The problems inherent in marriage are discussed in an article at National Review. The excerpt below highlights many of the issues they discuss, and I've highlighted one paragraph in bold, underlined text for further discussion.
Who or what is to blame for this unraveling of marriage and the complete breakdown of trust in Rob’s world, and in the world of so many white, working-class people like him?
Economic instability is most immediately evident ... Less visible but more dramatic is the role of social alienation. At least two generations have now come of age in the aftermath of the divorce revolution, and whatever the original causes — was it economic change or cultural change that mattered more? — the trauma that generations of children in fragmented families have experienced has become a main factor explaining the great unraveling. “Trust issues” run rampant.
Simply put, when you grow up without any positive marriage models, it’s more difficult to trust the opposite sex and to have confidence in marriage. “Back in the Fifties, yeah, love existed,” was how one young gas-station attendant put it. “Now it don’t. . . . Love is just a word. It’s just fake.”
It’s also the case that in the proliferation of trauma and family chaos — high rates of children born outside of marriage, the opioid epidemic — marriage sometimes becomes about filling loneliness and healing broken selves: two emotionally needy people seeking solace and loading marriage with expectations that it can’t possibly fulfill ... Further, social alienation has left a vacuum in which many working-class young people are even more vulnerable to (misleading) cultural cues about relationships and marriage. In the absence of in-the-flesh marriage models, what entertainers and educators say has unmitigated power.
Particularly damaging is the popular story about love, because it is foundational for all else — choosing a partner, the timing of sex, the meaning and purpose of marriage, the bounds of family. For instance, if love is primarily a feeling that just happens to you, then finding a spouse is less an active process of discernment and more an “aha” moment. You can fall in love, and out of it. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck contrasts this “fixed mindset” with a “growth mindset” about love, which expects feelings to ebb and flow with the circumstances of life and sees that it takes effort to overcome inevitable differences and create lasting love.
Whereas even ten years ago the public conversation about the marriage gap — that is, the divergence of marriage trends across class lines — felt relatively one-sided depending on a person’s ideology, today it’s common to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of the marriage retreat. There is a growing awareness that it’s not simply about bad choices or malignant forces. There is no one thing killing marriage. Instead, a dizzying array of economic, social, and cultural causes are intersecting with people’s free choices.
There's more at the link.
I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions expressed in the final paragraph above. Many of those problems have been with us for centuries. There's nothing new about them. What's either absent, or has been warped and twisted into some romantic ideal that has nothing to do with reality, is love. I'd like to talk about that for a while.
First off, romantic love is not, repeat, NOT an essential foundation for a marriage. It's very nice to have, sure; but in centuries past, a vast number of marriages were contracted by arrangement between the families, rather than any genuine feeling between the partners. They managed to have happy, fulfilling marriages in spite of that lack, because they were brought up to understand that building a marital relationship involved hard work and mutual accommodation. They expected that from the start, and had the lived example of their parents and (if they were lucky) earlier generations of their families to prove it to them. If love developed on top of that, it was the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. Remember Tevyeh and his wife in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof"?
That approach to marriage was true of an astonishing number of people, and it remains so today in many parts of the world. In traditional, tribal Africa, for example, the woman is "bought" from her father by her husband for a "bride price" or lobola. (Being from Africa, I jokingly offered one to her American father when I was courting Miss D., and assured him that it didn't have to be paid in cows in this day and age - TV sets were all the rage. He wasn't quite sure how to take that!) In other parts of the world, it's often the other way around, where the bride is expected to bring a dowry with her into the marriage. If it isn't considered sufficient, particularly in India and nearby countries, murder or suicide may result, so-called "dowry death". Love doesn't enter into such commercial transactions; indeed, love may be an obstacle to the bidding process.
Another problem, and a very significant one in post-religious, relatively moral-less First World society, is the conflation of "love" with "sex". Far too many people mis-identify the release of oxytocin during and after sex with the feeling of being in love. It's anything but! It's just a physical manifestation, a by-product. What's more, it occurs with multiple sexual partners, not just with those for whom one feels a romantic attraction. In today's hookup culture, sex has become almost completely divorced from real love - and that's a tragedy, in my opinion. After dozens, or scores, or even hundreds of casual sexual partners, what has a man or a woman got to offer in the way of real intimacy to a life partner in marriage? As a graffito in England claimed some years ago, "Love is five minutes of squelching noises". If that's the case, why believe in or look for love at all? And, if love is off the table, why bother getting married? If sex is what it's all about, that's freely available without the bother and expense of a long-term relationship. We've all heard the old saw, or variations on it: "Why buy your own cow, when you can get cheap milk at the supermarket whenever you want it?"
The unshackling of sex from the marital relationship has just about destroyed the latter, even as it's devalued the former. When one had to be married in order to have access to "sex on demand", it meant that one valued sex that much more highly - particularly all that came with it, such as marital rights, children, and so on. It wasn't something to take lightly. Yes, I accept that was exploited by men more than women, to the point where the latter were often oppressed because of it. However, that "wrong" doesn't make the entire institution of marriage wrong as well. It means that our wrong attitudes and sinful tendencies (yes, there's that word "sin" rearing its ugly head - morality intrudes!) need to be resisted and reformed if our marriages are to succeed. That applies to a whole range of social interaction, not just marriage. When John Adams, second President of the United States, famously said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other," he wasn't joking. He meant every word. (Which may help us to understand why basic Constitutional laws and norms are under such fierce attack in US politics and society today.)
Getting married is often portrayed in popular entertainment as the culmination of love, the star on top of the progressively more decorated tree, the crowning glory of an emerging relationship. In times past, it was seen as the end of the beginning, the time when learning to live together really started. The couple were expected to help each other through the process, making allowances, rubbing off the sharp corners in each other's lives until they could get along together. Failure to do so was seen as a personal failure, which wasn't always fair if one partner was particularly difficult, but it was nevertheless an expectation.
I can cite my own parents as examples. They met during World War II when my father fell on top of my mother on a Birmingham bus during an air raid, and flattened the breath out of her. Not an auspicious beginning! When she agreed to marry him, it was a rushed decision for both of them, because he was about to be posted overseas, and neither of them knew whether they'd ever see each other again. A few weeks after their rushed, hurried wartime wedding, he left on a convoy heading for Singapore. (If he hadn't been taken off it in South Africa to provide urgently needed engineering assistance to the South African Air Force, he'd have reached Singapore just in time to be taken prisoner by the Japanese. Seven out of ten of the men in his convoy died in captivity.)
My parents didn't see each other again for over three years. I think they realized at that point that their wartime marriage was not made in heaven; that they had many differences, and would encounter many difficulties in getting along together. Nonetheless, they'd both been brought up with the attitude that marriage was something one made work through hard work. They persevered, and in 64 years together raised four kids, lived on three continents, and had a moderately successful life together. They weren't always happy - in fact, some of the conflicts between them were so profound that they affected all of their children for many years, and probably still do - but they made it work, because that was the expectation in which they'd been raised. Love had little to do with it, compared to the reality of having made a commitment, and being willing and resolved to work at making the commitment a fact.
I fear that "falling in love" has nowadays been replaced by "falling in lust" - a very different emotion, with very different long-term expectations and outcomes. Sooner or later, in every relationship, lust dies down. The fires don't go out, but they don't burn as brightly. In some cases, health issues become so serious that physical expression of love becomes difficult, if not impossible. However, where the partners are dedicated to making their relationship work, that's not an insuperable problem. They can, and frequently do, remain very happy together, because they put extra work into making the other areas of their marriage better, to compensate for the "lackanookie". As a pastor, I saw that often enough to make me very grateful for such people, and the example they set. I tried to bring them into my ministry as auxiliary marriage counselors whenever possible, to show couples in trouble that they didn't have to despair, that success was possible even with major obstacles to overcome.
I think it's also vital to remind our partners, our spouses, that we love them. Part of that's by bringing our part to the relationship; doing domestic chores reliably and trustworthily, not nagging, not seeking to remake the other in our own image. Part of it is acknowledging openly, to ourselves and the world, that we do love each other, and we are important to each other. I don't let a single day go by without telling Miss D., several times, that I love her; and I'm grateful that she does the same for me. We still unashamedly hold hands and enjoy each other's company, publicly or privately, to the point where some of our friends comment on how silly we look, acting so "romantic" after almost ten years together. We don't find it silly at all. We cherish it, and we work at it, to keep it real. That's one of the many reasons I love my wife.
Finally, of course, there's the question of whether marriage is a purely human relationship, or something more, something with divine sanction. I have my own views, based on my faith, but I know many others don't share them. That's OK with me. I can still talk with them about the issues discussed above, and generally find common ground. The fact that I seek divine help to get those issues right, while they may not, doesn't need to derail such discussions. Too many of us insist dogmatically that others need to see marriage through our eyes, or through the Bible's perspective. That can hinder, as much as help, mutual understanding. Seek common ground, find it and affirm it, and only then look to go further, one step at a time.
Love is a decision, not a feeling; an act of the will, not of the body. Unless and until our young people re-learn that reality, they have little or no chance of making marriage work for them. What's more, it's largely our fault for having failed to show them that, by example rather than our words, as they were growing up. If we want to "fix" marriage, we have to start by fixing ourselves and our own relationships, on the basis of reality rather than wishful dreams. Anything else is doomed to failure before we start.