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   Home  > Books

Women, Men and Marriage

By Christopher Clulow (editor)

Review

"If marriage is dead, it refuses to lie down", says Christopher Clulow, in his introduction to this volume. While the UK has the second highest divorce rate in Europe, it also has the second highest marriage rate. Marriage is obviously still valued in the UK, but it is important to try and take stock of what is happening to marriage. In the Spring of 1994, the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute organised a series of public lectures at the Tavistock Centre in London to mark International Year of the Family. Speakers were asked to address what they saw as the essential nature of marriage and to identify issues that it raised for individuals and society. Articles based on these lectures have been included in this book, weaving what the editor terms as a complex tapestry, in which marriage is seen as "a threshold institution, mediating his and her experience of social and psychological realities through the relationship they have as a couple, and linking their world as a couple with the wider concerns of society."

In Chapter 1, Ceridwen Roberts presents a statistical picture of marriage in the UK and Europe. In Chapter 2, Jane Simpson looks at the changing assumptions about the nature of marriage in law, by considering the history of divorce over the past three centuries. Sue Walrond-Skinner looks into biblical traditions and the covenant relationship between God and the Israelites as a model for the marriage relationship in Chapter 3.

In Chapter 4, Stanley Ruszynski explores the connections people make between their experience of relationships as they grow up and their choice of partner. Martin Richards looks, in chapter 5, at the rise of "companionate" marriage, and how the assumptions we have about marriage may play a role in its current instability.

Robert Morley looks at two fictional marriages set in the 1800s and early 1900s. In Chapter 7, Annette Lawson looks at the changes in sexual behaviour, despite the continuing aspirations of many towards fidelity and the impact of the expectations we take into marriage on what is sustainable in a relationship.

In Chapter 8, Mavis Maclean looks at the economic ties within marriage and the consequences of divorce on financial status, where the emphasis has moved away from supporting an ex-wife towards providing for the children..

The next two chapters, 9 & 10, by Susie Orbach and Sebastian Kramer look at gender issues. Rosine Jozef Perelberg examines the "maps" that guide behaviour and feelings in marriage and family life and how these "maps" can help people to understand problems in their marriage.

In the last chapter, the editor suggests "that a number of interlocking themes can be helpful in enabling us to understand the nature of contemporary marriage and what is happening to it. Privatization, egalitarianism, the decline of absolute values and values and the premium placed on individual responsibilities create a number of paradoxes which lie at the heart of marriage today. It is for the couple to make the best of the paradoxes - but not for the couple alone: marriage is an open system; we are all implicated in how it turns out." All the contributions overlap and add depth to a picture which is invaluable in understanding marriage in today's world.

Passages quoted by permission of Sheldon Press

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