The All-or-Nothing Marriage
ARE marriages today better or worse than they used to be?
This vexing question is usually answered in one of two ways. According to the marital decline camp, marriage has weakened: Higher divorce rates reflect a lack of commitment and a decline of moral character that have harmed adults, children and society in general. But according to the marital resilience camp, though marriage has experienced disruptive changes like higher divorce rates, such developments are a sign that the institution has evolved to better respect individual autonomy, particularly for women. The true harm, by these lights, would have been for marriage to remain as confining as it was half a century ago.
As a psychological researcher who studies human relationships, I would like to offer a third view. Over the past year I immersed myself in the scholarly literature on marriage: not just the psychological studies but also work from sociologists, economists and historians. Perhaps the most striking thing I learned is that the answer to whether today’s marriages are better or worse is “both”: The?average?marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the?best?marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.
Consider, for example, that while the divorce rate has settled since the early 1980s at around 45 percent, even those marriages that have remained intact have generally become less satisfying. At the same time, consider the findings of?a recent analysis, led by the University of Missouri researcher Christine M. Proulx, of 14 longitudinal studies between 1979 and 2002 that concerned marital quality and personal well-being. In addition to showing that marital quality uniformly predicts better personal well-being （unsurprisingly, happier marriages make happier people）, the analysis revealed that this effect has become much stronger over time. The gap between the benefits of good and mediocre marriages has increased.
一方面我们承认，自20世纪80年代初以来，离婚率一直在45%左右居高不下，即便是那些尚未破碎的婚姻，通常也不那么尽如人意。另一方面，我们也要考虑到近期的研究取得了一些新的发现。例如，密苏里大学（University of Missouri）的研究人员克里斯蒂娜·M·普罗克斯（Christine M. Proulx）领导了一项研究，对1979年至2002年间的14项关于婚姻质量和个人幸福感的纵向研究进行了分析。其结果不但表明良好的婚姻质量预示着高度的个人幸福感（毫无疑问，美满的婚姻造就快乐的夫妻），还显示出这种影响力已随着时间的推移日趋强大。人们从幸福婚姻或平淡婚姻中得到的收益差距正日益扩大。
How and why did this divergence occur? In answering this question, I worked with the psychologists Chin Ming Hui, Kathleen L. Carswell and Grace M. Larson to develop a new theory of marriage, which we will publish later this year in a pair of articles in the journal Psychological Inquiry. Our central claim is that Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality — but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership. If they are not able to do so, their marriage will likely fall short of these new expectations. Indeed, it will fall further short of people’s expectations than at any time in the past.
那么，为何会出现这种差异？它又是如何产生的？为了回答这个问题，我与心理学家陈明辉（Chin Ming Hui，音译）、凯瑟琳·L·卡斯韦尔（Kathleen L. Carswell）和格雷斯·M·拉森（Grace M. Larson）合作，提出了一个关于婚姻的新理论。我们将分两篇文章来阐述这个理论，并在今年晚些时候发表在《心理探究》杂志（Psychological Inquiry）上。该理论的核心观点是，当今的美国人对婚姻的期望有所提高，事实上，他们也有能力使其婚姻质量达到前所未有的理想水平——但这有一个前提：即他们必须要在与伴侣的相处中投入大量的时间和精力。如果做不到这一点，他们对婚姻的新期望可能就会落空。事实上，人们对婚姻的失望程度有可能远远超过以往的任何时候。
Marriage, then, has increasingly become an “all or nothing” proposition. This conclusion not only challenges the conventional opposition between marital decline and marital resilience; but it also has implications for policy makers looking to bolster the institution of marriage — and for individual Americans seeking to strengthen their own relationships.
TO understand marriage today, it is important to see how we got to where we are. Throughout America’s history, its populace has experienced three distinct models of marriage, as scholars like the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin and the historian Stephanie Coontz have chronicled. In the era of the?institutional marriage, from the nation’s founding until around 1850, the prevalence of individual farming households meant that the main requirements Americans had for their marriage revolved around things like food production, shelter and protection from violence. To be sure, Americans were pleased if they experienced an emotional connection with their spouse, but such affinities were perquisites of a well-functioning marriage rather than its central purpose.
要理解当代的婚姻，我们很有必要回顾一下它的演化过程。正如社会学家安德鲁·J·切尔林（Andrew J. Cherlin）和历史学家斯蒂芬妮·孔茨（Stephanie Coontz）所记载的，纵观美国历史，民众们共计经历了三种不同的婚姻模式。从美国建国到1850年左右是“制度化婚姻”（institutional marriage）时代，此时个体农户是最普遍的家庭形式，这意味着美国人对其婚姻的需求主要围绕着吃、住及免受暴力侵害等。诚然，当时的美国人也乐于享受恩爱的夫妻关系，但这种亲近只是婚姻运作良好带来的额外福利，而并非其核心目的。
In the era of the?companionate marriage,?from roughly 1850 until 1965, American marriage increasingly centered around intimate needs such as to love, to be loved and to experience a fulfilling sex life. This era overlapped with the shift from rural to urban life. Men increasingly engaged in wage labor outside of the home, which amplified the extent to which the two sexes occupied distinct social spheres. As the nation became wealthier and its social institutions became stronger, Americans had the luxury of looking to marriage primarily for love and companionship.
Since around 1965, we have been living in the era of the?self-expressive marriage. Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth. Fueled by the countercultural currents of the 1960s, they have come to view marriage less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment. “You make me want to be a better man,” from the 1997 movie “As Good as It Gets,” could serve as this era’s marriage ideal. In the words of the sociologist Robert N. Bellah, love has become, in good part, “the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.”
从1965年左右至今，我们生活在“自我表达婚姻”（self-expressive marriage）的时代里。美国人日益注重起婚姻中的自我发达、自我尊重和个人成长。在20世纪60年代反文化潮流的推波助澜下，婚姻的制度色彩逐渐减轻，人们更多地将其看做是实现个人价值的一种可供选择的手段。“是你的存在，让我想成为一个更好的人，”可以说，1997年的电影《尽善尽美》（As Good as It Gets）中的这句台词为这个时代的婚姻理想作出了通俗的诠释。用社会学家罗伯特·N·贝拉（Robert N. Bellah）的话来说，爱已经欣然成为“携手探索丰富多彩、纷繁复杂又激动人心的天性自我的一个过程”。
As a psychologist, I could not help noticing that this history of marriage echoes the classic “hierarchy of needs” outlined in the 1940s by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. According to Maslow, human needs fit into a five-level hierarchy: The lowest need is that of physiological well-being — including the need to eat and drink — followed by the need for safety, then for belonging and love, then for esteem and finally for self-actualization. The emergence of each need characteristically depends on the prior satisfaction of a more basic need. A person unable to satisfy the need for food, for example, is wholly concerned with meeting that need; only once it is met can he focus on satisfying the need above it （safety）, and so on.
My colleagues and I contend that an analogous process has occurred in our expectations about marriage. Those expectations were set at the low levels of Maslow’s hierarchy during the institutional era, at medium levels during the companionate era and at high levels during the self-expressive era.
This historical ascent is, on its own, neither good nor bad. But it has major implications for marital well-being: Though satisfying higher-level needs yields greater happiness, serenity and depth of inner life, people must invest substantially more time and energy in the quality of their relationship when seeking to meet those higher-level needs through their marriage. To be sure, it was no small feat, circa 1800, to produce enough food or keep a house warm, but the effort required to do so did not require deep insight into, and prolonged involvement with, each other’s core essence.
As the expectations of marriage have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy, the potential psychological payoffs have increased — but achieving those results has become more demanding.
HERE lie both the great successes and great disappointments of modern marriage. Those individuals who can invest enough time and energy in their partnership are seeing unprecedented benefits.?The sociologists Jeffrey Dew and W. Bradford Wilcox have demonstrated?that spouses who spent “time alone with each other, talking, or sharing an activity” at least once per week were 3.5 times more likely to be very happy in their marriage than spouses who did so less frequently. The sociologist Paul R. Amato and colleagues have shown that spouses with a larger percentage of shared friends spent more time together and had better marriages.
现代的婚姻既可能使你收获伟大的成功，也可能令你遭遇巨大的失望。那些能够在婚姻关系中投入足够的时间和精力的人将可望摘得前所未有的甜蜜果实。社会学家杰弗里·迪尤（Jeffrey Dew）和W·布拉德福德·威尔科克斯（W. Bradford Wilcox）的研究证明，每周至少一次“与配偶独处，谈心或一起从事某项活动”的夫妻拥有美满婚姻生活的可能性是达不到这一标准的夫妻们的3.5倍。社会学家保罗·R·阿马托（Paul R. Amato）及其同事也发现，朋友圈交集较大的夫妻相处的时间较多，婚姻也更幸福。
But on average Americans are investing less in their marriages — to the detriment of those relationships.?Professor Dew has shown?that relative to Americans in 1975, Americans in 2003 spent much less time alone with their spouses. Among spouses without children, weekly spousal time declined to 26 hours per week from 35 hours, and much of this decline resulted from an increase in hours spent at work. Among spouses with children at home, spousal time declined to 9 hours per week from 13, and much of this decline resulted from an increase in time-intensive parenting.
Though this is not a specifically socioeconomic phenomenon, it does have a socioeconomic dimension. One of the most disturbing facts about American marriage today is that while divorce increased at similar rates for the wealthy and the poor in the 1960s and ’70s, those rates diverged sharply starting around 1980.?According to the sociologist Steven P. Martin, among Americans who married between 1975 and 1979, the 10-year divorce rate was 28 percent among people without a high school education and 18 percent among people with at least a college degree: a 10 percentage point difference. But among Americans who married between 1990 and 1994, the parallel divorce rates were 46 percent and 16 percent: an astonishing 30 percentage point difference.
虽然这算不上什么特殊的社会经济学现象，但它包含着社会经济学层面的因素。当今美国人的婚姻中一个最令人不安的现象是，尽管在20世纪60年代和70年代，富人与穷人的离婚率均以类似的速度增加，但从1980年起，两者之间的差距急剧扩大。社会学家史蒂文·P·马丁（Steven P. Martin）指出，在1975年至1979年间结婚的美国人中，没受过高中教育的夫妻中的10年离婚率为28%，而在至少具备大专学历的夫妻中则为18%：相差10%。然而，在1990年至1994年间结婚的美国人中，上述离婚率分别为46%和16%：差异达到惊人的30%。
The problem is not that poor people fail to appreciate the importance of marriage, nor is it that poor and wealthy Americans differ in which factors they believe are important in a good marriage. The problem is that the same trends that have exacerbated inequality since 1980 — unemployment, juggling multiple jobs and so on — have also made it increasingly difficult for less wealthy Americans to invest the time and other resources needed to sustain a strong marital bond.
What can be done? Government actions that reduce inequality and family-friendly work policies like on-site child care are likely to help strengthen marriage. But they are not the only options, particularly for individual couples.
First and foremost, couples can choose to invest more time and energy in their marriage, perhaps by altering how they use whatever shared leisure time is available. But if couples lack the time and energy, they might consider adjusting their expectations, perhaps by focusing on cultivating an affectionate bond without trying to facilitate each other’s self-actualization.
The bad news is that insofar as socioeconomic circumstances or individual choices undermine the investment of time and energy in our relationships, our marriages are likely to fall short of our era’s expectations. The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own.