Trapped in Marriage

In the bad old days everyone would be trapped in marriage their whole life. I guess everyone was trapped, but women had it worst off. So we changed the rules, and now no one is trapped in marriage. At least legally anyone can freely ask for a divorce if they feel the marriage is not where they want to be. Well, practically men still usually feel trapped because of the emotional and financial costs, but at least women are not nearly as trapped as they used to be. Now, of course, many women still feel trapped in bad marriages, despite the best legal efforts to make it smooth and easy for them to leave. There must be something about marriage which makes it hard to leave. It might have something to do with emotional connections, or with the children which seem to magically appear when people get married.

Of course we can truly achieve a state where no one feels trapped in a marriage if we remove these non-legal barriers to exit. If a couple has no children and no emotional investment in each other, then marriage will not be a trap. It will however not be much of anything else, either. There seems to not be much demand for emotionless, childless marriages.

The easier it is to leave a marriage, the less reason there is to invest in one. It turns out that for someone who does not want to be trapped in marriage, the best approach is to not get married. The cost of a good marriage is the risk of being trapped in a bad marriage.

In traditional marriage law both sides were protected inside the marriage. In modern marriage law no one is promised anything inside the marriage, and all practical commitments are for after the marriage. Instead of woman being trapped in marriage, men are trapped post-marriage.

The traditional approach to marriage did not guarantee anyone a happy marriage, but it did make marriage a worthwhile investment for both sides. Men and women knew that if they invested well in their relationship they would have a happy life together. They also knew that if they failed they would be trapped in a bad marriage. They had the positive incentive of love and happiness, as well as the negative incentive of strife, compelling them toinvest in the marriage. It is hardly a perfect system, but it works.

Today we have a system which tries to guarantee everyone that they will not be trapped in a bad marriage. They do not have the negative incentive of strife forcing them to get along, because if things sour they can leave. They instead have a counter-incentive restricting their investment. A heavy investment in their marriage does not guarantee any happiness, but it does mean that their risks are that much higher in case of divorce and post-divorce commitments.

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One comment on “Trapped in Marriage

  1. פרל says:

    “The easier it is to leave a marriage, the less reason there is to invest in one.”

    Is this to be understood that it is worthy to invest in the marriage only when it is very hard to get out of it (and we of course take the stance you don't get married with such a intention)? I truly believe that the investment in marriage should not be in any case connected, or stemming from, or related to the level of “trap” (and I don't agree in a first place with such definition of marriage).

    'They had the positive incentive of love and happiness, as well as the negative incentive of strife, compelling them to invest in the marriage.'
    You have the positive incentive today also. And you have the negative incentive today, too. Strifes happen. They happen because two people sometimes, many times, have different views, wishes, sometimes competing ones. If you expect strifeless marriage, you expect a marriage in which one of the sides will always give up, thus avoiding a quarrel (and probably you expect it will be your partner). It is an unhealthy approach, because it disqualifies any discussion on matters where there is a disagreement.

    'They do not have the negative incentive of strife forcing them to get along, because if things sour they can leave. They instead have a counter-incentive restricting their investment.'
    As mentioned above, two people that decide to live together in a marriage, enter the marriage with the persuasion, that they want make it work. Strifes included. Strifes should not be reason to get out of marriage. If you enter the marriage with the intention that you can leave at any time it is not comfortable, it is wrong and you should not get married. That is why before getting married, the two wnat to know whether their prospective life-partner is someone they can communicate problems with, who is willing to meet their needs, but at the same time they should ask themselves whether they are willing to meet their needs (as their partner articulates them, not as you articulate for him/her).

    After all, there are two questions. Theoretical one: What is the nowadays marriage based on?
    And practical one: Why do you want to get married? And why with this person?
    They are not necesarilly to be answered in the same way. Or, even if you have doubts, or you don't know the answer to the first question, you definitely must have an answer to the second question, if you want your marriage to have some chances to endure ad 120.

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