Posts Tagged With: marriage

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a HistoryMarriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This book. This book is so freaking brilliant. Every once in a while you come across that treasure of treasures: The readable, well-researched, topical historical book. Something that is written so engagingly and interestingly, you read it like a novel, unable to put it down. Something that is so well researched that almost every sentence has a reference, and something that is so relevant that you keep thinking, “Oh, so that’s why society as a whole thinks this or does that or acts this way.”  It’s a really fantastic and very accessible read.

Basically, marriage used to be more of a social contract, even for the peasants and such. It was about improving the family situation and adding to the community. This was generally true no matter which social level you were at, the material goods involved just changed as you moved up the scale. A peasant might hope for a spouse with livestock or land and strong work ethic, as well as a family tendency to have lots of healthy children; a landowner might hope for a spouse with adjacent land or merchant-style talents; a noble would hope for a spouse who can increase their social standing; a monarch would seek a spouse who could provide a useful alliance to their country and strengthen their hold on throne. No matter which social strata, the driving factor behind determining a marriage was the effect said marriage would have on your community and family — the hope was for a marriage with affection or at least a tolerable kindness, but it was not a primary decider in whom the spouse would be.

The Catholic church/ papacy became involved in the political aspect of highborn weddings as early as 481, with Clovis and Clothild, so fairly early on in their history.

At various points throughout history, the Catholic church has even argued that marriage is not desirable, because of sex and the potential for putting one’s spouse/ worldly situation above the cares of god. If one could not control their bodily lusts, marriage was better than nothing, but the really preferable thing would be to eschew all worldly concerns and go celibate. It was around the industrial revolution and the shift away from agrarian communities that we also began to shift toward the idea of the “love match,” which led to all sorts of interesting social ramifications (such as the idea of ending your marriage because you “weren’t happy” anymore).

Read the book, it’s awesome. Marriage used to be more about the social contract and impact on the communities; the Catholic Church got involved initially in the political/ highborn marriages and a few centuries later began getting concerned about recording/ policing all marriages; the industrial revolution started the shift away from agrarian communities and families and increased the focus on individuals which indirectly led to the growth of the marriage for love idea. It’s a fascinating history. Coontz’s writing and research is seriously brilliant. This should be required reading. I loved it. Mind. Blown.

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Categories: History (non-fiction), Reviews, Social & Applied Sciences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage

Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open MarriageOpen: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage by Jenny Block

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When I first read this, in 2009, my husband and I were playing with the idea of an open marriage. We had some friends in an open marriage, and they would often tell us how great it was and how well they thought the relationship model would work for us. I began looking around, doing some reading and online research on this relationship model, and this was one of the books I found. My original 2009 review read:

“I found it to be a very interesting look at the dynamics and communications that are present in open relationships and polyamorous marriages. It’s also an interesting deconstruction of several social preconceptions of jealousy, monogamy, true love and what marriage and the nuclear family really mean.

Block cites her resources well. She covers various issues, including shades of sexuality, the influence of cultural and social history on marriage and romantic expectations, and what it means to live an alternative lifestyle in an essentially conservative society.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, whether they are considering an alternative lifestyle or whether they’re simply feeling a little lost and unfulfilled by their relationship, as though happily-ever-after wasn’t what they’d been led to expect. It is a fantastic read.”

Since then, my stance has changed a little bit. First, to be completely honest, my husband and I did try polyamory. We found it didn’t work for us personally — that the amount of work and communication required to maintain multiple relationships did not even come close to justifying the supposed benefits. If anything, the stress of polyamory actually reduced the emotional connection and fulfillment we experienced in any given relationship.

After our experience, I revisited this book and several other pro-poly books. I still find them interesting, and many offer useful and valid tools for improving communication in relationships. That said, such books almost always share three specific drawbacks.

  1. They almost uniformly cite the evolutionary theory of polyamory; that is, that polyamory is the natural state of human beings and monogamy is an unnatural culturally enforced value.
  2. They come off sort of evangelical — polyamory is the happy ending, the come-to-Jesus/ this is the Secret/ moment of rebirth.
  3. They decry all forms of jealousy in a relationship a negative and unnecessary emotion, and often offer anecdotes about their own experiences overcoming harmful jealousy — yet such books and websites offer in terms of support, resources, or solutions for someone trying to deal with jealousy.

As far as the evolutionary claim goes, I disdain arguments that rest on that basis. It is also evolutionarily natural to rape; that does make it desirable or moral. We are human beings and can arise above our evolutionary instincts. Additionally, as human beings we are still evolving. Evolution was not a linear progression that began with amoeba and ended at homosapien; it is an ongoing reaction to our environment. Recent research has shown indications that monogamy has become a preferred/ selected evolutionary trait — so even if one were to accede to the premise that an evolutionary urge is a valid basis for determining relationship models, the claim that we have evolved to prefer polyamorous relationships still doesn’t hold water.

I also dislike the evolutionary argument because it seems to assume everyone has it in them to be polyamorous, but has been brainwashed into acting against their innate preferences. I think this plays into the second point, of polyamory being “the happy ending,” and the sometimes missionary-esque sense of pressure one can experience when they come in contact with the community.

As far as the jealousy issue goes, I do agree that jealousy is unhealthy and damaging to relationships. That said, in this community that was so anti-jealousy, I was surprised and dismayed to find so little engagement of how to deal with the emotion itself! I had often felt silenced and frustrated during our marriage experiment with poly, as any negative emotions or attempts at discussing respectful boundaries were often met with accusations of jealousy, which effectively shut down further communication. In the books, I found surprisingly little on how to deal with this method of invalidating communication.

Long story short, my review is not quite as rave as it was in 2009. It’s an interesting book, but take it with a grain of salt.

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Categories: Biographies & Memoirs, Social & Applied Sciences | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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