There is an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain that discusses why marriages today fail. The basic idea is that as conditions in society have improved, people, especially women, have begun looking for their romantic relationships to fulfill them more. In the past, marriage served a basic function, survival. Two people working together and potentially producing offspring that could also work could take care of a household better. This is especially true in agrarian societies; before the industrial revolution, a lot of people worked on farms and the more hands one had to work, the more likely you were to survive. Marriage fulfilled this purpose. For the upper classes, marriage served as a way to create alliances with other families. The idea of marrying for love was not a prevalent concept.
Thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, at the bottom are basic needs such as food, water, and shelter. At the top is self-actualization or the fulfillment of one’s talents and potential. As countries developed and basic needs were easier to obtain, people looked for the next stages within their marriages. That’s when you saw the idea of marrying for love become more prevalent.
Now, we’re getting to a point where we can focus more on some of those higher needs just as human beings and as a consequence, we are looking for the fulfillment of those same needs from our partners.
The idea from the podcast is that it all is just becoming too much. We are expecting too much from our partners. A lot of people I’ve seen online have been saying that, but I think it’s important that relationship experts or anthropologists are coming to this conclusion as well.
These traits that we are looking for in our partners we used to get from an entire village. We got bits and pieces of from several different people. All of these people would help us reach those different rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid. That’s why you see a lot of couples either getting divorced or not moving towards marriage in the first place. We’re just expecting too much from one other person. Studies show that women, at least in America, initiate 70-80% of divorces. How much of the divorce rate can be attributed to men evolving to become better partners and how much can be attributed to women expecting too much from their relationships?
Now, I think the new question is to ask is what is reasonable to ask from our partners? Sure, asking our partners to help us reach self-actualization may be too much, but surely we can ask for more than food, shelter, and sex. One thing seems certain; we need to move back to building stronger communities, maintaining platonic relationships, not feeling guilty if we rely on them for some of our needs, and accepting our partners for who they are.