Is Marriage Broken?



There are two opposing trends flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds at the moment. One is the lobbying for equal marriage rights for all and the other is that marriage is an old fashioned, broken institution, best left in the dark ages.

Recently, on the “marriage is for idiots” side, Catherine Deveny shared this article about the evolution of marriage over the centuries, titled, “Why the idea of traditional marriage is total bulsh*t”. I’m not sure that it necessarily served her purposes, as it doesn’t debunk marriage as an obsolete institution, but merely describes how it has changed. It takes umbrage with the phrase “traditional marriage” rather than marriage itself.

I find it interesting Catherine feels so strongly about marriage and I keep following her conversations, trying to find a reason to agree with her.

And yet, I find that I can’t.

Despite spending 18 years in an emotionally abusive relationship, 7 of those married, I never lost my faith in marriage. Yes, I obviously married the wrong person, but my idea of marriage hasn’t faltered and I would do it again should the right person come along.

I have seen plenty of examples of bad marriages and few of good ones, but that doesn’t tell me that marriage is broken, it tells me that the wrong people marry each other, stay together or have conflicting ideas of what marriage is all about.

I have a very strong concept of what marriage is – a supportive and nurturing partnership between equals. I believe that a ceremony to exchange vows in front of people you love and respect is an important milestone in a relationship that signifies a deeper level of commitment. I certainly felt differently about my relationship and about my partner after I was married and it was a good feeling.

I took my marriage vows seriously and was shocked when I realised my ex didn’t. When he left me for the first time after 15 months of marriage, I honestly could not understand what was happening. Did we not say the same things to each other on our wedding day? When he left again after 7 years, I felt the same disbelief, as if it hadn’t happened before.

I applied for a divorce not because I no longer believed in marriage, but because I finally lost faith in the man I married. Being lied to and cheated on was not part of the marriage vows. Choosing me over all others was.

Our high divorce rate could serve as prominent evidence that marriage doesn’t work. But that would just be too simplistic. What doesn’t work is our choice of partners, our lack of communication and shared understanding of what marriage is all about and mostly, women’s lack of self-esteem.

It still surprises me by how many couples take on the traditional division of labour in marriage where the man goes out to work and the woman does all the child rearing and house-keeping activities with no help from her partner, all the while loudly complaining about her lot in life. I guess that’s not my idea of equality, especially when the husband becomes another person she needs to look after, with no-one looking after her. I wouldn’t wish this type of marriage on any couple, gay or straight.

It doesn’t surprise me to see huge numbers of women in emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships. Many don’t even know it. I didn’t know I was in one until several people pointed it out to me – I thought I was so progressive in how my marriage worked.

Emotional abuse is invisible and insidious and it eats you up like a cancer until death seems like the only way out. This kind of marriage is not to be recommended.

I don’t believe marriage is broken. I do believe we are not very good at it and don’t have a good understanding of what it’s all about. I don’t believe giving all couples $200 towards marriage counselling is the answer. I do believe teaching children and young people to value themselves and not be at the mercy of a romantic partner will help all relationships thrive.

  • Maryann

    I don’t think marriage is broken I think many are unrealistic about what marriage is. Relationships are never all plain sailing. The strength of the relationship will be tested by the ups and downs of life. Too many these days appear to be more concerned about getting the wedding right rather then the relationship. On the other hand I think the $200 voucher is waste of money. The way we socialise today is a signficant problem. While we have a better, more long term relationship with iphones than actual people society has real problems to overcome.

    • Dorothy

      I am amazed at the lengths people go to for their wedding day. It was always about a great party for me and being with my friends. A shame the marriage turned to crap, but I had all the right intentions.

  • Jessica Chapman

    I don’t think marriage is broken but my parents and grandparents have modelled healthy and complementary marriages to me. I personally think the $200 voucher comes too late, a lot of that stuff needs to be sorted out before marriage in case it’s a deal breaker. However premarital counselling often fails when either partner isn’t honest about what they want/ expect out of the marriage.

    I agree that the emphasis should be on teaching young people what healthy relationships are, it’s not something you frequently get from films, television or books. I also think currently there is a bit on an unhealthy emphasis on romantic relationships, as in the implication that a life isn’t worth anything until you have a long term partner, and this sometimes pushes people into unhealthy relationships because they are scared of being alone. But I know first hand that you can live a very happy life without a partner or boyfriend/girlfriend, certainly much happier than being with the wrong person.

    • Dorothy

      I am very happily single at the moment, for the first time in my life. I had always believed that you needed to have someone to be happy. Still, if I found the right person, a relationship, and even marriage would be nice. It’s not the be all and end all any more, though.

  • Emma

    I don’t believe that marriage is broken… per se. However, I do believe that for many people (myself included) marriage is largely irrelevant. I say this as someone who has been married, divorced and has now been in a “committed relationship” (partners, defacto, “living in sin”, whatever your preference) for the same amount of time.

    Others treat me differently. More than one person (blithely unaware of my personal history and smugly condescending about their own marital status) has said “it’s different when you’re married – you’ll see.” Maybe for some people it IS different. However, not for everyone. And that’s my point.

    For me, I feel more emotionally supported now than when I was married. We have goals, we have plans, we discuss our imaginary children and give them strange names. What we don’t have is a piece of paper somehow binding us to commit to a shared future. It’s just our word for it.

    It cost $550 for me to get a divorce. I did it online. I didn’t need to supply any evidence or explain the reasons why. They posted out the certificate within 21 days. I think I spilt coffee on it.

    So my question is, if the only thing that makes a marriage is “the piece of paper”, and the only thing that holds you accountable to “the piece of paper” is your own individual consciences, how much is that piece of paper actually worth?

    • Tamsin Howse

      I don’t feel like my relationship after marriage was any different to before marriage except I have more rings, a different last name, and quite enjoy saying “husband”. This is all, of course, personal preference.
      I don’t think marriage is dead, but I agree with the original piece that a lot of people marry the wrong person. For many different reasons.