The Changing Landscape of MarriageThe practice of Family Law often affords its practitioners the opportunity to see society’s approach to relationships and marriage change over time. Understanding these changes may help lawyers tailor their practice to meet the needs and goals of their clients.

A recent study, published in the Journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, suggests that the fundamental purpose of marriage has changed. According to the authors, it has shifted from helping spouses attend to their basic needs to helping them achieve personal growth and fulfillment. As more and more couples in developed nations no longer struggle to find shelter, food, and safety, many hope that their relationships will help them achieve loftier goals.

In a social landscape populated by board rooms, traffic jams, and hobbies, many Canadians look to their spouse to help them perform at their best. The study’s principal author, Professor Eli J. Finkel, argues that even as North Americans have continued “to look to their marriage to fulfill their love and belonging needs […] they also increasingly looked to it to fulfill needs like self-esteem, self-expression, and personal growth.”

This change brings both good news and bad news. The good news is that fulfilling marriages and relationships today are perhaps better than they ever have been in human history. The bad news is that just as we have looked to our relationships to fulfill higher and more profound needs, we have spent less and less time and energy to help relationships meet these expectations. Researchers have reported that couples are less likely to eat their main meal of the day together and less likely to spend their free time together.

Finkel uses the analogy of a mountain to describe modern spousal relationships. At the bottom of the mountain are the basic needs we all share. These are the need for safety, food, and economic security. As we climb the mountain, we reach comfort and companionship. Finally, at the summit, we find our highest needs – self-confidence, fulfillment, and self-expression. Just like a mountain, the higher you go, the thinner the atmosphere and the more difficult the terrain.

Just like a mountain expedition, couples hoping to reach the summit of their relationship’s potential might benefit from training, preparation and the right tools for the journey. One such tool is the advice and experience of a skilled Family Law professional.

Source: Finkel, E. J., Cheung, E. O., Emery, L. F., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2015). The suffocation model: Why marriage in America is becoming an all-or-nothing institution. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 238-244.