According to a University of Virginia sociologist, you shouldn’t marry your soulmate.
Professor Brad Wilcox is a fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and serves as Director of the National Marriage Project. On Tuesday, February 4th, he gave a lecture entitled: “For As Long As Love Shall Last: How the Soulmate Myth Makes Marriage Less Stable and Less Happy.”
In his lecture, Wilcox explains how the soulmate myth actually worsens the likelihood for happiness, fulfillment, and longevity of a marriage.
The soulmate myth is “The idea that marriage is primarily about an intense emotional connection between two people that should last only so long as that connection remains happy, fulfilling, and life giving to the self. This adult-centered model is assumed to now dominate married life and be the best path toward marital happiness.”
The soulmate model is based on a relationship with a person who:
- Fulfills your deepest longings, desires, and needs.
- Accepts you as you are.
- Assists you on your projects of personal growth.
- Makes you happy.
This theoretical concept of soulmate love is attractive and has met with wide cultural acceptance.
Wilcox turns to Eli Finkel, a social psychology professor at Northwestern University, who theorizes why the soulmate model has become prevalent in today’s society.
According to Finkel, the rise to a more adult-centered marriage is a result of material wealth. In brief summary, children, family, and community are less important today for marriages to flourish and last because the population is more prosperous and self-sufficient. With those lower needs now nonessential, marriages can focus on reaching the higher needs of self-actualization, personal growth, and emotional connection.
However, instead of being fulfilling and happy, Wilcox asserts that marriages which only focus on the self and personal happiness are less stable and more fragile. That model of love and relationship is impossible and minimizes the “messy and difficult realities” of marriage and family life.
Wilcox makes three points to disband the soulmate myth:
1. The soulmate model leads to more divorce at the national level and couple level.
A study in California indicates a connection between the soulmate model and risk for unstable marriages. Wilcox quotes from the survey: of those who have serious doubts that their marriage will last, 35% think marriage is “mostly about an intense emotion/romantic connection.” Only 25% of those with serious doubts chose that marriage is “about romance but also about kids, money, and raising a family together.”
He concludes that “in contrast [to the soulmate mode], folks who are embracing…a family-first model of marriage are more likely to have a stable sense of their future.” A family-first marriage acknowledges that it’s about romance/communion, but also about children, commitment, cash, and community.
2. Marriage is not the “ Maslow top experience.”
Wilcox explains that after the wedding day and the kids, people tend to have a different perspective on marriage. There is “an institutional reassertion.”
He brings up an article by George Packer in The Atlantic that illustrates the development of marriage through parenting. From the article, it is clear parents have a “growing recognition…that marriage is the best thing for their kids and they’re going to make it work for the sake of their kids.” The article’s position correlates with the results of the California survey and recent research showing that divorce in the U.S. has gone down to 37% of first marriages. The family-first model of marriage is on the rise.
3. Seeking happiness in marriage does not lead to happiness.
Wilcox turns again to the California survey: 82% of “the couples who said that divorce is not an option for them … say that they were satisfied in their marriage.” In contrast, only 77% of those who are “in this marriage as long as our love lasts” said they were satisfied with their marriage.
Couples are more likely to be satisfied when there is a “context of commitment under-girding their marriage.” Passionate love in marriage does not last. Instead of focusing on solely on love, embracing a variety of goods in marriage leads to more likely satisfaction in marriage.
Wilcox makes the case that, not only is the soulmate model of marriage unfulfilling, it’s self-defeating. The soulmate myth leads to “more broken homes, it undersells the importance of marriage for kids, cash, and kin, and diminishes the odds of being happily married.”
“It turns out the happiest marriages today are forged by husbands and wives who realize that marriage is about much more than a soulmate relationship, it’s about goods like kin, cash, and especially the kids. Family-first marriages are not only more stable, they’re more satisfying.”