developing understanding adjustment and respect for each other .The society discourages separation and divorce and an end to a marriage is considered sad and unfortunate and a lot of friendly, familial and legal counsel is made available to the couple to try and make it work.

It is because in general, a marriage is considered a result of divine will and celestial verdict. It has been institutionalised so by scriptures, history, religious and political texts . It is generally carried out with detailed rituals in a ceremonial and celebratory manner and is regarded as one of the most auspicious events in an individual’s life. It brings two families together and history indeed is replete with examples where the marriages have been instrumental in bringing two political empires to peace and coalition resulting in consolidation of power and expansion of kingdom which in contemporary times can be termed as expansion of business empire.

Changing structures

However, like any other social structure, the structure of marriage has also undergone social change due to changing ethos and dynamics of society and relationships. The old stereotypes of masculine dominance and domestication of women changed long back. With the increasing economic and social independence of women , marriages are acquiring an egalitarian flavor and the male script is undergoing practical and symbolic adjustment.

For example, men are expected to share the household chores and take care of newborn babies. Men are in fact entering the natal rooms to be part of the birthing of their babies and are seeking an increase in their paternity leave. Also, a lot of symbolic changes are reinforcing the equality of women in general and are being reflected in equality in marriage. Women’s lib and feminism have been in currency for ages starting from movements like bra burning and all and is still reflecting in sartorial choices of women. More and more women are experimenting with dressing up in androgynous manners and maintaining a taciturn and rough masculine exterior. In fact, there is an overdrive to change the gender stereotypes and one of the latest that is being heard is that men are now taking up their wives’ surnames after marriage instead of it being the other way round. Media too is playing a major role by reporting such changes that are happening worldwide.

In fact, there is an overdrive to change the gender stereotypes and one of the latest that is being heard is that men are now taking up their wives’ surnames after marriage instead of it being the other way round.

Of course, such changes are reformative and augur well for the success of this institution and can be termed as evolution of marriage with the changing times. But some changes are such that are changing the basic fabric of marriage. It will be worthwhile to ponder over these points.

Sexual intimacy

First of all, sexual intimacy which used to be a big driving force for couples to stay together and one of the greatest indicators of consummation of marriage no longer enjoys that status. Sometimes, after initial years of marriage, the marriages tend to turn celibate for multiple reasons. As marriages grow old, the sensuality and curiosity in marriage is replaced by functionality and familiarity. Due to preoccupation of mind of the partners and stress of work and deadlines, sex takes a beating. Also, with the advent of social media, people are inundated with friends who are available round the clock literally at the press of a button. Sun never sets in the world of social media.

This virtual world is leading people to finding role models, mentors, soul mates, life coaches and god fathers across the world. So people don’t necessarily go back to their spouses in case of a problem. They reach out to their virtual friends who won’t judge them. Such virtual relationships may begin as platonic ones but can easily start running as parallel bonds to a marriage that is already suffering boredom and contempt bred by over familiarity between partners.

Also, society is getting more and more open to separations and divorces and a stigma associated with such issues is disappearing. In fact, divorce parties are not uncommon and fit perfectly in a world that is turning more and more resilient and seeking happiness no matter what happens.

Society is getting more and more open to separations and divorces and a stigma associated with such issues is disappearing. In fact, divorce parties are not uncommon and fit perfectly in a world that is turning more and more resilient and seeking happiness no matter what happens.

Alternatives to marriage

Another, elephant in the room is various other arrangements which are offering alternatives to marriage .One of them is the increasing number of unmarried people adopting children, making children in the laboratories and through surrogacy. Marriage is no longer the essential and legal condition to produce lawful children. This has put marriage on a cliff as procreation doesn’t require one to get married. Also, Young people are increasingly questioning the very existence of this big institution with big responsibilities. Their point is that what marriage provides is easily available through alternative arrangements such as cohabitation and live in partners and with no list of legal and social deliverables
Further to that, Capitalistic culture and hedonistic indulgences are leaving people with less time to give to a permanent relationship and therefore the young show the reluctance to settle down with marriage at a certain age and start building on their responsibilities. With global citizenship, young want to be free to serve the world and serve their own needs before getting entrapped in a familial mesh of duties and responsibilities.
Also, this institution is now being treated as any other contract and is no longer has so much of godliness attached to it. Also, in a nuclear family set up, slowly and slowly extended families of the married couple have moved from centre to periphery and have stopped playing any consequential role between the couples. And with gay marriages slowly getting more and more acceptance, the script of marriage is set to change.

Image via Shutterstock.

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