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The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists & Rebels

Psychotherapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson know that marriage is in trouble. Close to half of all marriages end in divorce. Growing numbers of adults are raising kids without marrying. Millions are cohabiting and millions more are living solo. But the co-authors are not despairing. In The New “I Do”: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels, they want to make marriage work for people who want to marry, in ways that suit their personal reasons for marrying.

Many books promise to help couples succeed in their marriages by telling them “how to improve communication, resolve conflict, manage expectations, and enhance intimacy and sex.” Gadoua and Larson promise that their book is not still another variant of that tired template, and they stick to that promise.

Instead, they wisely realize that when a particular institution fails to deliver on its promise (“happily ever after”) at a stunning rate, the problem is not with the individual married people, it is with the institution. The contemporary model of marriage is suited to marriages “based on survival, procreation, property, and wealth.” Today, though, people are more often marrying for love.

That’s dreamy, but it is not specific enough. When pushed to consider what they really want out of a marriage (as couples are too rarely asked to do), people turn out to have many different kinds of ideas. Some are committed to their relationship but want to live in places of their own (living apart together marriages). Some want to be married but not monogamous (open marriages). Others don’t care much about passion; they are in it for the friendship (companionship marriages). Some want the comfort of financial security or health insurance (safety marriages). Other couples just need to give marriage a try for a few years, without having children or promising to be there for each other for the long haul (starter marriages). A few want to sign on to exacting standards of commitment, vowing not to divorce except under conditions of extreme duress (covenant marriages).

The varieties of marriage presented by the authors are vastly different from each other, and the authors are resolutely nonjudgmental about all of them. They do, though, have strong opinions. They believe that people who are thinking about marrying, or who are reassessing their current marriage, should be very deliberate in spelling out – in a legal contract (which is what marriage really is) – what they actually want. They are all for prenups (or postnups, if it is already too late for the prenup) and offer a chapter dispelling myths about them and describing the special considerations relevant to the different kinds of marriages.

The heart of the book consists of individual chapters about each of the different kinds of marriages. The authors share stories from people they have interviewed and present statistics and relevant social science data. Each of these chapters ends with bulleted sections on what’s good about that kind of marriage, what’s not so good about it, how to make it work, whether it is right for you, suggestions for further reading, and a very helpful list of takeaways. If you are seriously considering a do-it-yourself marriage, in the sense that you and your partner want to choose the marital model that is best suits your particular goals, you could expand your thinking and learn a lot in a very short amount of time simply by reading that very last section of each chapter.

Bookending the self-help chapters in the middle are several opening chapters and one concluding chapter that are more contextual. With one exception, they are broad-ranging, thoughtful, well-researched, concise, and highly readable. Readers who want detailed, book-length histories of marriage can find several elsewhere (for example, Marriage, a History, by Stephanie Coontz and A History of Marriage, by Elizabeth Abbott). Gadoua and Larson, in Chapter 1, offer the best brief history I have ever read.

Chapter 2, “Why Put a Ring on It?,” also had a lot to offer, but it was marred for me by a table of selective research findings supposedly demonstrating the benefits of marrying. It includes the typical misleading statements that “Marriage makes people happy” and “Marriage makes people healthier” and many more. These are claims that I have been debunking for nearly two decades (early on in Singled Out, more recently in Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong, and in countless blog posts and article in between).

As a lifelong single person and a scholar of single life, I also cringed at the places in the book where living single was equated with being alone. Most were in the chapter on Companionship Marriage; for example, “Marrying a good companion may be better than being alone.” It is as if single people have no parents, no friends, no siblings, no cousins – well, no one of any variety who is important to them. That assumption, too (like the ones about how getting married will make you happier and healthier), is hardly unique to this book. It is part of the prevailing ideology of our time that “alone” is synonymous with single.

After the unfortunate claims about the alleged superiority of married people and married parents, I was delighted to get to a concluding chapter that really did recognize and value the many different kinds of people and relationships in our lives (other than spouses and marital relationships). There, the authors raised what I think are some of the most significant questions about marriage: “Why should the government give benefits to you because you got hitched and others haven’t…? Why should the state decide that some relationships are ‘worthy’ and valuable and others aren’t?”

Drawing from the work of scholars and advocates, Gadoua and Larson present the argument that society needs to protect those who are most vulnerable and those who care for the vulnerable. In a society that placed caring relationships at its ethical center, “Single parents would get the support they need, as would whoever cares for the elderly, disabled, or sick – from childfree couples to singletons.”

The New “I Do” is the most useful resource out there for the marrying kinds who want to define what marriage means to them and then make it work. In the opening and closing chapters, it is also a wonderful read for readers of any marital status who like smart, insightful big-picture discussions of what marriage has been and what it could, and perhaps should, be in the future.

The New “I Do”: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels

By Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson

Seal Press, 2014 [find the month]

Softcover, 234 pages

$17

 

The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists & Rebels

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Bella DePaulo

Bella DePaulo is the author of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century and Singled Out. Before she started studying single life, she published many articles on the psychology of lying and detecting lies.

APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2016). The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists & Rebels. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2019, from https://psychcentralreviews.com/2016/the-new-i-do-reshaping-marriage-for-skeptics-realists-rebels/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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