Marriage & Marital Adjustment

Janetius, S.T. (1998)
Part of the Unpublished Masters Thesis, College of Education, De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines

Marriage is one of the most popular institutions found among human beings. Although historically marriage can be traced only to a few thousand years in the past, many sociologists agree that in one form or another marriage had always existed in human society. Traditionally there are five kinds of man-woman relationship on which marriage and family life are based. They are promiscuity, group marriage, polyandry, polygamy and monogamy. Promiscuity refers to sex relations without regard to any rule, regulations, age, and marital status and blood ties. Group marriage is many men marrying many women without differential ties binding any single couple. Polyandry refers to one woman married to several men and polygamy, one man to several women. Monogamy is the one to one marital relationship which is widely practiced today all over the cultures (Kephart, 1984). By the very fact that human beings are bisexual in nature, the complementary male-female relationship is mutually enriching. Although there is a growing trend for single life, single parenting and same sex marriages among a small minority of the population, this does not shake the foundations of marriage.

According to Landis (1975), “Marriage as a social institution constitutes the fundamental and basic community of humanity. Two individuals differing in sex are mutually attracted by a mysterious force of instinct and love and commit freely and totally to each other to form a creative dynamic unit; a micro community called family " (p. 10). Stephens (1971) defines marriage as, “a socially legitimate sexual union, begun with a public announcement and undertaken with some idea of permanence; it is assumed with a more or less explicit marriage contract, which spells out the reciprocal rights and obligations between the spouses and future children” (p.15). These definitions bring out few basic components that constitute a marriage, namely, social integration of persons, commitment, public acknowledgment, assumption of performance, procreation, reciprocal rights and obligations. Marriage is therefore more than physical attraction, biological union and social integration; it involves total commitment, total self-donation of one another and taking responsibilities that leads to mutual well being.

Landis (1975) cites the following factors in the beginning and development of any love relationship that leads to marriage. a) Physical attraction b) Satisfaction of certain personality needs like: some one to understand; to respect the ideals; to appreciate what one wishes to achieve; to understand the moods; to help one make decisions; to stimulate the ambition; to give self confidence; to look at, to appreciate and admire; to back in difficulties; to relieve the loneliness, c) Sharing together the special interests and cares, d) Same life goals.

Marriage is a complex phenomenon in today’s changing society. People marry for various reasons. Besides sex and sexual attraction which are primary considerations, love, economic security, companionship, protection, emotional security, escape from loneliness and unhappy home situation, adventure of common interests, and children are the few other reasons that may constitute a person's disposition for marriage (Bowman, 1974). Ktsanes & Thomas proposed the hypothesis of homogamy in marriage. They argue that people unconsciously tend to fall in love and marry those who gratify their needs. The study done by Saint (1994) indicates that as regards the factor communication-initiation, social confidence and social dominance, complementarity is not a strong factor in Western marriages.

Present day changes in the values and social consciousness influence the traditional understanding of marriage and family. Today all over the world, there is a modern trend that considers marriage and family life as a non-essential element in fulfillment and maintenance of human life. Single parenting, test tube babies and other scientific inventions to the brim of cloning are part of human life and evolution that moves the society towards new understanding of family ethics.Carl Rogers (1972) sees the present day changes in marriage as a positive trend towards greater freedom of the spouses. Because the emotional, psychological, intellectual and the physical needs of the partners are given higher priority over mere permanence as understood by traditional marriages. The purpose of marriage and family in preservation of species as understood traditionally is debated by some sociologists today. Animals have no family and yet they survive and safeguard their species (Menachery, 1985).

Today, in the Philippines, the influences of western culture, the diffusion of mass media, increasing population, industrialization and urbanization have changed people's way of life. New sexual ethics and sexual permissiveness affect the segments of marriage and family. The adherence to traditional moral values, patriarchal family system, the idea of having many children has slowly vanished from the scene. Instead, separation and desertion, premarital sex, abortion, illegitimacy, prostitution, marital unfaithfulness has crept in to the social system. These influence the relationships of the couples and their marital adjustment, although the main function of the family has not changed. Lapuz (1986) who made an elaborate study on Filipino marriages in Metro Manila comments, “the annulment offices in the R. C. Church are busy with a steady stream of applicants desirous of dissolving their marriages. Meanwhile people continue to fall in love, get married and expect marriage to work itself out on the basis of sufficient ardor and good intentions” (p.94).

 Years back, once couples were married, they had to live with each other whether they were well matched or not. This is true even today in societies where traditional values are respected. According to a recent survey in India, 81% of the marriages are arranged marriages where there is no place for dating and courtship, 94% of the marriages are very successful and the divorce rate is only 8% (Jain, 1996). Meanwhile in the Philippines where Western influences are at its peak and the vanishing social stigma on divorced people, calls for a long period of engagement and understanding before marriage. Therefore, dating, courtship, and the period of engagement, if taken seriously, play a vital role in the success and failure of any marriage. The lengthier period the couples know each other before marriage, the happier their marriages. Landis (1975) claims that short acquaintance, hasty marriage, and unhappiness in marriage or a hasty divorce, go together. According to his findings, those who had been acquainted for three years or more before marriage found happiness in marriage. Landis further argues, quoting sociologists Burgess and Wallin, that couples who got along well during the engagement period get along best in marriage too. Le Masters (1959) who made elaborate studies on unsuccessful marriages in America argues that it is not the length of dating and courtship that guarantees success in marriage, but the depth and intensity of courtship. In short, a lengthy period of deep preparation for marriage is important and essential for any successful marriage.

Marital Adjustment

Sinha & Mukerjee (1990) defines marital adjustment as ‘the state in which there is an over all feeling in husband and wife of happiness and satisfaction with their marriage and with each other’ (p.633). It therefore calls experiencing satisfactory relationship between spouses characterized by mutual concern, care, understanding and acceptance. All the marriages are aimed at happiness in one or another way. Most couples become married filled up expectations. Some of the expectations will be realistic while others unrealistic. This is due to the complex nature of marriage and each individual is as complex as a universe. Therefore, in marriage two universes come together.

Happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment of expectations are possible only by mutual adjustments that lead to a common concept of marriage. Carl Rogers (1972) views this concept of marriage as basis of many marital adjustments. He speaks about two main concepts of marriage: ‘...for some it (marriage) is a romantic box...a tight fence, limiting freedom, ... roomy comfortable box.... a magic box, resolving the difficulties in their relationship...'. for some, 'it is an exciting exploration of new avenues... each is given freedom and encouragement to develop full potential’ (pp.68-69). If both parties perceive accurately and understand clearly their concept of marriage, things go smoothly and good understanding takes place. When there are differences in their concept and perception, problems are likely to occur. Scafer and Keith (1991) see this as the major role transition between the couples in values, attitudes and beliefs when they start living together. The study done by Tucker and O’Grady (1990) also reveals that spouses enter marriage relationship with different beliefs about happiness and they differ in their expectations of happiness too. Therefore, mutual communication and sharing are the backbone for adjustment in marriage. The study done by Sison (1976) among married couples in Metro Manila show a high level of marital adjustment among those who communicated well.  He points out that there is a positive correlation between communication and adjustment. Couples, who communicated more regularly, adjusted themselves better to interpersonal and situation problems while others find it difficult. Communication is the life-breath of love, awareness of each other’s feelings, needs, problems and expectations.

Marital adjustment is a life long process, although in the early days of marriage one has to give serious considerations. As Lasswell (1982) points out, 'understanding the individual trait of the spouse is an on going process in marriage, because even if two people know each other before or at the time of marriage, there is a possibility that people change during the life cycle. Marital adjustment therefore calls for maturity that accepts and understands growth and development in the spouse. If this growth is not experienced and realized fully, death in marital relationship is inevitable. Bob Garon (1997) understands the dying of a relationship between couples is not instantaneous rather a slow progress. “It is like the undetected cancer that kills silently and softly” (p.7). Landis (1966) made a study on 581 couples and 25% of them disclosed that at some time in the adjustment process, they discussed divorcing and 18% had seriously considered it. Silverman (1972) quotes Mace who speaks about three kinds of involvement in a marriage relationship: minimum, limited and maximum. Minimum involvement is seen in the traditional marriages that are aimed at safe guarding the structures to serve utilitarian ends. Limited interpersonal involvement in marriage gives reasonable comfort and security to the couples. Maximum involvement gives the couple a sense of satisfaction and confidence in the relationship. To have maximum involvement, the couple has to grow in their understanding of each other and adjust in different factors that affect the core of the family life. Landis (1975) lists six areas of marital adjustment. They are religion, social life, mutual friends, in laws, money and sex. Blood and Wolfe (1960) speak about eight areas of marital adjustment namely money, children, recreation, personality, in laws, roles, religion and sex. Mace (1982) sees ten areas of adjustment, values, couple growth, communication, conflict resolution, affection, roles, cooperation, sex, money and parenthood. Tevaraj (1988) speaks of adjustment in the following areas: companionship, recreation, parenting, rearing children and sexual satisfaction. Simon (1974) who made a study on marriage and marital adjustment in Metro Manila presents social activities and recreation, training and disciplining of children, religion, in law relationship, financial matters, sexual relationship, communication, mutual trust and companionship as the areas of marital adjustment.

Conflicts are foreseen in all these above-mentioned areas in marital relationships. Most of the problems in marriages can be classified into three categories. They are unequal growth patterns, sex role stereotyping and sacrifice (Koch & Koch, 1976). Similarly, we can see three ways of conflict solving in marriages: Compromise, accommodating and hostility. The first two build up relationship and the latter moves towards separation. Landis (1975) sees the beginning of conflict and other adjustment problems from the fourth month of marriage when the man starts to think that she is not the girl whom he married and the girl silently complains that he is so different from he was at first. Bob Garon (1997) who quotes a recent study done by Dr. Gottman, marital satisfaction drops in 75 % of the couples after the arrival of the first child. With the birth of a child, the attention given by the lady to her spouse is diverted to the new comer. ‘It is something’, according to the same author ‘that a vast number of men find difficult to deal with even if they never speak about it’ (p.7).

Studies done in the last few decades show that the age at marriage is an important factor in the marital stability. Booth and Edwards (1985) see a rise in marital instability among couples who marry early. This is due to lack of preparation for the marital role. They also argue that the late age marriage has similar consequences due to the well-developed role performance during single living that gives less room for adjustment. The problem connected with mate choices due to 'marriage squeeze' is also a factor in late marriages. 'Marriage squeeze' in mate selection is that the best ones are often desired by many and selected earlier and the less desirable partners are the ones that are left over for late marriage couples. So there is a possibility for less homogeneity in late marriages. The studies done by Bitter (1986) support the problem of 'marriage squeeze' and heterogeneity among the late marriage couples that can cause problems in marital adjustments. Another important factor that predicts the happiness and unhappiness of marriages is the happiness and unhappiness of the couples' parents’ marriage. Happiness and adjustments are seen more among couples whose parents remain faithful to each other than among those whose parents divorce or separate (Landis, 1966). Wives with a problematic family background tend to transfer many of their childhood problems to their marriage.

Marital instabilities are at rise in the Philippines, according to a study conducted by Lapuz (1986) in Metro Manila in the seventies. She describes the following marital problems in the middle and upper class Philippine society. a) Symbiotic marriage: Young idealists enter to marriage with intense feelings for each other.  Excessive intimacy and closeness cannot be sustained very long, irrational fear and jealousy slip in immediately. Both the partners develop a kind of exaggerated dependence, not able to stand on their feet. b) Narcissistic injuries: Here due to the double standard morality prevalent in the Filipino society, men are privileged to be faithful or not to be, woman on the other hand pays a price. When the spouse finds out the infidelity of her spouse, she has obsession reaction, speaks about her wound, checks her spouse. It ends up in somatic symptoms such as headache, dizziness, insomnia etc., c) Role reversal: Many contemporary marriages are endangered today by the reverse role by the women being the breadwinner in the family. The couple tends to be unsure of their role. When the wife brings more money, her perception of her husband changes. It may lead to wife beating, violent quarrels, and infidelity from the part of either party.  d) In law problems: Mainly the hostility between the wife and the mother in law that leads marriage to a disastrous end.  e) Irrational Jealousy: Jealousy as a rule, often attributed to women. When it is seen in men, it is often a mental disorder.  It overrules the dictates of the reason and can turn neurotic disturbing the emotional sexual life. f) Incompatibility: In marriage it implies the inability of two perspectives, two life styles.  Problems arising from unmet emotional needs and a breakdown in healthy communication can exasperate incompatibility. g) Power conflicts: In Filipino husband-wife relationships, it emerges as who controls whom.  Many a time the wife’s behavior is domineering.

To enhance marital adjustment among couples Pollak (1968) suggests three widely used methods. First one, is an informal course before marriage as preparation for marriage. Second method is the discussion group, often for young couples. Here the group gives suggestions, support and criticism. The studies done by Ponneduthankuzhy (1982) and Cho, O.J. (1987) in different places and cultures show high level of marital adjustment among couples who attended one or another form of marriage group discussions. Third approach is individual counseling carried on with both the spouses, separately or jointly. The name ‘marriage counseling’ is a misnomer according to Brangwin (1968), rather, a process done on the principle of self-direction. It is not a quick remedy or magic formula to bring relief and comfort.



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Dr.Janetius, Professor of Psychology, Jain University, Bangalore
dr.janetius [at] gmail.com

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