Saturday, 20 January 2007

4:4 What has love got to do with marriage?

One important component of our own marriage pattern was Christianity. The distinctive nature of Christian marriage was early established, the basic features being present by the ninth century. This was a religion that encouraged non-marriage (celibacy), one to one marriage (monogamy), a freedom of choice and a severe sexual code prohibiting sexual relations before and outside marriage.

The ideals of celibacy, the late age at marriage, the battle between biological desire and religious injunctions are clearly a part of the pattern of romantic love. Passion was herded into marriage, sex and marriage were synonymous in a way that is unusual in world civilizations. Biological urges were channelled into art and fantasy. These special features were present in western Europe for many centuries before the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

In closely-knit, family-based societies any obvious display of emotion between husband and wife would clash with other family relations. Many of us have noticed that we become inhibited if we are with our relatives. When wider family links are strong, marriages are arranged and affection between husband and wife is a secondary force.

The rise of love marriage is linked to the degree of involvement of the small family in wider family ties. We now know that the family system based on a close partnership between the husband and wife was present in England from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. There is little evidence that wider family groupings were important in everyday life among the mass of the population. Romantic love was a system which could both flourish and hold together this individualistic society.

If family groups do not arrange marriages, why marry at all? One reason was that to have sexual relations outside marriage was considered a serious offence in the Christian world. Linked to this is the idea that the ‘passion of romantic love’ binds people together in long-term associations which would otherwise not occur. Rational, profit-seeking, individuals might not settle down into fixed relationships at all were it not for the 'institutionalized irrationality' of romantic love. We might see this as a necessary drive to ensure the nurturing of children by a couple. It encouraged longer-term bonding, rather than just a brief sexual coupling.

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