In our recent debates about procreation and marriage, the following statement was made, and I paraphrase: “Historically and across cultures, marriage has been primarily about procreation, so if you’re going to make a shift to it being primarily about mutual help and companionship, then you need a compelling reason to do so.”
An appeal to “this is the way it’s always been” (and along with this, the common assertion of “this is how it was done in the Bible”) is interesting because it seems to me—if you’re consistent—that we should be still practicing arranged marriages instead of embracing autonomous marriages, which have been around only since the 1800s. Until then, marriages were predominantly arranged by families—a practice that still goes on in many countries around the world.
If marriage is primarily about reproduction and not love or companionship, then the argument made by supporters of arranged marriage that “first comes marriage, then comes love” is compelling.
According to an article by Ji Hyun Lee in the New York Times last year about the advantages of arranged marriages, experts think we need to take a look at whether arranged marriages produce more stable and lasting relationships than do autonomous marriages, in which people find each other on their own and love is the starting point.
In light of the 50 percent divorce rate in America, experts like Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavior Research and Technology, wonders if there isn’t something we can learn from arranged marriages.
Epstein found that a key to the success of arranged marriages is the amount of parental involvement at its beginning. The most important thing parents of the couple do, he said, is to “screen for deal breakers.”
“They’re trying to figure out whether something could go wrong that could drive people apart,” Dr. Epstein said.
According to Brian Willoughby of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, arranged marriages can work “because they remove so much of the anxiety about ‘is this the right person?’ Arranged marriages start cold and heat up and boil over time as the couple grows. Non-arranged marriages are expected to start out boiling hot but many eventually find that this heat dissipates and we’re left with a relationship that’s cold.”
In arranged marriages, parents play an integral role. “Whether it be financial support for weddings, schooling or housing, or emotional support for either partner, parents provide valuable resources for couples as they navigate the marital transition,” Dr. Willoughby said.
Dr. Epstein believes, however, that the idea of parental involvement these days will be a hard sell because in America we celebrate autonomy.
But given the speed at which couples meet, greet, cohabitate and separate these days, he said, he thought there was some logic in trying a method that has worked for so many couples and in so many cultures.
“We celebrate rugged individualism that is antithetical to the arranged marriage culture,” he said. He argues instead for deeper parental involvement. “When you realize what it is that the families are doing, it makes excellent sense.”
When it comes to marriage and concern for the future of the family, if we’re going to make a fervent appeal to history, why is it that we never hear of arranged marriages and very rarely hear about parental involvement in the decision-making? If we are going to appeal to the Bible for the definition and directives regarding marriage, can we ignore that all the marriages in the Bible and throughout most of history were arranged?
Or do times change and is there no going back?