Relationship

Defining marriage today

Marriage has a long and varied history, with different definitions and benefits depending on culture and location. Learn more about what marriage is today.

Relationship Expert Amy Clark November 10, 2022 • 23 minutes read
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In an ever-changing world, the definition of marriage is constantly evolving. Centuries ago, the definition of marriage was much different than it is today. Perhaps the reason why your great-grandparents married would be starkly different than why you would marry today.

Today, people are getting married later in life [1] and the average length of marriages is shorter than ever before.[2] People who remain unmarried have also increased in recent years.[3] While this may sound discouraging, it’s important to remember that certain factors play into these statistics.

It is also important to note that people are still getting married and finding happiness within marriage today. In fact, studies show that married couples are generally happier than unmarried individuals.[4] And the divorce rates in the past 10 years have been on a steady decline.[5]

So, what does this all mean for the definition of marriage today? Well, in this article, we’ll walk you through the different aspects of marriage and how they’ve changed over time, and the benefits you may not know about marriage today.

Find out how to make the most of your relationship and have a happy forever with this ultimate marriage guide.

How to define marriage

The definition of marriage has changed over time, but at its core, it is still an institution between people who commit to spending their lives together. In the past, marriages were often arranged by families and based on political or economic gain [6] and love was not necessarily a factor. Today, many factors have played into the changing definition of marriage.

For one, people are living longer [7] and are therefore more likely to experience and go through different phases of life before finding a partner to settle down with. This has led to people being more selective when choosing a spouse and has resulted in many getting married later in life.

The average age for women to get married is almost inching closer to 30, while for men it has already passed that mark.[1] People are also now less likely to stay in unfulfilling marriages because of the law, and are more open to the idea of finding new love and getting remarried, [8] which is good news! Because who wants to stay in an unhappy marriage?

So what does this all mean for the definition of marriage?

Simply put, marriage is no longer just about two people who would have to put up with each other for the rest of their lives. It’s now about two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together because they love and care for each other.

Same-sex marriage was only legalized in the US in 2015 [9], but it has been a long time coming. For centuries, marriage was only viewed as something that can happen between a man and a woman, and same-sex couples had to resort to commitment ceremonies [10] or civil unions to express their love for each other.

Now, people of all genders can marry the person they love, and that is a huge step forward for humanity. After all, love is love, no matter who you are or who your partner is.

So if you’re wondering what the definition of marriage is today, it’s simply two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together because they love each other – plain and simple. And while the institution of marriage has changed over time, one thing remains the same: marriage is still a beautiful thing.

History of marriage

The definition of marriage today is a far cry from what it used to be, and that’s because the institution of marriage has changed a lot over time. Marriage used to be a way for families to form strategic alliances,and arranged marriages were quite common. Some families would even marry their young to the deceased to keep their land or strengthen familial bonds.[11]

Of course, love wasn’t always a factor in marriage – in fact, it was often seen as an obstacle to forming these alliances. And women didn’t always have a say in who they married, as their husbands were often chosen for them by their families.[12]

Moreover, polygamous marriages - or unions involving multiple spouses - were much more common and widely accepted in the past. In fact, it is estimated that between 85 percent of societies around the world allowed men to have multiple wives, [13] and were seen as a sign of power and wealth.[14]

Monogamous marriages - the type of marriage that we all know and recognize today - only became the norm in our society just 1000 years ago.[15] Even then, women didn’t have much say in who they married and were often seen as the property of their husbands.

What’s more, marrying within families were relatively common to keep land and property within the clan. This practice, known as incest, was only banned in many societies in the last century or so.[16] And incestuous marriages often resulted in genetic defects in the offspring,[17] which is one of the reasons why it was banned.

Thankfully, times have changed and marriage is no longer just about forming strategic alliances or keeping land and property within the family. Now, it’s about two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together because they love each other. And that, is a beautiful thing.

The history of marriage has come a long way, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. For example, while same-sex couples can now legally marry in the US, there are still many countries where this isn’t the case. The lack of legal, financial, health-related, and other rights associated with marriage leads to increased rates of health complications and suicide among LGBTQ+ individuals,[18] which is why the fight for equality is still ongoing.

Moreover, women still don’t have full equality in many marriages across the world - they may not have the same rights as their husbands and are often expected to do most of the domestic work.[19] The topic of domestic violence also often doesn’t recognize male victims [20] or same-sex relationships, [21] which leaves many men and LGBTQ+ individuals without any legal protections.

There is still much work to be done to make marriage an equal institution for all, but we have come a long way since arranged marriages and incest were the norm. And that is something worth celebrating.


7 benefits of marriage

While the definition of marriage has changed over time, one thing remains the same: marriage can be a beautiful thing. While the definition of marriage has changed over time, one thing remains the same: marriage can be a beautiful thing. Many benefits come with tying the knot, even beyond the wedding day itself.

If you’re on the fence about getting married, here are seven benefits that may just convince you to take the plunge.

1. Married couples are generally happier and healthier

Multiple studies have shown that married couples have lower rates of morbidity and mortality than single people.(reference22)

In fact, one study found that single men were more likely to die 17 years earlier than their married counterparts, while single women were more likely to die 15 years earlier.[23]

Why are married people so much healthier? It could be because they have someone to support them through tough times, making it less likely that they’ll turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking or smoking.[24] Married couples also tend to have healthier diets and take better care of themselves overall.[25]

Of course, not all marriages are happy ones. But on the whole, married couples have greater life satisfaction, happiness, and lower risk for depression than single people.[26]

2. Marriage can provide financial stability

There are financial benefits to getting married as well. For one, you’ll likely have a lower tax rate than if you were single.[27] You and your spouse can also pool your resources, which can be helpful if one of you is going through a tough time financially.

Of course, with this added benefit comes added responsibility. If your spouse is in debt, you may be on the hook for that debt as well.[28] And if you get divorced, you may have to split your assets with your ex-spouse.

But overall, marriage can provide much-needed financial stability - especially if you’re raising children together.

3. Marriage can provide companionship and security

In many ways, marriage is like having a built-in best friend. Someone who’s always there for you, whether you’re going through good times or bad. And research shows that this companionship can be beneficial for your mental and physical health.[29]

Having a spouse can also provide a sense of security. Knowing that you have someone who loves and supports you can help you feel more secure in yourself and your relationship.

Of course, marriage isn’t always easy. But having a lifetime companion by your side can make the challenges much easier to face.

4. A happy marriage can do wonders to your self-esteem and stress levels

One of the most surprising benefits of marriage is that it can actually improve your self-esteem and help you to manage stress better.(reference30)

If your marriage is a happy and healthy one, you’ll likely feel good about yourself and your relationship. This can lead to improved self-esteem and less stress in your life.

The emotional support you get from a happy marriage can also improve your ways to cope with stress.[31] Because you have someone to rely on, you’re less likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, smoking, or using drugs.

5. Marriage can provide social support

When you’re married, you not only have a partner, but you also have built-in social support. Studies show that married people have larger social networks than single people.[32] And these social networks can provide much-needed support during tough times.

Your spouse is usually the first person you turn to when something goes wrong. But they’re also there to celebrate your successes with you. Having this built-in social support can be a huge benefit - especially as you get older and your friends start to move away or pass away.

6. Marriage can lead to improved physical health

Marriage isn’t just good for your mental health - it’s also good for your physical health. Studies show that marital quality is linked with lower heart rates and blood pressure.[33]

It’s not entirely clear why marriage has these benefits. But it may be because married people tend to have more social support, which can lead to improved health.

Marriage also tends to encourage healthy behaviors like exercise and eating well.[34] And if one spouse is sick, the other often provides care and support. This can lead to better health outcomes for both spouses.

7. Marriage can facilitate goal-setting and provide motivation

When you’re married, you have someone to help you set goals and achieve them. Having a lifetime partner gives you someone to share your dreams with - and motivates you to make those dreams a reality.

Setting goals together can also help to keep your relationship strong. Working towards a common goal, apart from your personal goals, can improve communication and provide a sense of purpose in your relationship.

Of course, you don’t need to be married to set goals or achieve them. But having a spouse can provide an extra layer of support and motivation.[35]

So there you have it - seven benefits of marriage that may surprise you. Marriage isn’t easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. If you’re thinking about getting married, or are already married, consider these benefits and see how they can improve your life.


6 different types of marriage

Today, marriage is no longer seen as a necessity but rather a choice. This shift in perspective has made room for different types of relationships and marriages to exist.

With different types of marriages come different rules, expectations, and even benefits. So if you’re considering getting married, or are already married, it’s important to understand the different types of marriages and what they entail.

Here are six different types of marriages.

1. Civil marriage

A civil marriage is a non-religious marriage that is officiated by a government official, like a judge or magistrate. Civil marriages are common in countries where religious freedom is guaranteed.

There are usually fewer rules and regulations surrounding civil marriages. This means that couples have more freedom to choose their marriage ceremony, vows, and even witnesses. Same-sex couples often opt for civil marriages because of law and religious restrictions.[36]

Civil marriages often take less time to be officiated than religious marriages. This can be beneficial for couples who want to get married quickly or don’t want to deal with the hassle of planning a religious ceremony.

2. Common law marriage

A common-law marriage is a marriage that isn’t officiated by a government official or religious leader. Instead, it’s based on the couple’s relationship and shared commitment to each other.

Common-law marriages are typically informal and couples usually establish it when they start cohabiting, using their spouse’s last name, or referring to each other as husband or wife.[37]

Couples in common-law marriages enjoy many of the same benefits as couples in traditional marriages. This includes joint ownership of property, spousal support in the event of a breakup, and automatic inheritance rights.

However, common-law marriage isn’t recognized in all places. This means that common-law couples may not have the same legal and asset protections as married couples.

3. Monogamous marriage

A monogamous marriage is a marriage where the couple agrees to be faithful to each other and remain sexually exclusive.(reference38) This is the most common type of marriage in the world.

While monogamy is the default for most marriages, it’s not always easy to maintain. In fact, studies show that about 23 percent of men and 19 percent of women in monogamous relationships have been unfaithful to their partners.[39]

Monogamous marriages are seen as the most optimal type of marriage because they are legal and widely accepted.[40] They can be fulfilling and provide couples with a sense of stability and commitment.

4. Polygamous marriage

A polygamous marriage includes more than two spouses, with the consent of all parties involved. It’s important to note that polygamy is not recognized as a legal marriage in most countries.[41]

Polygamous marriages are often seen as controversial because they challenge the traditional view of marriage. They can also be difficult to manage, especially if you’re not familiar with the different structures and rules.

However, polygamous marriages can work for some couples. They often provide a sense of community and support that can be beneficial for all parties involved, and can be just as fulfilling as monogamous marriages.[42]

5. Arranged marriage

An arranged marriage is a type of marriage where the couple’s families choose their spouse for them. Arranged marriages are common in many cultures, especially in Asia and the Middle East. In Nepal, where there is near zero premarital cohabitation or divorce, getting married at a young age, which was arranged by the family, is a tradition.[43]

Arranged marriages are often based on the needs of the families involved, rather than the needs of the couple. This can lead to some couples feeling like they’re being forced into a marriage they don’t want.

However, one study found that the type of marriage was not in any way related to the level of satisfaction or love in the relationship, and that having influence over who they select as a partner is a better predictor of marital satisfaction than whether the marriage was arranged or not.[44]

So, while arranged marriages may not be for everyone, they can still be just as fulfilling as any other type of marriage.

6. Religious marriage

A religious marriage is a marriage officiated by a religious leader, such as a priest, rabbi, or imam. Religious marriages often have stricter rules and regulations than civil marriages. For example, in some religions, divorce may not be an option.

Religious marriages can be a source of comfort and support for couples. They can provide a community of people who share your beliefs and values, and can offer guidance during difficult times.

Of course, with the lack of an option for separation, religious marriages may not be the best choice for everyone. But if you share the same religious beliefs as your partner, a religious marriage can be a beautiful and fulfilling experience.[45]

There are many different types of marriages, and each one comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. No matter what type of marriage you have, it’s important to remember that communication, love, and respect are key to making it work.


FAQ about marriages

1. What is the purpose of marriage?

The purpose of marriage varies from couple to couple. Historically, marriages were often arranged for political or economic reasons.[11] Today, people usually marry for love, companionship, and to start a family. Some might also marry out of obligation, or religious beliefs.

Marriage can also provide couples with health benefits, financial stability, security, and can offer legal protections for both partners.[46]

Ultimately, the purpose of marriage is what you and your partner make of it. If you’re considering marriage, it’s important to sit down and discuss your expectations and goals for the future.

2. When was marriage invented?

The earliest recorded marriages date back to around 2350 BCE in Mesopotamia. During this period, marriages were often arranged to serve as an alliance between families or political leaders.[47]

Today, marriage is still common in many cultures around the world, though the reasons for getting married vary from couple to couple.

Marriage has undergone many changes throughout history, and will likely continue to change as time goes on. What remains constant, however, is that marriage is a beautiful and unique bond between people who love each other.

3. How long does the average marriage last?

The average marriage lasts around eight years, though this number can vary depending on the region. In the US, for example, the average marriage can vary depending on the state.[48]

Of course, it is completely possible for marriages to last much longer. Some couples stay married for decades, while others divorce after only a few years. Ultimately, the length of a marriage depends on the couple’s individual circumstances.

Generally, some factors found in long-term marriages include intimacy, effective communication, sexual relationship, love and attachment, children, and a willingness to work through difficult times.[49] If you want your marriage to last, it’s important to focus on these key components.

4. What is an open marriage?

An open marriage is a type of relationship in which the couples allow each other to have sexual relationships with other people. Open marriages stray from the traditional monogamous marriage, in which both partners are only allowed to have sexual relationships with each other.

Open marriages or consensual non-monogamous relationships have a prevalence of approximately 4 to 5 percent and can be a successful way to keep a relationship fresh and exciting.[50] And they can be just as committed and stable as monogamous relationships.[51]

If you’re considering an open marriage, it’s important to discuss the rules and boundaries with your partner. You’ll need to be on the same page in order to make it work.

5. What is a covenant marriage?

A covenant marriage is a type of marriage in which the couple makes a public commitment to stay together for better or for worse. Covenant marriages are usually more difficult to dissolve than traditional marriages, as they often require counseling or other interventions before a divorce can be granted.[52]

Covenant marriages were first established in the United States in the 1980s to reduce divorce rates. Today, covenant marriages are still relatively rare, mainly because they require extra effort and commitment from both partners.

When you’re considering a covenant marriage, it’s important to make sure that you’re fully committed to your partner and the relationship. This type of marriage isn’t for everyone, but it can be a beautiful way to solidify your love.

Whether you choose a traditional marriage, an open marriage, or a covenant marriage, the most important thing is that you’re happy and comfortable with your decision. There is no wrong way to get married, as long as both partners are on the same page.


The best marriage books of all time

If you’re looking for advice on making your marriage work, you’re in luck. This list of books is packed with information and tips from the happiest couples on earth. So whether you’re struggling to keep your relationship together or want to make it even better, these books have something for you.

  1. The Single Girl's Guide to Marrying a Man, His Kids, and His Ex-Wife: Becoming A Stepmother With Humor And Grace
  2. For Married Men Only: Three Principles for Loving Your Wife
  3. Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex
  4. The Emotionally Healthy Marriage: Growing Closer by Understanding Each Other

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  52. covenant marriage. (n.d.). LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved from www.law.cornell.edu
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Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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