The Myth of the Traditional Marriage in American Culture

Is the concept of a "traditional" marriage relevant anymore?

Graphic of man and woman on wedding day

Many couples opt for a "traditional" wedding and turn to bridal companies and magazines to bring their vision to life.

This bridal advice article caters to the "conventional couple" and includes a picture of two women tying the knot.

Ironically, this article caters to unconventional and nontraditional couples.

An accurate traditional wedding picture would include a heterosexual couple with a young bride entering a marriage of convenience.

What most fiancés want by a traditional wedding or marriage is a modernized and sanitized adaptation of American tradition.

Read more to learn how culture, law, religion, and other factors influence how adults in the U.S. conceptualize traditional marriage today.

The Modern Definition of "Traditional Marriage"

Traditional marriages are subject to whatever the participating spouses cite as tradition.

Traditional marriage in a modern American context generally includes the following:

  • A lifelong commitment between two people in love.
  • Effective conflict resolution with no incidents of domestic violence.
  • Joint decision-making where both parties have equal input.
  • Sharing a domestic life that is conducive to child-rearing.
  • Mutual ownership over bank accounts, homes, cars, and other assets.

Modern upgrades to marriage include shifts in the divorce process.

Traditionally, the court only granted divorces in extreme cases and favored men.

Today, each spouse could obtain a no-fault divorce in all 50 states, depending on the state's laws.

Additionally, each spouse has the right to hire an attorney to achieve favorable alimony, child custody, and child support outcomes.

Is Traditional Marriage Biblical?

Approximately 65% of U.S. adults self-identify as Christians.

In other words, the majority of adults in America recognize the Bible as an authority.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books.

The Duggars and their 19 children rose to fame as Christian reality stars who strictly follow the Bible.

Parents Jim Bob and Michelle believe "God designed marriage to be a loving, dynamic relationship between a husband and wife for a lifetime."

The Duggars believe in patriarchal households where wives raise children in a clean house and never deny their husbands sex.

Additionally, they denounce divorce, premarital sex, and birth control.

Biblical verses support each of their marital traditions and political perspectives, no matter how outdated by today's standards.

For instance, Ephesians 5:22-33 states, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife…"

Put differently, the Bible does not support the 45.5 percent of married-couple families where both spouses work.

The Evolution of the Traditional Marriage Concept

A 1950 Heinz ad starts with "Most husbands have stopped beating their wives…" and goes on to describe how a wife's monotonous meals may be causing her husband's boredom.

These days an ad like this would result in a public apology from Heinz and its creators losing their jobs. At the time, however, the ad reflected prevailing gender norms and traditions.

Increased women's rights and decreased religious adherence have contributed to how U.S. adults define traditional marriage.

Unlike in previous eras, traditional marriage today includes wives being breadwinners, spouses having equal rights to child custody, and the law criminalizing domestic violence between spouses.

Concepts of "Traditional Marriage" Abroad

American tradition is not the global norm.

Mauritanian society regards an obese girl or woman as feminine, tranquil, and wealthy.

Girls as young as five are traditionally force-fed up to 16,000 calories daily in some regions to increase their chances for marriage.

Critics worldwide condemn the force-feeding ritual as abuse despite 70% of participants not regretting the fattening process.

Child marriages, domestic violence, and treating women as second-class citizens are true to tradition in this patriarchal society and rarely viewed as harmful by locals.

For instance, some Mauritanian women view domestic violence as a source of pride.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, most spouses followed tradition and had arranged marriages. Many of these arranged marriages involved children.

Bangladesh is home to 38 million child brides.

Many rural families traditionally gift the groom and his family a dowry. Child brides typically require lower dowries.

An impoverished family may only afford to marry their child off to an older man and want to do so to ensure she has food to eat and protection from sexual harassment.

The majority of Bangladeshis do not view child marriage as sexual violence. In other words, giving a child bride away is often seen as a parent acting in the child's best interest.

Unique Features of American Traditional Marriage

Former First Lady Michelle Obama once said, "The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls."

America consistently ranks as one of the best places for women to live in the world.

The general characteristics of today's traditional American marriage support its ranking:

  • Domestic violence laws prohibit spousal abuse.
  • Family law statutes protect the property interests of husbands and wives.
  • A husband or wife, or both, can financially maintain the household.
  • Spouses have an equal say on how to raise their children.

Recent Features of Traditional Marriage

Graphic of two women marrying

A quick read through a U.S. history textbook reveals a long history of human rights violations in America.

Minorities, both racial and sexual, did not always have equal access to or equal protection in marriage.

Some characteristics of traditional American marriage today came into existence in the past century:

Alternative Types of Long-Term Relationship

Marriage is not the end game for all people in love.

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have been together for thirty-seven years and have no plans to marry.

Hawn explained, "There is really no reason to marry," as they both are already devoted, caring, and loving to one another.

The nonmarital partners cohabitate in luxury homes from Aspen to Vancouver.

Although California typically does not recognize common law marriages, the Los Angeles residents may be able to assert some of the rights of divorcing spouses upon breaking up.

With a combined net worth of approximately $200 million, the couple could avoid marriage while still generally having the same rights, protections, and benefits as spouses by registering as domestic partners.

The nontraditional couple exemplifies marital commitment more than many married couples.

They remind us that a label does not make a relationship. Mutual affection, dedication, and respect define a relationship.