In 5 Words – A History of Marriage

7 Jan

A History of Marriage by Elizabeth Abbott

In 5 Words…

Revolutionized my opinions on marriage.

How times have changed from the old days that we too often cloak in the golden glow of nostalgia! The very nature of marriage is changing…
Elizabeth Abbott

This book was my first non-fiction completely oriented to the topic of marriage. In fact – the Mr. brought it home for me without asking… And I am so glad that I took my time to read this! Bear with me as most of my highlights focus on the issue of divorce, but really it all goes hand in hand with marriage of course :) …

The Mr. was actually the one who picked this up on the new books rack at the library – just published in 2010, Elizabeth does a great job at pulling in relevant topics that enter the typical conversation over coffee. She touches on Lady Gaga, the rising father’s movement, Ellen Degeneres, Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie and more…

Elizabeth chronologically analyzes marriage and it’s evolution from the 19th century up to today… I was truly amazed at how many popular notions and beliefs were explored and sometimes even abolished!

With that being said.. and myself being quite the strongly opinionated person, I am humbled to say that I have been wrong in many of them… I will admit that I was the person who believed divorce “equals failure rather than solution, that divorce laws encourage if not actually cause divorce and go hand in hand with the secularization of marriage…”

So… this book really helped to soothe my anger and disappointment towards the rising trend of divorce and separation only to give me understanding and compassion towards those whom divorce offers resolution or even salvation.

The institution of marriage in it’s beginning was purposed as something completely different than today. Marriage represented a contract, for the purpose of furthering a family’s estate, and influence when needed. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that “Love, erotic as well as romantic, had become so integral to marriage that marriage was sinking under it’s weight.”

But despite this shift, one of the major driving forces behind the practice of divorce started within the women’s rights movement. Not studying much of the topic I never knew what few rights women had in marriage in the late 1800’s and how hard we worked to achieve these basic rights such as child custody and the right to have our own property, wages, or even our own bodies.

The law denied her existence because of couverture, the legal notion that a wife’s being was merged with her husband’s. Without her own identity, a woman had no right to her own property, wages, or body, and the notion of marital rape was inconceivable. Divorce did more than terminate failed marriages or free spouses to remarry. It freed wives from couverture.
Matrimonial Causes Act 1857
Caroline Norton

Thus when divorce first entered the scene of marriage, it “promoted interdependency, with equal right to property, earnings, and child custody and guardianship… The idea was that they would consult with and listen to each other, and neither would force his or her will on the other”

Divorce offered salvation to “the battered wife or abandoned husband, for the wife whose children starved because her “breadwinner” husband owed his wages to the tavern keeper or the card shark, and for the husband whose wife flaunted lovers and neglected the children.”


Outside these topics… Elizabeth covered much more such as marriage in the past, present, and future; love and sex in marriage; children at the heart of marriage; parenting in modern marriages; gay marriage; money and marriage; weddings and so much more…

This book also does a great job exploring issues at the heart of marriage that many are facing today…

When and why did weddings become so crazy producing bridezillas rather than domestic goddesses?

Could marriage ever be a perfect modernized fantasy like the Cleaver’s or the Anderson’s?

How much impact does a father really have in the upbringing of children and the stability of a home in general?

How has gender equality affected the structure and nature of marriage?

Can wives really be “Molly Maids in the house, Marilyn Monroes in the bedroom and Martha Stewarts in the kitchen” while balancing a career and personal life?


And in the end how did the author feel about all of this?

I believe that children’s welfare is paramount. I believe that marriage with children has a different dimension from childless marriage. I believe that individual women must not be expected to surrender the gains collectively won as a condition of staying married. I believe that gays and lesbians who wish to marry should be able to do so with the same rights and responsibilities as other consenting adults. I believe there is a fundamental causal link between satisfying marriages and men and women’s education and economic statuses. I believe that many public policies – including maternity, paternity, and parental leave; child care; tax laws; judicial, prison, and immigration policies; divorce laws; and egalitarian public standards – profoundly affect marriage. I believe that outstanding events shape the nature and development of individual marriages; wars and recessions; the collaps of North America’s manufacturing base and its associated living wages, benefits, and security; homophobia and racism; popular culture; and human longevity. I believe that marriages in mansions and marriages in shacks feel quite different.

How can we improve the state of marriage today? Recognize that divorce will not fall into disuse but that, if better support and coping mechanisms are provided, spouses will resort to it less.


Honestly, this book is not your typical history saga, but has the most interesting ideas and theories that push your natural inclinations, expanding your comfort zone past both societal and religious preconceptions.

Without much ado, it now sits on my select shelf ready to be borrowed to anyone even remotely interested… I promise you won’t be able to put it down once you pick it up!

Cheers with wine!

the Mrs.

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