Sunday, March 24, 2024

Can we support this type of marriage?

If we were to go back to late Medieval/early modern Germany, what did marriage look like? I recently read part of a book by Judith Hurwich, titled "Noble Strategies". It describes marital practices amongst the aristocratic elite. 

What I found most interesting was the conflict between an older lay German practice of marriage and the Christian one. The lay German practice, at least amongst the nobility, was that a husband could set aside a wife and live openly instead with a concubine (and have children with her). Unsurprisingly, it was then generally expected (amongst lay writers) that it was the wife who had the responsibility of maintaining marital concord. After all, she was the one who risked being set aside if the marriage failed.

The Church gained control over lay marriage by the twelfth century and by the thirteenth was beginning to campaign against concubinage. However, it took some time for municipal laws to change, and for open, co-residential concubinage to be punished. The earliest change to the law in Germany was in Strasbourg in 1337, then Ulm (1387), Wuerzburg (1418) and Frankfurt (1468). You can see that the pace of change was slow, so much so that it was still in play in the 1500s. 

If we describe this earlier understanding of marriage, in which male adultery was permissible, as was the setting aside of a wife, as marriage 1.0, then Christian marriage becomes marriage 2.0. Again, it is not surprising that when both spouses were equally bound to fidelity, that the responsibility of upholding marital concord also shifted. In the 1500s it began to be increasingly considered the role of both spouses to maintain harmony within the marriage.

This more egalitarian view lasted from about 1500 to 1850. From the mid-nineteenth century, liberalism began to aim at the autonomy of women. This too took some time. By the 1970s women were entering the higher professions in larger numbers; no fault divorce was introduced; a welfare state had been created; and there was a level of material wealth in society that enabled women to safely and securely divorce their husbands. In a reversal of the situation in Medieval Germany, it was now women who were empowered to set aside their husbands.

Again, unsurprisingly, this has led to a change in who is considered responsible for maintaining marital concord. In marriage 3.0 it is the men who must uphold marital concord or else pay the price. In its roughest expression, this is simply the idea that a man must try to keep his wife happy or else she is entitled to leave him and he is considered at fault for the marital failure. You can see this mindset in the social media post below:

It is uncommon for this change in marriage to be formally acknowledged. Liberals are committed to an egalitarian ideal, so there would be much cognitive dissonance if it were recognised that the current system of marriage is like the pre-Christian one in reverse.

Marriage 3.0 is well entrenched, to the point that many conservatives, in wanting to defend marriage, assume that this version of marriage is what has to be supported. They sometimes do this by claiming that the task of making a woman happy in marriage is a simple and straightforward one, as in the following social media comment:

I want to particularly focus, though, on Nancy Pearcey, who is an academic I genuinely admire. She has, however, accepted the terms of modern marriage. She thinks we can use scientific research to figure out what men can do to make their wives happy and leans on two researchers for support in this, namely John Gottman and Terrence Real. Here she uses Gottman to claim that it is up to men to make marriages work:

And here she fully embraces the idea that the failure of marriage can generally be attributed to husbands not pleasing wives emotionally. It is a more sophisticated expression of the idea that the husband must make the wife happy.

So is all this right? Do men go into marriage not wanting intimacy or closeness? Is it easy to achieve intimacy or closeness with women? Can science provide some sort of definitive answer to the question of what women want? Is the future of marriage men learning how to make their wives happy?

I'm sceptical. Achieving happiness in life depends on a whole raft of factors, as I have outlined in a previous post (Making Lady Lawyer Happy). A husband can contribute to a wife's happiness, but that's as far as it goes. She can be unhappy no matter what he does.

It is also a little naive to believe that it is simple and straightforward for men to divine their wives' emotional needs. It's useful, as an illustration of this, to turn to a review of one of Terrence Real's books. The reviewer summarises the material in the book as follows:
Real faces head-on the reality that many women come into couples work with fierce anger, frustrated by trying to achieve true emotional intimacy with their man. His premise is that many women's responsibilities and aspirations have grown as part of the women's movement and their resulting, empowered roles, during decades when many men's roles and expectations have progressed less dramatically. As difficult as the tone of the anger and complaint, Real suggests the substance of women's frustrations is right-on, which will provide some much needed vindication for women readers.

This book is full of composite examples of couples-therapy sessions where the woman's attitude sounds in complaint and withering anger. The man in these examples sounds clueless, and deeply hurt by the woman's anger. Real's prototypical woman comes off like a nag, shaming while complaining. It is at this point where men typically recoil avoiding facing women's needs, and their own fears.

The man may think, "what's the problem: I am nice and thoughtful. I don't rage or abuse....."

The husbands are trying to meet their wives' emotional needs but the result is not loving intimacy but an abusive rage by their wives before divorce. Why would this be the case? Well, one reason is that the husbands and wives are most likely understanding the very concept of "emotional needs" differently. The husbands think that it means being loving-hearted and affectionate and supportive etc. And the wives? Well, consider the following piece by a practising psychologist, Dr Steven Stosny. I don't entirely agree with the framework he puts forward, but he does paint an interesting picture of what some of his clients mean by "emotional needs":

There is no question that young children have emotional needs in the development of a stable and cohesive sense of self and need help from adults to so do. It’s also true that toddlers cannot distinguish wanting something from needing it, which is why they can become hurt or tantrum-prone when we say “no” to something they want but obviously do not need, like a toy or a treat. At the moment they want it, it feels like they need it; the stronger the feeling, the stronger the feeling gets.

The toddler's brain is active in adulthood when we misinterpret feelings in relationships and confuse wanting, preferring, and desiring with need. It’s how we create a false sense that a lover (parent-figure) must mirror and validate our feelings or else we can't maintain a cohesive sense of self.
So we are no longer in the realm of freely bestowed love. That is no longer the emotional need. The emotional need is to have one's sense of self upheld via validation and mirroring of our wants and desires. It is not enough to be a loving husband to meet this kind of emotional need - this is the terrain of husband as therapist.

Dr Stosny goes on to explain that when we are feeling bad, it triggers the sense of needing to have or to do something, which, if we believe our spouse has to meet our needs, then means that they are at fault for the way we feel:
The perception of need falsely explains much of our negative experience in intimate relationships. If I feel bad in any way for any reason, it's because my partner isn’t meeting my needs. It doesn't matter that I'm tired, not exercising, bored, ineffective at work, or stressed from the commute and the declining stock market, or if I'm mistreating him or her or otherwise violating my values; I’m convinced that I feel bad because she's not meeting my needs.
It gets worse. Eventually, even if the husband gets things perfectly right, there is little sense of gratitude, only anger if things go wrong:
In terms of motivation, emotional needs are similar to maintenance addictions, those that cause discomfort in withdrawal, with no stimulation of reward centers in the brain when gratified. Over time, there’s little or no reward in “getting my needs met,” and lots of resentment when they are not. I may not even notice when you do what I want, but I'll be angry or depressed when you don't.

The resulting mindset is not based around mutuality or reciprocity:

In my long practice, people who are resentful about not feeling “validated” are not in the least interested in validating anyone’s experience that differs from their own. They’re more likely to invalidate–reject, ignore, or judge–other people’s experience when they decide that it differs from their own.
You can see why those women, in the antechamber of divorce, are so witheringly angry and why the men are so hurt and lost. Love has been interpreted as "meeting my emotional needs" and these needs are not for affection or patient understanding or anything like that, but to meet an intensifying and increasingly unrewarding series of wants and preferences understood subjectively as needs, with negative feelings, no matter what their source, also interpreted as failings on the part of the husband.

What would help move us away from 3.0? Some better metaphysics would help. First, an ontology in which the more that we give of ourselves, the greater the fullness in being. This would help shift the emphasis back to an ideal of mutual service within marriage, or, to put it differently, a model of marriage in which we gift of ourselves to our spouse. 

Second, an understanding of our telos (our ends and purposes) as men and women being significantly realised through fulfilling the offices of husband and wife. In other words, there is a common good within marriage, as by being a husband or a wife I fulfil important aspects of who I am as a man or as a woman. 

Third, it would also help to have a more traditional anthropology in which humans are considered to occupy a special place within the hierarchy of creation by being able to rise upward to higher forms of being or to fall downward to more debased forms. The act of love toward a spouse would then be valued as an expression of our higher nature, as something ennobling in itself. Again, this would hopefully help shift the focus away from "if you loved me you would do x, y and z so that my emotional needs get met". 

Finally, I don't want the aim of all this to be misconstrued. When it comes to marriage, there are higher and lower quality women. There are still men who will have rewarding marriages, even in these times. The aim is to become attractive enough as a man to have options with higher quality women, and to intelligently vet these women. 

What does concern me, in writing this, is the culture. In particular, I would consider it unfortunate if conservatives were to defend an understanding of marriage that does not deserve to be conserved.


  1. What I find interesting is that it is known — even to the most reality-detached leftists — that an “external locus of happiness” is bound to lead to unhappiness. (Of course, this is almost obvious and was known to everyone from ancient times onwards, but modern psychologists have manage to “rediscover” it and give it a palatable veneer of technical and scientific sophistication). Happiness, much like many things, is an internal apetite that moves us towards being pleased and away from being displeased. If we’re determined to be unhappy, so to speak, there’s nothing anyone can do to change that (or make us happy) no matter how desperately they might try to please us. They know this quite well and in other contexts talk about it easily, and yet it remains conspicuously absent from discussions about marital happiness. Why conservatives like @SWENGDAD delude themselves into thinking it is easy to please a woman, especially one determined to have others please her rather than one determined to be pleased, is a mystery. In fact, it is such astoundingly bad advice and false wisdom that it’s difficult not to call it mendacious.

    I also wonder whether it occurs to anyone in these discussions that talk about how men might be made happy in marriage is also conspicuously absent.

    It’s too lengthy to put in a comment here, but undoubtedly a lot of the friction in modern marriages is that lack of masculinity in men and femininity in women. How many women are particularly attracted to or feel a strong fidelity towards a clueless man that sees his role as supporting her? Such a man is directionless, passive, unassertive, indecisive, and, it must be said, weak. The average woman is openly repulsed by such qualities in a man; I would be surprised if there was even one woman that is truly made happy by being married to one. Women see their own worth reflected in how attractive a man they can secure, and I can only imagine the psychological anguish caused by having such a worthless husband.

    Talking of improvements, I rather suspect that people won’t improve until they’re given no choice otherwise by circumstances, a bit like slimming down when you can’t afford the junkfood anymore. If they did it would be a slow process, as the vast majority of men and women have no idea how to be men and women, let alone husbands and wives. They have no conception at all of what marriage is or its purposes. It was an inherited knowledge that was discarded. What being forced would look like I unfortunately have no idea. I suspect it would have to start with giving private authorities their fangs back, which means not having a totalitarian liberal state that demands exclusive privilege to enforced authority. Authority that cannot reward or punish is no authority at all, just force of personality or potential authority. It has no actuality, as people are free to discard it without consequence. The simple fact of the matter is that authority is essential to have any heirarchy at all, and a husband or a father that does not have authority over his wife or over his children is not a husband or a father in the truest, most rightly-ordered senses of the terms.

    Rightly ordered forms of marriage are not going to reappear so long as that totalitarian enforcement of impotency is around, anymore than real sex could exist if everyone was forced to use contraceptives all the time. People having a right ontology, teleology, and anthropology of sex would certainly help but they wouldn’t be able to actually practice real sex so long as they were still being forced to use contraceptives. They would, still, be robbed of the full potency of the act and practicing a neutered facsimile of the real thing.


    1. I sincerely do not understand what shaming men here as “weak” achieves?

    2. For one, that’s not what my comment says. Calling some men weak is entirely appropriate because there do, in fact, exist weak men.

      For another, the idea that men have it rough enough being persecuted by feminism and its intersectional allies so we shouldn’t call men out ever is assinine and embarrassing. It’s also entirely antithetical to masculinity. Men that have to be coddled and can’t withstand criticism are not masculine. It’s a service to men to highlight their weaknesses, and a disservice to hide them.

      Lastly, it’s a fact that a large portion of responsibility for our present state lies with men. Look around you. The average man isn’t even strong enough to tell women “no,” as is their duty and responsibility. We can’t advocate for hierarchical male leadership and then ignore when they have abdicated those roles and forsaken those duties.

    3. People should just spite you until it gets bad enough that you are willing to work with those who will succeed you.

      You aren’t interested in doing much but use men as your punching bags (these attacks on “masculinity” are what allowed the present situation) just like the “good old days.”

      In this regard you Love the abuse an earlier version of the system allowed you too much to do anything about it in fear that abuse will go away too (it will). Unaware this exact abuse was designed to hack away at men until the present collapse happened.

      Much of what you believe as “masculinity” is not only actually toxic but prime effeminacy (breaking other men down, emulating sociopathic mass murderers from action movies).

      The system got you to dig deep into it by putting some part of its criticism of you outside of it, and you went along by pure reaction.

      This is like how the system got protestants to support sodomy openly by pushing islam, which protestants do not know is very well liked and encouraged in islam.

      This reactionary bs has to stop, you are the enemy the regime wants because they carefully crafted your opposition,

    4. First, work on your English. Second, you’re inferring an awful lot from not very much. Have you read my comment history to declare that I’m just interested in using men as punching bags or do you just respond to any negative word against men that way? Go back and read my comment. A man who sees his role not as leading and being lord of his wife but as supporting her and being his helpmeet is a weak man. Go back and read your Bible if you don’t believe me.

      The paradigm of women being lords of their husbands and husbands being supports to their wives is an exact inversion of how a marriage is supposed to be. Women are not attracted to men that have no direction or authority. Look at which men women are sexually attracted to and tell me how many of them are the happy and subordinate supports of their wives.

      If you have ever thought anything along the lines of “marriage is a partnership of two equals” then you are a liberal and not an enemy of the system, which is liberal. If you think marriage is women being lord and men being support, you are a feminist and an inverter, and not an enemy of the system (which is feminist and inverting).

      Your idea that men should never put other men down, even when they deserve it, or criticize men is sad and deluded. The idea that men need to stand in solidarity because women will attack them means you buy into the false feminist paradigm of war between the sexes, making you a feminist of a kind. The idea that men need to be defensive against attacks from women shows how emasculated you have already conceived men to be. The fact you think ever calling men weak or saying some men have failed is the equivalent of degrading and breaking men down to destroy (for a power trip?) is entirely telling of your disturbed mindset.

      I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, but here it is: there is no war between the sexes. No, not only women have done wrong. Yes, that means lots of men have done wrong. In fact everyone has done wrong. Yes, men are not particularly masculine these days. Yes, that means men should be other than how they are. No, feminists lying to men about “real masculinity” does not mean that everyone telling men about real masculinity is a feminist or wrong. No, it is not abusive to say that a man doing something wrong is doing something wrong. It’s also not abusive to say that a weak man is a weak man. Yes, in fact if we say that men are meant to lead women and have authority over them this means they have failed when they abdicate that responsibility and let women do whatever they want. In fact we have a word for that: “diliquent.” Yes, in fact that means men have some responsibility for women’s failings that women do not have for men’s failings, because men and women are not equal and women do not have authority over men in general.

      Yes, your plea that “reactionary BS” that is willing to discuss the failings of both women AND men please please please stop because it’s totally what the regime wants!! is deluded, false, and will not be heeded. Please go back and rethink your life.

    5. you would not be able to find someone with a greater grasp on English. you are simply looking for someone who can expose less about you.

      there is a war between you and Humanity though.

      you are quite desperate to have your scapegoats.

  2. Lastly, since the proper title of conservatives (and I apologize in advance, Mark, given the title of this blog) is “conservative liberals” their defense of this debased marriage product of liberalism is exactly no surprise at all. Even the somewhat rightly morally ordered “conservatives” have, as even the mainstream is starting to notice, conserved exactly nothing. Topically, look at the recent incident in Texas of foreigners forcefully trespassing the border and assaulting the government officers there to protect it: by any reasonable definition of the term that is an invasion and the legal and moral duty of the officers is clear to repel that invasion by force if necessary (which it obviously was in this case). “Conservatives” couldn’t even defend the most elementary duty of a government which is to keep outsiders out. Why would they conserve marriage, the ability to publicly assert the reality of biological sex, or even indoor plumbing?

    In my opinion, our hope is not that conservatives will defend true and good marriage and not defend a perverted understanding of marriage but instead that they are so craven and ineffectual at defending what they profess to want to conserve that they won’t be too difficult an obstacle to overcome when the time comes.


  3. The idea that women are simple to understand and satisfy emotionally goes against everything I've learned or read in a lifetime. They can't just say that and make it so.

  4. It isn't quite like pre-Christian marriage, in that back then a man who set aside his wife couldn't demand money or other support from her, while today a woman can destroy her marriage and is rewarded with large amounts of cash and property.

  5. The man's job is to support her, and her him. The problem is that modern women have rejected service to their husbands, in favor of being not wife-husband but rather master-servant. When you are master you are not gratified by what you receive, nor do you see it as an expression of love and devotion. It is instead your just due, as endless duty is the role of servants. It is no surprise then that women are unhappy.

  6. They’re not happy because that’s an inversion. Wives are commanded to call their husbands “lord,” not husbands commanded to call their wives “lord.” Both parties are unhappy with that upside-down marriage. Everyone, but women especially, are eternally tempted by rebellion. Feminism has taught them to resent not rebelling. Such women are not happy being obedient, but they’re also deeply unhappy about being with any man that submits to them and serves them because such a man is low status, and it lowers her status that she was only able to secure a low-status man. It’s an unwinnable situation for them. She’s determined to never have a proper marriage since she won’t give up her rebellion and she’s always going to find her upside-down marriage deeply dissatisfying.

    Your entire conception of service, duty, and love is flawed. Masters have duties to servants just the same as the reverse. Why would a master always be displeased, even with faithful service? That was not the case before modernity. Is it because we all want to be God and would-be masters resent not having that infinite appetite sated by mortal efforts? If you were correct then women would find it deeply displeasing to have obedient and helpful children, since that would be putting her in the position of master.

    Women would not be made happy by neither commanding nor obeying. That sort of equalizing push isn’t a restoration of marriage but one of the original destructors of it. Reducing the distinct roles of husband and wife to “being supportive” creates a false equivalence that isn’t going to make women any happier. The only path for women’s marital happiness is to stop rebelling and submit. It’s not a popular solution but it’s the only actual one.

    Funnily enough, there are women who give more rightly-ordered marriages a try and they invariably find they’re much happier for it. There are plenty of accounts on the internet about it.

  7. “ Why conservatives like @SWENGDAD delude themselves into thinking it is easy to please a woman”

    It is easy until it isn’t. Every man has probably had the experience of a relationship that goes from “I can do no wrong” to “I can do no right” as instantly as flipping a light switch. And so sorry once flipped it can’t be flipped back. It is now impossible to make her happy no matter what you do. Moreover she has now rewritten the entire history of the relationship in her mind such that she now thinks she was *always* unhappy.

  8. Women were not moral actors (or really little more than objects) before The Blessed Virgin Mary. Men had an Archetype in Adam, women did not have an Archetype until her.

    Women, still desperately trying to become objects and slaves again because being a Human is HARD, are doing so oddly by emulating Adam in the original sin. Eve, not a moral actor, is not responsible for sin; Adam who felt “wronged” by God as Adam actually had wronged God and therefore refused to be healed in his idiocy, is the actual original sin.

    Eve was not particularly affected by ingesting the devil’s last memories before his suicide, but Adam was. the devil thought he was the greatest Creation and based all his delusions on that: Adam actually was and Eve knew she wasn’t, so they took the foreign memories differently.

    As The Blessed Virgin Mary is actually The Greatest Creation, and with her Women finally became Human, the devil’s madness that he would be The Bearer Of Light (the one to Bring The Word into Creation, aka The Second Person Of God) was missed by Adam just as everything else was missed by Eve. But now the Humanity of Women contextualized by their Archetype has opened up that old wound, and so for 2000 years women have been repeating Adam’s fall over and over.

    Even with the same transference of “guilt” onto God that Adam had done. Of course God sought fit to slap sense into Adam immediately but has left women to languish. Why? It is Man’s duty to do that, and God knows man is too weak to do it.

    Therefore God’s Vengeance against Adam for him choosing Eve instead of Him is finally realized.

    I do Hope you understand what needs to be done. If you don’t do as God did to Adam and Israel between the fall and The Resurrection, you will deserve the hell that comes. Instead, do what is Right!