In western societies a man and woman are said to be married when they enter into a relationship that is understood by the couple and by their community to be more or less permanent (Gottman, 2002). All known human societies recognize and promote the state of marriage; in the past, virtually all human beings who reached adulthood got married, and this is also true of most people today. From the perspective of society, marriage is the best way to ensure the smooth functioning of the larger community (Jamieson, 2007).
For most of the history of the human species, the vital pursuits of life have taken place in the context of the kin group. The domestic, economic, political, social, and spiritual well-being of the individual have all traditionally depended upon the participation of relatives. Kin continue to be important in contemporary nonindustrial societies. All societies recognize the pivotal role of the family as the bedrock of human activities (Roseneil, 2004). As a result, customs surrounding marriage are patterned in a way that tends to protect the integrity of the marital bond.
Meaning of a Good Marriage
The nature of marriage has transformed significantly throughout the 20th century and early 21st century. Historically, considerations such as economics made marriage a necessity, but in the 20th century, marriage increasingly became defined as a form of companionship based on mutual love and free choice. A greater diversification of lifestyles and family forms has meant that the meaning and significance of marriage has continued to change and that intimate relationships are increasingly organized outside of the normative confines of marriage (Beck, 2005). For instance, marriage traditionally has been seen as the only legitimate context for bearing children, but this is no longer the case as the number of births outside of marriage has grown. As an institution that is often seen to be one of the cornerstones of society, marriage has been the object of much concern and controversy (Markman, 2001).
Changes to the ways in which marriage is practiced often produces anxiety, particularly when those changes are interpreted as signaling the demise of marriage. For others, however, marriage is an institution that is based upon the marginalization of particular groups, for instance, gays and lesbians. That marriage and intimate relationships are undergoing transformations, therefore, is viewed as a positive development (Notarius, 2004).
Marriage as a Research Topic
The history of marriage as a research topic did not begin until the 1920s. Before that time, ideas about marriage were not scientific, but rather in the form of traditional religious prescriptions for an ideal marriage. At the turn of the 19th century, when problems in marriages and families were acknowledged as societal problems, a focus on the marital ideal was replaced with a focus on direct observations of actual marriages. The desire to solve problems in marriage led to many years of research on marital quality. The goal of these studies was to determine what predicted marital success (Giddens, ...