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Maybe DOMAs should address this instead?

November 8, 2006

Amazing op-ed yesterday in the NYTimes. History professor Stephanie Coontz discusses the history of the role of spouse as sole provider of support, companionship, and emotional connectedness.

It has only been in the last century that Americans have put all their emotional eggs in the basket of coupled love. Because of this change, many of us have found joys in marriage our great-great-grandparents never did. But we have also neglected our other relationships, placing too many burdens on a fragile institution and making social life poorer in the process.

American culture’s current proposed solution to this problem is merely making the problem worse, she contends:

The solution to this isolation is not to ramp up our emotional dependence on marriage. Until 100 years ago, most societies agreed that it was dangerously antisocial, even pathologically self-absorbed, to elevate marital affection and nuclear-family ties above commitments to neighbors, extended kin, civic duty and religion.

Coontz argues that we must reconsider how much we value our non-romantic relationships in our lives, a powerful call in a world of “Defense of Marriage” Acts (DOMA):

Instead, we should raise our expectations for, and commitment to, other relationships, especially since so many people now live so much of their lives outside marriage. Paradoxically, we can strengthen our marriages the most by not expecting them to be our sole refuge from the pressures of the modern work force. Instead we need to restructure both work and social life so we can reach out and build ties with others, including people who are single or divorced. That indeed would be a return to marital tradition — not the 1950s model, but the pre-20th-century model that has a much more enduring pedi- gree.

Full text.

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