by Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson
Seal Press, 2014
Review by Hennie Weiss on Mar 17th 2015
The notion that people are somehow failures if they go through with a divorce is still common thought even though approximately half of all people end up divorcing at least once in their lifetime. Yet, when most people marry, they do so with the intention of staying together “till death do us part”. Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson state that the common and mostly traditional view of marriage as a lifelong commitment in which you marry out of love, is not the best option for people. Such a romantic and antiquated view in which we expect too much from our partners, while simultaneously having a difficult time living up to our own set standards, is no longer working for most people, according to the authors. Therefore Gadoua and Larson share various approaches that differ (some more some less) from the traditional view of marriage, and that that they believe work better for people, but that are also more realistic and sometimes even more practical.
Gadoua and Larson start out with discussing starter marriages, a marriage that is renewed and agreed upon (or terminated) after a set number of years. In a starter marriage both parties sign agreements relating to anything from finances to pet care and vacations. The most important notion about a starter marriage is that the couple should not have or plan on having any children. Next is the companionship marriage, based on common notions of trust, companionship, but in some cases also love. A parenting marriage focuses on children, and raising them together in a stable home. Living alone together is when a couple lives in separate spaces, and where they may or may not live far apart from each other. A covenant marriage is a more religious tradition in which couples remain dedicated to try almost anything to remain married. A safety marriage on the other hand is one in which people marry due to financial security, which could also include having health insurance covered as part of a financial agreement, or marrying to receive benefits. An open marriage is one in which both (or one) spouses allow extramarital affairs, either separate or together, but certain rules and restrictions are typically allowed. Finally, Gadoua and Larson also discuss pre and post nuptials and the benefits to both.
As separate as these various types of marriages seem, they also at times overlap. During the course of a marriage, a couple could go from the “traditional” romantic marriage in the beginning, to a parenting marriage as they have children, or a companionship marriage after being married for a number of years. At the same time, couples could also try, or eventually settle for an open marriage if they feel the need to. Certain financial obligations, such as a job far away may also cause couples to, for either a shorter period of time, or an extended one, live apart. Some couples may embrace living together apart while others do it out of necessity. In these ways, the distinctions between the various forms of marriages may not be very clear-cut, and they can come to change with time. It seems as if a great deal of couples do fit in to at least one of the above mentioned categories (even though starter marriages, covenant marriages and open marriages may not be as common), although they do not define them as such. But what Gadoua and Larson really seem to advocate for is a marriage that is honest, and where couples discuss and share with each other their true feelings and expectations of their marriage. “The couples we interviewed have the marriages they want because they married or tweaked their partnerships with intention. That is what we consider a happy, successful marriage” (p. 220). Respect and communication is at the forefront of any decisions these couples make, and that helps them be successful.
Gadoua and Larson have written an interesting book about the various forms of marriage available to people (and there are probably more categories as well), even though it might not always seem so necessary to define exactly what type of marriage one is in. The authors are very honest about their own experiences when it comes to marriage and that certainly creates rapport with the reader. The target audience is those who are thinking about getting married, and perhaps also those who are married but would like to change or tweak their current situation. The book is an easy read, full with stories and examples of couples who have changed their expectations when it comes to marriage, and also the way they view their own marriages.
© 2015 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.