Marriage as an institution plays a role in society, families, religion and even politics. Aside from these cultural relationships, marriage also serves meaningful functions to the individuals committed to it, according to University of California, San Diego philosophy professor Richard Arneson in his work titled, "The Meaning of Marriage: State Efforts to Facilitate Friendship, Love, and Child-rearing." While marriage is not formulaic -- with no two couples fulfilling their roles identically -- there are commonalities shared by most married partners.
Comraderie and Companionship
A primary role of a married person is to fulfill the need for a committed friendship -- a confidante and solid supporter with whom you can share affection, insecurities, success, fears, plans and goals. Arnone points out that there is an "insurance" aspect to marriage, in which spouses commit to care for and support one another even in times of illness and tragedy. This is an assurance that you need not face life's tribulations alone, and even extends to the opportunity of lying in rest together upon death. Such knowledge can be a great source of comfort.
Marriage offers partnership -- someone with whom you can strategize. You can share financial and parenting responsibilities, household chores and maintenance. Couples may fulfill these duties in conformity with traditional gender norms, with the husband being the breadwinner and the wife being homemaker. Conversely, couples may share more equally as societal attitudes become more accustomed to changes in the gendered division of labor, indicates global learning company Pearson Higher Education in a text chapter titled "Marriage and Family." This means that wives spend more time doing paid work and contributing to the family financially, while husbands devote more attention to child-rearing responsibilities. However, as married people settle into their roles, their partnership allows them to shoulder life's demands together.
While all human relationships involve some level of intimacy, a mature romantic relationship allows you to experience it in ways that many other relationships do not. People generally do not hold hands with their co-workers, for instance. For instance, marriage allows for sexual pleasure and cuddling. Sharing the experience of childbirth and the intricacies of child rearing can also be quite intimate. The desire to engage in the many levels of intimacy, for many people in American society, is summarized in their professions of love for one another -- love being the primary basis of marriage.
The roles of marriage -- or their socially designated levels of importance -- can vary from culture to culture. Many Indian marriages, for instance, are arranged. Matches are made based on potential economic benefit with the expectation that the couple will grow to love one another over time. In the example of gay and lesbian communities, marriage is a delicate matter. Couples living in states that allow them to marry may see their marriages as symbolic of the ongoing fight against homophobia. Those who are prohibited from marrying may perceive it as another institution of oppression.
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Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.
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