What is Marriage?

What is marriage? This essay is an excerpt from the Contract of Marriage that I wrote when I was in a graduate school. This paper discusses trends of marriage in our century and history of marriage to define the marriage.

What is marriage?

Trends in marriage and divorce have changed in the United States. “While 79 percent of men who married in 1955 to 1959 stayed married for at least 20 years, only 58 percent of men who married in 1975 to 1979 stayed married as long” (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2005, p.4).

About one out of five American adults has been divorced. The median duration of the first marriage is 8 years and those who divorced entered the second marriage within 3 to 4 years on the average (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2005).

These results of short term marriage and a short duration between the first and second marriage, reveal that marriage is not one time event in our lives anymore, and until death do us part is no longer a common view of marriage.

According to Amato (2000), “more than half of all divorces involve children under the age of 18” (p.1269). This number illustrates that divorce is not simply a matter between a husband and wife. Children definitely face changes that are caused by parental divorce after they lost a “family” that used to be their family.

This paper will discuss the definition of the marriage contract and the reasons that marriage should be preserved based on research on the effects of divorce on children, and resources that will prevent American families from divorce.

Definition of Marriage Contract

Definitions and motivation of marriage has been redefined over the centuries based on cultural influences (Herek, 2006). For most of Western history, marriage was considered as a mean of securing wealth, property rights, and power.

In the mid-20th century, American people considered marriage as expressions of emotional intimacy (Herek, 2006). A choice of marriage has become a private decision based on freedom of perusing individual happiness, rather than as a social institutional matter.

According to Amato (2004), there are two perspectives of marriage, which are a marital decline perspective, and a marital resilience perspective.

The advocates of the marital decline perspective believe that American people have been too focused on their happiness, and their marriage will last as long as couples are happy.

Advocates of a marital resilience perspective believe that the choice of divorce, which was not easy to obtain before, provides Americans a second chance to be happy. Both perspectives focus on the happiness of individuals, but not on that of their children.

It is important to realize that the act of marriage means that an individual enters marriage when he or she accepts the responsibilities for others’ lives; his or her spouse and more importantly their children, if they decide to have them.

From this perspective, the contract of marriage should be defined with the consideration of children.

That is, the contract of marriage is a permanent promise to accept to the responsibility for others’ lives that include his or her spouse, their children, and their family.

The next section will illustrate how this definition of the marriage contract will be meaningful when we take a look at the effects of divorce on children.

Excerpt from The Contract of Marriage by Miho Adkins, MS, LMFT


Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of marriage and the family, 62, 1269-1287.

Amato, P. R. (2004). Tension between institutional and individual view of marriage. Journal of marriage and family, 66, 959-965.

Herek, G. M. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States. American psychologist, 61(6), 607-621.

U.S. Department of Commerce (2005). Number, timing, and duration of marriages and divorces: 2001. Retrieved November 11, 2006, from http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p70-97.pdf.

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