We have been led to believe that the Leave It to Beaver format marriage of the 1950s is the most natural. However, if one looks at the institution over the ages, it is but a blip and not necessarily natural. Throughout the ages, marriage customs have been influenced primarily by politics, economics, and social conditions. Marriages were often arranged to forge alliances between kings and nobles, or to acquire a neighbour’s field. Although love and passion were factors in the affair between Antony and Cleopatra, politics also played a large role. The roles of husbands and wives changed constantly. To be sure, sometimes love entered into the equation and, if lucky, the love was between spouses.
Stephanie Coontz describes the various types of marriages that existed and the conditions that influenced them. She discusses how they were influenced by religion and laws and how they, in turn, influenced religious tenets and laws. She often relates anecdotes of arrangements at particular periods in history based on diaries and letters written by men and women at that time.
Ms Coontz talks about the evolution of marriage to recent times, when individuals became important and, since the early 18th century, love in a marriage became a necessary ingredient. She is not judgmental, but presents the advantages and disadvantages of each model. She ends on a hopeful note that we have learned from the past and that man/woman relationships will be more satisfactory to both.