On Marriage: Marriage as a Social Contract
Reflecting on marriage as a contract, whether love should be a part of this contract, what other types of marriage exist, and if monogamy is the best form of partnership for marriages.
Hello, I’m Brandon Stover, founder of Plato University. Welcome to On Life.
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On Marriage: Marriage as a Social Contract
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Marriage appears to be an agreement, a social contract, between two people to continue ongoing negotiations about how each person will show up to better themselves, each other, and the relationship. Each individual enters the agreement under the belief that this union is more beneficial to each individual’s life than what that individual could do on their own. As a social institution, marriage provides the motivation for ongoing negotiations between each individual. From an evolutionary perspective, marriage is a time tested strategy for successful conception and raising of children. In which case, marriage is of utility.
So why do we complicate marriage with love? You would not enter a business contract under the influence of cocaine or heroin, yet we enter the contract of marriage under the influence of love. Wouldn’t this contract be better conducted if we were in a rational state? Love may be the glue that keeps the contract intact, providing motivation to connect, to help the other person in their worst times, to sacrifice parts of you for them, and for agreeing to continue negotiations.
Maybe we have confused the type of love that is correct for marriage. The Greeks understood that we are capable of more than one form of love. We want to believe marriage is for Pragma, a mature enduring love, or even more, Agape, an unconditional love. Despite this romantic ideal, building long lasting love takes time and marriage, being a contract, is anything but unconditional. Maybe the form of love marriage is aiming for is Philia, a deep friendship and soul connection based on values. However, should the spiritual union of two people in love be tied to this social contract? Maybe there is another form of love. One based on conditions of mutual growth and utility. But that does not sound much like love at all.
Love in marriage may be a deep desire to want the very best circumstance for that other person, because you see the beauty of humanity in its unique manifestation in this other person. But what if that best thing is not you?
In the agreement of supporting the development of the other person, there may come a time when the development of each spouse would be better done in separation. In which case, if marriage is not to end in divorce, it would require more flexibility, allowing time for separation and then reconciliation of identities through ongoing negotiations of values. If marriage is a contract, why don’t you periodically negotiate terms as each person develops? Contracts have terms and dates. Surely, the contract does not serve in the same way forever.
As each person in the marriage changes, their type of love changes, and what compatibility was right for one time may not be right for another, calling for a new form of marriage. As there are different forms of love, there are different forms of marriage. Two people may form a bond strictly around companionship, devoid of passion or romance. People in a parenting marriage may commit to raising children together, agreeing to stay in the marriage for the duration of raising those children, yet spiritual or sexual connection may not be part of the package.
And what of monogamy? Is monogamy truly the best way to handle the goal of marriage? Of course, there are open marriages where both people consensually agree to see other people. Love is not finite. I can love more than one person and love each in a different way. Maybe, I have a social contract with one person, for financial or parenting reasons, and the erotic lover of another because it fits each person's circumstances better. It’s too much of a burden to place all my needs to be fulfilled by one other person. I don't hire one person to fill all roles in my company, so why expect that in my family?
I’m coming to the conclusion that love and spiritual union of two people should be separate from the social contract of marriage. The feeling of building a life with another should not be taken lightly. This spiritual union of two souls helping each other to grow should be respected and acknowledged, not in the form of a legal contract stating terms and dates, but a point of development where the true act of love would be to let that person go.
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"Ancient Greek Love" by Tony Mierzwicki
"7 Kinds of Marriage" by Bella DePaulo Ph.D.
"Marriage as a Psychological Relationship" by Carl Jung
“Are both parents always better than one? Parental conflict and young adult well-being.” by Kelly Musick and Ann Meier
Another example of relationship check-ins from Tim Ferriss
Sex at Dawn by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan
(00:00) - Introduction
(01:20) - Beginning of essay On Marriage: Marriage as a Social Contract
(05:43) - Current context, recent divorce, and childhood background
(06:58) - Is marriage a contract requiring negotiations?
(08:41) - Is marriage as a positive environment for children?
(09:42) - What of the chemical influence of love on the brain?
(10:32) - What role does love play in marriage?
(14:16) - What is the desire to want the best for your partner?
(15:29) - Relationship check-ins and the beginning of my divorce
(19:09) - Should marriage be more flexible?
(20:58) - What other types of marriages exist?
(28:30) - Questioning the standard template of marriage to fit your circumstances
(30:08) - Should love and marriage be separate?
(31:40) - Questions I have for those in long lasting marriages