Looking at Marriage

In a recent book (not the subject of this Review), highly successful and popular authors John Gottman and Nan Silver set out their seven effective principles for making a marriage last. The final suggestion is that spouses should “create shared meaning, an inner life together that is rich with symbols and family rituals and that honors the hopes of both partners.” In a happy marriage, the couples not only provide support for each other, but also “build a sense of purpose into their lives together.” Professor Gottman has developed these principles as a result of twenty years of research and observation of happily and unhappily married couples. Based on the interaction between couples in his Love Lab, he can predict, with over 90% accuracy, which couples will stay together and which will divorce. In Alone Together: Law and the Meanings of Marriage, Professor Milton Regan also examines the state of contemporary American marriage, and he too argues for recognizing the importance of shared meaning between the partners (p. 5), and commitment to the marriage as an entity rather than simply to the individual lives of the spouses. He bases his prescription for the institution of marriage on an examination of three different issues: first, the accuracy of the law and economics approach to marriage; second, the continuing validity of the spousal evidentiary privileges; and third, the division of property between spouses upon divorce. Like Gottman and Silver, Regan is concerned about contemporary marriage. Unlike Gottman and Silver, however, Regan focuses on the cultural institution and societal meanings of marriage rather than on the meaning of marriage to any particular couple. Professor Regan is an extremely thoughtful scholar of the family and of marriage. In a previous book, he argued for a reinvigoration of status-based responsibilities in family law in order to foster greater intimacy between family members. Alone Together continues the argument, placing it in the context of political conversations about the relationship between self and community.