Has the definition of marriage changed over the years?

From a tool for survival, it became all about happiness

Raksha Bharadia | Posted on 26 Oct 2015
Has the definition of marriage changed over the years?

The ideal of love as a primary reason for marriage began to spread in the late 18th century and early 19th century, partly due to the French and American revolutions. Two factors changed marriage structure: wage labour, which allowed young people to be independent and establish their households sooner, and new ideas of equality and justice.

The shift also became clear during the Romantic Movement and the Victorian era with its expectation of romance as the dominant way of conceiving love and marriage. As Enlightenment thinkers pioneered the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness and people took more control of their love lives, they began to demand the right to end unhappy unions. As Stone puts it, “It was not… until the romantic movement and the rise of the novel, especially the pulp novel, in the nineteenth century, that society at large accepted a new idea—that it was normal and indeed praiseworthy for young men and women to fall passionately in love, and that there must be something wrong with those who have failed to have such an over-whelming experience some time in late adolescence or early manhood [sic]. Stone, “Passionate Attachments,” 18–19. Suddenly, couples were supposed to invest more of their emotional energy in each other and their children than in their natal families, their kin, their friends, and their patrons. Marriage had become primarily a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness. 

The ideals of marriage shifted from a tool for survival and protect property and land to one that had personal fulfillment and happiness as its central goals. Where in the past, marriage was sacred, and love, if it existed at all, was a consequence of marriage; now, love was sacred and marriage, secondary.

While the medieval and early modern models assumed a fundamental incompatibility between romance and marriage, we now assume their inseparability. Marriage is still popular and predominant as the primary way of arranging families, but its meaning has shifted; once a binding contract which fixed one’s position within the social structure, it has become an optional and soluble sign of commitment to someone with whom one has fallen in love.



Comments : 6

Tina Acharya: I agree that Indian marriages are undergoing changes as women has a "say" every stage of it unlike earlier days where she was just a puppet.

Shruti Mathur: Indian marriages does not seem to have changed much, with the in-laws and entire family package that comes along with a marriage.

Team Bonobology: You are right, Shruti, but as far as the selection of the bride and bridegroom was concerned it was the prerogative of the parents or the guardians This tradition of selecting the marriage partner for sons and daughters continued till the end of 19th century when the ideas of liberalism and industrialism were incorporated into Indian society as a result of the impact of Western culture. As a result of this some cases of individual choice of mate was found. In the post independent India, the tendency of selecting one’s own partner has remarkably increased. Now-a-days the younger generation is not very much in favor of parental choice in matter of selection of marriage partners. A new trend is emerging in the process of mate selection among the middle and upper class educated youth in urban areas. In some cases marriage partners are chosen by children. In most of the cases the parents allow their children to have a say in selection of partners.

AnupamaKondayya: While the definition of marriage has certainly changed over the years, the tug-of-war between what was and what can be continues. Traditional arrangements and roles tend to dominate and suppress the new-age approach to marriage. It remains to be seen who will win!

Team Bonobology: Traditionally, divorce was not easily granted and permitted in Hindu society. The hindrance on divorce made the institution of family and marriage stable and enduring. Due to the enactment of marriage and family legislations and many other factors the divorce rate in India has been steadily increasing. The incidence of divorce is a clear indication of the fact that the institution of marriage is undergoing changes. The stability of married life is gradually being affected. Marital instability is gradually increasing. There was a time when a wife could not think of divorce. But now women have started taking resort to dissolution of marital bond.


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