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Arranged Marriages or Love Marriages: Which one Last Longer?

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Marriage is no doubt one of the most revered, celebrated, and possibly the oldest social institution that has been with us since time immemorial. Obviously, every important cultural phenomenon like marriage goes through gradual modifications through time as the underlying norms and customs of societies change. I don't claim to be an expert in social/cultural issues. However, I surmised that albeit the way marriage is officiated has not changed much, the prior phase that leads to marriage has. Most people will embrace the changes and live with the consequences of them. If we dogmatically cling to outdated traditions, we lose track of progressive changes and cannot have a good understanding of social dynamics and thus, cannot benefit from them. Often deep-rooted norms and traditions, related to religion in particular, are resistant to revision and refuse to adapt to the evolving beliefs of modern societies, leading to strident argument and conflict. Conservative folks are fixated on their norms and traditions, and altering them is considered disgraceful and repugnant to them, especially if such norms are related to religious beliefs. However, in modern societies, people aspire to live in a vibrant environment and believe changes are necessary, even if they entail abandonment of long-held traditions. We should not be captive to the confinement of outdated traditions.

For modern people, especially the younger generation, the real story of marriages begins with dating, emotional attachment, and love building. This was not, however, the case in many countries in the Middle East and still may be so. My own parents' story, for instance, is such a case. It began with a marriage devoid of any adventurous pre-marriage romance. I am sure my father had not seen my mother before their marriage; this was not unusual at that time nor is it unusual even today in many places. Despite the fact that there was no love at first sight and their marriage was arranged and brokered by family, it lasted for many decades. In the old days, marriage was considered a social contract rather than an affair based on love. Consequently, the families involved meticulously negotiated the contractual terms and conditions of the marriage. It may be unfathomable for those in the new generation to imagine what their love life would be like if they married a person they didn't know or hadn't even seen before. Remarkably, often such arranged marriages persisted for a lifetime; the words "until death do you part" were a lived reality. Such examples give some credence to my own theory that pre-marriage emotional experience, although significant, may not be the guarantor of a marriage and the necessary and sufficient condition for its continuance. The guarantors are mutual understanding, devotion, commitment, sacrifice, selflessness, and most importantly, compromise. My parents, as well as many traditional families, must also have believed that gradually love and friendship would follow the marriage, and it seemed like they did.

In many old-fashioned societies of today, including many Islamic countries, it is really difficult to be a female because women are not allowed to make many life-enhancing choices when it comes to marriage or have much flexibility regarding what they do and how they do it. For a woman, especially at younger ages, being in love with a man or even contemplating such an idea is something that stains the family honor and is considered disrespectful to the sacred institutions that these countries have reverenced for centuries. For women, it is a religious duty to marry at a young age and to raise good children, children with strong religious values that would keep them from straying from the path of goodness and piety.

As explained, in the old days, most marriages were primarily based on family arrangement and surprisingly, they lasted for a long time, resulting in a low divorce rate. Nowadays, however, most marriages must be preceded by dating with its anticipated ensuing love and emotional compatibility. However, as observation and data prove, many such marriages are short-lived and end up in divorce. This reality gives rise to two inquiring questions. First, what are the secrets of long-lasting marriages? And second, do the cultural standards that a marriage is built upon have anything to do with its continuation or lack thereof? In what follows, I will try to shed some light on these two questions.

Many people argue that arranged marriages last longer simply because women, especially in the old days, were not fully aware of their marital/social rights and privileges and they had been taught that once they go to their husband's home, they have to stay obedient and try to resolve marital differences through compromise and sacrifice. We have seen traditional marriages continue despite mental detachment and what you may call emotional divorce. In the past and now, people who married through family arrangement may experience a good number of ups and down in their marriage. However, they may simply overlook these struggles and move on, instead of overreacting and blowing them out of proportion. They believe that there is no choice but to live with many of their partner's shortcomings for various reasons, most notably, safeguarding the family's reputation and the welfare of their children. As well, having no financial independence in the old days, a woman would have accepted her lesser role and subordination to her husband. A woman felt the need to compromise because there was no viable alternative for her if her marriage fell apart. In most modern marriages, both husband and wife work and have financial independence. They consider themselves to be equal partners in the marriage instead of superior and inferior individuals. Thus, they can pay deeper attention to their own welfare and to the betterment of their marital life rather than bending to and being manipulated by the penchants of their parents and families.

The possibility of having an extensive relationship between a man and a women for the sake of marriage is more widely available to young people these day, even in conservative societies. This is thanks to social media and other online resources that facilitate the informed connections between men and women and hence awareness of their rights. As a result, women know that if they refuse to get married to a man on unfavorable terms, the possibility of finding another man is open to them. This knowledge helps them to revalue their rights and expectations and provides the possibility of negotiating the terms and conditions of marriage before making any commitment.

Some people would argue that even if it seems that in arranged marriages both sides would continue despite suffering and whitewashing the problems, it may not, however, be actually so. Love and friendship may evolve after a few years of shared living as husband and wife try to find ways to understand each other and resolve their differences. In other words, what the younger people of today try to construct prior to marriage, people in arranged marriages try to develop after it. I am not claiming that this will always happen. It may not happen in cases in which quite possibly the differences may lead to misuse and fissure and or to physical abuse, as some observations indicate. Some would argue, no matter how carefully you try to plan a marriage, you may not be able to have a perfect understanding of the other person during the pre-marriage period. People may change physically and emotionally after they get married, as many cases have shown.

Marriages in rural areas, especially in Iran, usually last longer, even though marital love is a less known notion to rural people simply because of the strong traditional/tribal/community values that govern families and shape almost every aspect of their lives. Arranged marriages may continue despite the fact that both sides may not be lovingly attached to one another or intimately enjoy the company of each other because they mostly tolerate inadequacies for the sake of family reputation and the wellbeing of their children.

To conclude, regardless of the underpinning foundation of marriage, diligent sacrifice, recognition of the rights of your spouse, accepting your due responsibilities, and more importantly, respecting the welfare of your children and fundamental laws and traditions are all necessary for its continuation. Marriage is a noble experience whose survival requires respect for and honoring prevailing traditions. Additionally, managing a family requires much work at home and outside of the home. These days, people are usually so entangled in extremely time-consuming things that they may not have time to aggravate problems or create inflated expectations for themselves. In the old days, the level of expectations was based on the family's circumstances and the social condition in which a person was raised. It seemed that the level of contentment was not too high either. People could be happy with what they had, not what other people had. However, in the age of social media and hyper-connections, the level of expectations is overblown; the keeping up with Joneses mentality is widespread. People are aware of high standards of living in wealthy countries and struggle to emulate that. They are no longer content with what they have, want to live beyond their means, and failure to attain high life-style goals leads to conflicts and problems that may deteriorate the marriage.

By tradition, divorce was considered a disgrace, unacceptable socially and individually, and an indication of a failure that would tarnish the honor of the family. Therefore, people, especially women, tried attentively to stay with their partners and to keep their marriages intact no matter how much sacrifice it took. A good woman was considered the one who remained loyal to marital life despite suffering, a discriminatory legal system, and disproportionate sacrifice. These days, however, women do not accept these things; they believe they live only one life and they must live it in a fulfilling way. The old saying "You went with white dress; you return with white coffin" is no longer convincing for them. Overall, we live in a better era today. Men may hoodwink a woman into love, make a lover out of her, get married, and have children. Even if the marriage doesn't last, they can contemplate a new marriage. It is not like in the old days when a woman entered her husband's house and only got out in a coffin!

In the old days, women had neither a job nor enough education. They were supposed to work only at home and take care of their husbands. As a young woman stated to me once: "My mother had to deal with difficulties that I cannot even imagine possible today." Most women did not even know what love meant. When marriage was arranged, a woman did not have much to worry about; she expected her family to help her solve the problems. When a woman's marriage is based on love and prior relationship, she expects her husband to be an in-charge man who should not only help to solve problems, but to make her emotionally satisfied.

Marital life must be based on love even if it leads to an easy separation. Today, most people believe that the quality of a marriage must be important, not the quantity. The arranged marriage carries with it the outdated norms of fear, obedience, and the expectation that husband and wife should live together until death do they part. Loyalty and compromise are, of course, important; however, these should be supplemented by love and emotional attachment. Blind obedience based on fear of divorce leads to a miserable life for women, and this is an unacceptable logic in our modern world.

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Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
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