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Is Marriage Itself In Crisis?

Is Marriage Itself In Crisis?
Written by
Guest Author

Author Mike Buchanan writes exclusively for Wikizine on his new book 'The Marriage Delusion: the fraud of the rings?' Mike Buchanan's 4th book looks at the relevance of marriage in a 21st Century society.

ikizine's Editor-in-Chief asked him to tell our readers about the book:

When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part. George Bernard Shaw, Preface to The Doctor’s Dilemma

‘In Hollywood, all the marriages are happy. It’s trying to live together afterwards that causes all the problems.’ Shelley Winters

‘A system could not well have been devised more studiously hostile to human happiness than marriage.’ Percy Bysshe Shelley, Notes to ‘Queen Mab’

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, A medley of extemporanea; And love is a thing that can never go wrong; And I am Marie of Roumania. Dorothy Parker, Comment

Imagine you’ve just strapped yourself into your seat on an Ace Airlines jumbo jet bound for San Francisco. You’re looking forward to your holiday in California. The pilot walks through the cabin, exchanging cheery greetings with a few of the passengers on the way. You note that he seems very young for a pilot. Shortly afterwards, he speaks on the public address system.

‘Hi! I’m a trainee pilot with Ace Airlines. The guy who was supposed to fly this has gone to a friend’s funeral. Now I’ve completed quite a bit of the training course with Ace Airlines, although I’ve yet to take any exams or stuff like that. But I’m pretty sure I can get this baby – and all of you – to San Francisco in one piece. Are you all ready for take off?’

Surely no sane person would wish to remain on that flight. The point I’m making? For perfectly sound reasons we don’t trust self-assessment when, if the self-assessment were to prove inaccurate, we could be harmed or even killed. We demand concrete evidence of a person’s competence before putting our trust in him or her, or at the very least assume that the organisation we’re dealing with has that evidence.

And yet self-assessment is implicitly accepted by the state when it issues marriage licences. Despite the disturbing fact that across the developed world for some years, whenever and wherever divorce is readily available, perhaps 75 - 80% of new marriages have ended in divorce, or are predicted to do so in the fullness of time, or will continue but unhappily. When people marry with expectations of long and happy marriages, most of them are literally deluded. That’s the ‘marriage delusion’.

The reasons for unjustifiably optimistic expectations of the future – such as the marriage delusion – are well understood by psychologists. They’re central to mental health. But it’s surely about time we explored this particular delusion, in the light of the misery caused to mankind by failed and failing marriages.

The central thesis of my new book THE MARRIAGE DELUSION – the fraud of the rings? is that most people in the modern era are unsuited to the traditional marriage form. So they become ever more unhappy over time, leading to divorce or unhappy marriages.

Love-based marriage was an invention of the 18th century in the West. It’s been failing many people for many years, and it’s about time we sought to better understand why. It’s no good calling for a return to ‘traditional values’. People in the developed world are increasingly less religious and more individualistic, and quite rightly seek happiness in their lives. While researching for the book I came to understand why only a minority of marriages will turn out to be ‘successful’ over the long term. Key issues included:


A number of major groups of people face an enhanced risk of being unhappy in their marriages. They include:

- introverts (54% of men, 47% of women)

- people who don’t share the same strong religious convictions as their spouses (over 93% of British people, and rising)

(The author himself is an introvert, and not religious – and wouldn’t change either.)

People are born introverts or extraverts, and the trait cannot be changed through willpower or otherwise. Introversion is deeply misunderstood, and even denigrated, in much of the developed West. It is explored at length in my book – partly by drawing on three excellent recent books by female American authors, two of them psychologists – and the reasons for it being a potential problem in marriage are explored. A self-assessment test for introversion is provided. The results of a long-term study of personality types and associated marital outcomes are presented.


Major factors include:

- increasing individualism

- the increasing economic independence of women

- increasing levels of gender rancour (the ‘battle of the sexes’)

- the decline in traditional religious beliefs

- increasing levels of depression, particularly among women

- increasing life expectancies

Wives are at particular risk in unhappy marriages, where they suffer higher rates of depression than men, and abuse alcohol more than single women.

The idea that marriages were more ‘successful’ in the past is a myth. The evidence for this, and evidence to explode other marriage-related myths, is provided in the book.

It’s worth considering the issue of increasing life expectancies at this point. When marriage originated – well before the dawn of Christianity – couples would marry shortly after the female became fertile, the couple would have children and raise them to maturity, and the couple could not then expect to live many more years. A 30-year-old person would have been a village elder. Today a newly married young couple can expect a marriage of 50 or more years’ duration. Most people simply aren’t mentally equipped to handle such a long intimate relationship with the same person.


The implied question in many self-help books about relationships – and particularly those written by women – is, ‘Why can’t a man be more like a woman?’ The vast majority of those working in the ‘relationship industry’ – eg marriage guidance counsellors – are women and they have a natural sympathy for female perspectives on relationships. There is strong interest in the happiness of women, and little in the happiness of men, other than when it impinges on the happiness of women. Men have been ‘airbrushed’ out of the popular debate about relationships in general, and marriage in particular.

Men and women’s brains operate differently in a number of important respects, we’re not born with a ‘blank slate’ brain. Although there is a strong cultural assumption in the West that we are and this manifests itself in a number of unfortunate ways. For example, many women want men to communicate more about their emotions, but men’s brains aren’t wired to enable them to do so.


Evolutionary psychologists believe that love evolved in humans in the earliest hunter/gatherer societies. It led to men continuing to provide resources for their partners and children for three or four years, until the partners could support the children on their own. So love tends to decline after three or four years, a modern echo of which is to be found in the divorce rate peaking at about this time. Another modern echo is men practising serial monogamy with a number of successive wives.

Men and women have not changed with regard to what they’re seeking in partners, because of their basic natures. Most men would like younger attractive women as partners (always have, always will) while most women would like older high-status men as partners (always have, always will). When they are personally wealthy, women seek even higher-status men. Financial and other resources rarely flow from women to men.

Over 80% of recorded societies have been polygamous. The appeal of Christianity in its early days to many poor men was its insistence on monogamy, which meant for the first time that they could have heterosexual sex and children. Judaism permitted polygamy until the 10th century. Men and women’s psychologies concerning sex are very different, as evidenced by men’s predilection for pornography and women’s appetite for romantic fiction.


Reliable tests exist to predict individual aptitude for marriage, and long-term mutual compatibility, and are presented. They could – and in my opinion should – be used by the state to determine the prospect of a marriage being successful, and thereby help decide whether a couple should be grated a marriage licence.


Sharing traditional religious convictions may help bind a couple together, and potentially even make divorce not an option (eg devout Roman Catholics).

Holding different religious convictions can have a damaging effect on a marriage, all else being equal. The greater the differences, the greater the potential damage. In an increasingly secular world such differences are becoming ever more common.


Recommendations for increasing the proportion of marriages which are happy, and so reducing the number which end in divorce, include:

- the state granting licences only to couples where both partners have good individual aptitude for marriage, and where there is good mutual compatibility. The key to reducing the number of divorces is reducing the number of marriages with poor prospects of success

- prenuptial and postnuptial agreements should become mandatory, within agreed guidelines

- as well as the traditional marriage contract, based on a religious paradigm and from a time when women were economically dependent on men, a second form should be introduced, better reflecting the needs of adults in the modern era. This marriage contract would automatically expire after four years in the absence of a new postnuptial agreement.

I wish you well in your efforts to get through your divorce. You may find in time – as I have – that your unmarried years have been happier overall than your married years. Good luck.

'A highly stimulating and original critique of the modern ‘marriage crisis', supported by important yet sometimes uncomfortable truths.' Oliver James, clinical psychologist, author and broadcaster.

'Mike Buchanan’s analysis of marriage in western industrialised society is courageous and thoughtful. His perspectives on the challenges associated with marriage, and solutions to them, draw on important scientific evidence and arguments from some of our leading psychologists and wisest philosophers. This is a ‘must-read’ for all concerned with modern marriage.' Alan Carr, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University College, Dublin, author of The Handbook of Adult Clinical Psychology, Family Therapy and Positive Psychology

To view Mike Buchanan's book, click here.

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