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The Essential Elements In Marriage

( Originally Published 1936 )



THERE are three essential elements in every normal marriage: the gratification of the sexual impulse, the relation between husband and wife apart from it, and procreation. The comparative importance attached to these factors has varied considerably. The primary object of marriage has always been sexual union, as sexual desire is obviously the primary motive of relations between the sexes among animals, even when these relations last beyond the pairing season till after the birth of the offspring. But among existing savages the aspect of procreation also plays a very important role. The desire for offspring is very strong among them. A woman is valued not only as a wife but also as a mother; and the respect in which she is held is often proportionate to her fecundity, a barren wife being despised as an unnatural and useless being. Prenuptial relations frequently have the character of a trial by which the lover ascertains that the woman will gratify his desire for offspring, and in such a case marriage is not concluded before the birth of a child or until there are signs of pregnancy. A very frequent cause of divorce among simple peoples is barrenness in the wife; and it is so not only where the husband may repudiate his wife at will, but also where his right of divorcing her is restricted. A man without offspring is an unfortunate being under savage conditions of life, where individual safety and welfare depend upon family ties, and the old have to be supported by the young. The childless man may even have to suffer after his death for lack of offspring, there being nobody to make offerings to his ghost.

For a similar reason procreation has assumed an extraordinary importance among the peoples of archaic civilization. According to Chinese ideas it is one of the greatest misfortunes that could befall a man, and at the same time an offence against the whole line of ancestors, to die without leaving a son to perpetuate the family cult; for it would doom father, mother, and all the ancestry in the Nether-world to a pitiable existence without descendants enough to serve them properly. Among the Semites we meet with the idea that a dead man who has no children will miss something in Sheol through not receiving that kind of worship which ancestors in early times appear to have received. Among the Israelites procreation was the chief goal of marriage. According to the Talmud " every Jew who does not occupy himself with generation is on a par with one who is guilty of bloodshed "; and all Jews desire to have a son who after his father's death can say the prayer on his behalf. The ancient Indo-European nations believed that a man's happiness in the next world depended upon his having a continuous line of male descendants, whose duty it would be to make the periodical offerings for the repose of his soul. The old idea still survives in India: " a Hindu man must marry and beget children to perform his funeral rites, lest his spirit wander uneasily in the waste places of the earth ". In the Zoroastrian books we likewise meet with the idea that a man should marry and get progeny; the man without a son cannot enter paradise because there is nobody to pay him the family worship. Plato remarks that every individual is bound to provide for a continuance of representatives to succeed himself as ministers of the Divinity; and Isaeus says: " All those who think their end approaching look forward with a prudent care that their houses may not become desolate, but that there may be some person to attend to their funeral rites and to perform the legal ceremonies at their tombs". The ordinary Greek feeling on the object of marriage is no doubt expressed in the oration against Neaera, ascribed to Demosthenes, where it is said: " We keep mistresses for our pleasures, concubines for constant attendance, and wives to bear us legitimate children and to be our faithful housekeepers".

A very different view of marriage was introduced into Europe by Christianity. It was permitted to man as a restraint, however imperfect, on the sinful licentiousness of the sexual impulse. Said St. Paul: " It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband " He said nothing about procreation. But the Church also admitted marriage as a necessary expedient for the continuance of the human species, and at the same time pronounced this to be the only legitimate object of sexual intercourse even between husband and wife. The procreation of children was said to be the measure of a Christian's indulgence in appetite, just as the husbandman throwing the seed into the ground awaits the harvest, not sowing more upon it. The Pope's encyclical of 31st December 1930 forbids the use of contraceptives on the ground that " the connubial act is naturally designed to evoke new life "

Among orthodox Christians of other confessions we also find, to some extent, the theory that sexual intercourse is justifiable only as a means of generation; but it is certainly on the wane. Some interesting information on this point comes from America. Dr. Katharine B. Davis, who carried out a study on a thousand educated married women and about a thousand unmarried college women, put to them the question, " Are married people justified having intercourse except for the purpose of having children? " Only a small minority (15.3 per cent.) of those answering definitely this question replied negatively. Dr. G. V. Hamilton put a similar question to one hundred married men and an equal number of married women, most of whom were well under forty years of age, residents of New York City, and classifiable as having attained a relatively high level of culture. He formulated it thus: " Do you believe that it is right to have the sex act for any other purpose than to bring children into the world? " Eighty-five men and 81 women replied, " Yes, it is right "; and 11 men and 12 women, " Formerly believed it to be wrong, now believes it to be right ". Again, the question whether it is right to use methods for preventing pregnancy was answered in the affirmative by 89.7 per cent. of more than 1000 women belonging to the Davis group, and in the negative only by 10.2 per cent. The enormous frequency of the use of contraceptives also bears testimony to people's feelings concerning it. The leader in the movement has been France, a largely Catholic country, where it started in the middle of the last century in the great cities and in the fertile districts of the south; and the proportion of Catholic women who apply for advice at Margaret Sanger's clinic in New York is only one percentage lower than the proportion of Protestant women. So far as England is concerned, Dr. A. W. Thomas wrote in 1906: " From my experience as a general practitioner, I have no hesitation in saying that 90 per cent. of young married couples of the comfortably-off classes use preventives "; and this rough estimate does not seem to be over the mark. In Germany birth control was very prevalent before the War,' and has greatly increased afterwards. In the United States 74.1 I per cent. of the 985 married women who answered Dr. Davis' question referring to the use of contraceptives admitted it, and 87 of the women belonging to the Hamilton group did the same. At the same time contraception has still many opponents also in Protestant countries, and not only on political grounds as lowering the birth-rate; in Denmark there seems to be quite a widespread feeling against it.

The use of contraceptives by a married couple does not, of course, mean that no children are wanted: it only implies a desire to control the appearance of children, their number, and the times when they are to be born. An American writer triumphantly exclaims: " For the younger generation, fecundity is out of the question. The new gospel is one of frank fun and happy-go-lucky pleasure seeking. . . . Reproduction has become a mere episode in the relations of the sexes. Procreation is not taken too seriously ". This is hardly in agreement with certain answers given to questionnaires submitted to young people in his own country. In the replies of a number of male students at the University of Mississippi " willingness to rear a family " takes a very prominent place, being put above mere looks, wealth, or housekeeping ability; and answers given by students at Ohio State University mention among the essential mental qualifications in a wife a desire for and a love of children. Dr. Hamilton's question, " Do you wish to have children? " elicited the answer " No " from only 14 men and 4 women belonging to his group of one hundred married men and one hundred married women, and the answer " No " with reservations from 6 men and no woman; while his question, " Does your spouse wish to have children? " was answered in the negative by 10 men and 18 women, and in the negative with reservations by 2 men and 3 women.

These answers are substantially concordant with popular notions, as well as with views expressed by eminent students of the psychology of sex. According to Havelock Ellis, " most people, certainly most women, feel at moments, or at some period in their lives, a desire for children " ; and in women the longing for a child " may become so urgent and imperative that we may regard it as scarcely less imperative than the sexual impulse ". Van de Velde writes: " To be a woman means to have the desire to become a mother both physically and mentally ". He admits that " there are women, and presumably always have been women, although their number may be relatively very small, who feel such a strong antagonism to motherhood that they refuse to marry for this reason "; but he adds: " The absence of the maternal instinct in the modern woman is really nothing but a pose. The maternal instinct exists in spite of this, although there may be only one child. . . . Where it really is repressed, because some women think it fashionable, or because of decadence, or love of pleasure, it will also be seen that such repression has its revenge sooner or later. A more than temporary repression of the mother instinct is, practically speaking, impossible ". It may be that Bertrand Russell was deceived by that pose when he made the contrary suggestion that so long as women were in subjection they did not dare to be honest about their own emotions, but professed those which were pleasing to the male, and that consequently, until very recently, all decent women were supposed to desire children, because many men were shocked by those who frankly admitted that they did not desire any. He thinks that the desire for children is commoner among men than among women, and that in a very large number of modern marriages the children are a concession on the part of the woman to the man's desires. He even writes: " It is for this reason, rather than for the sake of sex, that men marry, for it is not difficult to obtain sexual satisfaction without marriage ".3 He seems then to forget that marriage has other advantages to offer a man than the prospect of fatherhood and the gratification of the sexual impulse. But it is quite possible that though the desire for children does not play such an important part in the thoughts of men as it does with most women, nevertheless, as Popenoe observes, " the number of men to whom this aspect of marriage appeals strongly is far greater than is often realised ". Among European peasantry it is certainly a powerful motive. The so-called Probeheiraten, or trial marriages, in some districts of Bavaria and the brutkoste of the Dutch plainsmen have in a large measure the purpose of testifying the woman's capacity for bearing children.

We now come to the third essential element in marriage: the relation between husband and wife apart from the gratification of the sexual impulse and procreation. If my theory of the origin of marriage is correct, this relation has from the beginning contained some degree of affection. In a species where the male remains with the female and takes care of her even after the pairing season has passed, it must be a feeling of this sort that accounts for it. We may assume that the tendency to feel some attachment to a being who has been the cause of pleasure, in this case sexual pleasure, is at the bottom of the marital instinct, and that the need of the species is the ultimate cause of the association between the sexual desire and affection, which is the essence of conjugal love. At the lower stages of human development conjugal affection seems to be considerably inferior to the tender feelings with which parents embrace their children, but we must not be misled by statements to the effect that among some savages love between husband and wife is unknown. However different the love of a savage may be from that of a civilised man, we discover in it traces of the same ingredients. I have elsewhere given a long list of primitive peoples who are by no means strangers to conjugal love, and among these we find even the Australian aborigines, who generally have the reputation of being the greatest oppressors of women on earth; many authorities attest that married people among them are often much attached to each other, and continue to be so even when they grow old.

Advancement in civilization has not at every step been favourable to the development of conjugal love. In a book containing the cream of the moral writings of the Chinese, and intended chiefly for children, we read: "A wife is like one's clothes; when clothes are worn out, we can substitute those that are new ". While the Vedic singers knew no more tender relation than that between the husband and his willing, loving wife, who was praised as " his home, the darling abode and bliss in his house ",it is said that sincere mutual friendship is rarely met with in the families of the modern Hindus. Among the Arabs, Burckhardt writes, " the passion of love is, indeed, much talked of by the inhabitants of towns; but I doubt whether anything is meant by them more than the grossest animal desire ". In Greece in the historic age the man recognised in the woman no other end than to minister to his pleasure or to become the mother of his children; 5 the love of women was only the offspring of the common Aphrodite, who " is of the body rather than the soul ". Both in the East and in Greece progress in civilization widened the gulf between the sexes and tended to alienate husband and wife, because the higher culture became almost exclusively the prerogative of the men. Yet Europeans are apt to be somewhat mistaken when judging of the conjugal relations of Orientals. A factor which should be taken into account is their ideas of decency. In Morocco it is considered indecent to show any affection for one's wife; in the eyes of the outside world the husband should treat her with the greatest indifference. But this by no means implies that he is devoid of tender feelings towards her.

Many students of the psychology of sex have emphasised the unity and transfusion of the spiritual and the bodily elements in sexual love among ourselves. Havelock Ellis writes: " Love, in the sexual sense, is, summarily considered, a synthesis of lust (in the primitive and uncoloured sense of sexual emotion) and friendship. . . . There can be no sexual love without lust; but, on the other hand, until the currents of lust in the organism have been so irradiated as to affect other parts of the psychic organism—at the least the affections and the social feelings—it is not yet sexual love. Lust, the specific sexual impulse, is indeed the primary and essential element in this synthesis, for it alone is adequate to the end of reproduction, not only in animals but in men. But it is not until lust is expanded and irradiated that it develops into the exquisite and enthralling flower of love ". " In human beings ", says Dr. Beale, " the physical union of real lovers becomes the vehicle and symbol of a spiritual union which cannot in any other way be so completely effected or expressed. From the bodily coalescence of lover and beloved, from the thrill and ecstasy kindled and rekindled in that close embrace, the full mutual surrender and uttermost delight in one another, there spring emotions and sympathies that are quite unattainable save in this manner ".3 Bertrand Russell remarks that the sexual instinct " is not completely satisfied unless a man's whole being, mental quite as much as physical, enters into the relation. . . . Love should be a tree whose roots are deep in the earth, but whose branches extend into heaven ". Female writers also point out that the sex communion between husband and wife should be " a true union of souls, not merely a physical function for the momentary relief of the sexual organs and that the complete act of union symbolises and actually enhances the spiritual union.

Dr. Loewenfeld observes that sexual love is a complex emotional state which in its well-developed or, as one may say, higher form is composed of three elements: first, such as appertain to the sexual instinct, or, at least, instinctive elements originating in the sexual sphere; secondly, feelings of affection and sympathy for some individual; and thirdly, feelings of esteem, ranging from simple esteem to veneration, admiration, or even idealising. He adds that the feelings of the last-mentioned group, if very strongly developed, tend rather to diminish the sensual desire, and may easily lead to a feeling that the beloved object is debased by any attempt at satisfying the latter. This takes us to the important fact that sexual love does not necessarily aim at the supreme satisfaction of the sexual impulse. This impulse is an urge to sexual activity which has its seat and its irradiations in the whole body and the whole psychic personality, being largely dependent not only on the external secretions of the sex glands (sperm and egg cells), but especially on their internal secretions or hormones. And it may lead to tenderness, affection, admiration, or idealisation in regard to the individual by whom it is aroused to such a degree that it is itself pushed into the background. In a young person's first love the desire for sexual intercourse is often completely absent, indeed the thought of it may fill him with reluctance; and if he has a desire for such an act, it is directed to another person than the beloved one. On the other hand, when the sensual attraction has ceased to be felt, its spiritual effect may still remain unabated, as is the case in long and happy marriages where husband and wife are united by lasting ties of mutual love and tenderness.

Though love is frequently considered the only justifiable basis for marriage, material aspects have always played a very prominent part in it. Marriage is a community of life with everything that is implied in it, with common interests bodily and mental; as the marriage service of the Church of England states, it exists for " the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other ", as well as for the procreation of children. In early civilization a man will have a female companion who takes care of his house, who procures wood and water, lights and attends to the fire, prepares the food, dresses skins, makes clothes, gathers roots and berries, and among agricultural peoples very frequently cultivates the soil; and a woman wants to have a protector and supporter. The various occupations of life are divided between the sexes according to rules, the formation of which has no doubt been more or less influenced by the selfishness of the stronger sex, but which on the whole are in general conformity with the indications given by nature; and so they have always, in a large measure, remained. Among ourselves, also, the desire to enhance one's own comfort and to have a home of one's own with a companion to look after one's interests, is an important motive for marriage. Love enthusiasts are apt to look down upon so prosaic a motive, and even declare that marriages should be continued only so long as love remains. But there is sufficient evidence that love offers no sufficient guarantee for a happy married life.

Economic considerations are certainly of great importance at the conclusion of a marriage. Poverty may cause much hardship to the couple, and may prevent them from having children, or if they have any, from giving them a proper education. Even some amount of wealth is not to be despised. It may increase the enjoyment of life in various ways; it may give the spouses leisure for some useful kind of work—scientific, literary, artistic, or social—which yields no pecuniary gain; and it may enable them to accomplish the education of their children. No wonder, then, that economic circumstances influence very largely the choice of a partner. Iwan Bloch observes that the economic question is the main determining influence among the classes who feel it their duty to keep up a particular kind of appearance, namely, the aristocracy, the upper middle classes, and the officers in the army, and that the predominance of mercenary marriages among the Jews is a well-known fact. But he also asks: " Where are money marriages more frequent than they are among our sturdy German peasants, with whom everything conventional has freest possible play? " Among the peasantry both of Germany and other European countries 3 economic equality between the parties is considered an essential condition for the conclusion of a marriage; in the West of Ireland, for instance, " a man never thinks of a girl who has not sufficient money to be his equal ".

It would be unfair to include such marriages in the censure by which some eminent writers on sex pass upon marriages of convenience. Havelock Ellis writes: " A man who marries for money or for ambition is departing from the biological moral ends of marriage. A woman who sells herself for life is morally on the same level as one who sells herself for a night ". It would seem that wealth is better fitted than poverty for the biological purposes of procreation and the rearing of children, and, as Maranon remarks, a man's money is among ourselves a biological substitute for his physical ability in early times as a means of supporting his family. And how do the severe strictures upon mercenary marriages square with the statements that the community has no right to interest itself in the sexual behaviour of its members until a child is born or conceived, and that " it is an impertinence, if not an outrage, to seek to inquire into it "? Why, then, should anybody have a right to pass a moral judgment on the motives that induce a man and a woman to marry, whatever his opinion about those motives may be? These are often very complex, and monetary considerations by no means exclude other reasons; they are not quite incompatible even with love. Olga Knopf remarks: " No choice is ever all for love or all for convenience.... Even in love we under-stand that there is a valuation of the partner and beneath the blindness of love there is often much calculation ". Dr. Hamilton quotes the cynical saying that " almost any woman can love almost any man if he has plenty of money and a disposition to spend it for her benefit " and adds that his own findings " do not wholly refute this adage ".

The three essential elements in marriage are all sources of much happiness. The gratification of the sexual impulse not only gives intense momentary pleasure, but exercises also a wholesome influence on body and mind, and may lay the foundation of that exalted feeling of love which is the chief condition for a happy marriage. The community of life between husband and wife may in various ways be a blessing to both. It offers many advantages that are denied solitary men and women. It is a safeguard against loneliness; it is apt to be conducive not only to material comfort but to spiritual edification, to intensified life, to fulfilment of personality. Children increase the happiness of married life both as objects of parental affection and as binding links of love between husband and wife. Their presence may even induce the parents to carry on their marriage when personal feelings between them would not do so. Divorces are considerably more frequent in cases where there are no children or only one child. In England, during the period 1899-1930, never less than 6o per cent. of divorce petitions concerned families with no child or one only, while between 38 and 43 per cent. came from childless families. In the United States almost two-thirds of the divorces are recruited from the 17 per cent. childless marriages, and an additional 20 per cent. of the divorces, or the majority of the remainder, come from that comparatively small category, the one-child marriage.' In Switzerland, two-fifths of the total number of divorces are said by Glasson to take place between married people who have no children, though the sterile marriages only amount to one-fifth of the number of marriages.

But while those factors which we have now considered—the sexual impulse, the community of life, and the presence of children—may be conducive to much happiness in married life, they may also be quite the reverse. And it is the unhappy marriages that have in particular impressed those who nowadays speak of the decay of marriage and the disintegration of the family.

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