- The soulmate model of marriage will largely die off in the coming years as a result of both a global pandemic and the greatest economic depression of our lifetimes. Tweet This
- In facing new trials and tribulations, married men and women will be less focused on their own emotional fulfillment and more focused on meeting the basic financial, social, and educational needs of their children, themselves, and their parents. Tweet This
Editor’s Note: This week, the Institute for Family Studies is hosting a symposium on family life during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This special series will cover the multitude of ways this crisis could affect family life, from marriage and child well-being to work-family dynamics and mental health. Respondents include W. Bradford Wilcox, Justin Coulson, Marina Adshade, Clay Routledge, Rob Henderson, and more.
“Psychologists believe that emotional connection is the key to long-term marital success, not physical attraction,” says Nick Lachey, introducing Netflix’s hit series Love is Blind, the newest reality TV show to move into the dating-with-an-eye-towards-marriage space. The show’s conceit is that love is best forged blindly, with men and women meeting and talking through a wall that conceals the physical appearance of the contestants and allows them to discern with whom they have the best emotional connection before deciding to propose marriage. Real-world experiences and concerns—with money, work, family and friends, not to mention the “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”—don’t figure into the contestants’ marriage decisions.
The show’s popularity is but one example of what I call the “soulmate model of marriage,” which assumes marriage’s primary function is to build and sustain an intense romantic or emotional connection that should last only as long as it remains happy, fulfilling, and lifegiving to the self. This adult-centered model—expressed in a thousand romcoms, pop songs, and self-help books—has played a central role in the popular imagination since it took off in the ‘70s, amidst a decade known for “expressive individualism.” Soul-mate love has exercised a particular hold on the imaginations of young unmarried Americans in recent decades. One survey found 94% of never-married singles wanted their spouse to be a soulmate “first and foremost—surpassing matters of religion, economics, and the ability to be a good mother or father.”
Nevertheless, I predict the soulmate model of marriage will largely die off in the coming years as a result of both a global pandemic and the greatest economic depression of our lifetimes. Going forward, in a world marked by massive economic insecurity, record unemployment, the threat of recurring disease, and dramatic increases in home production (from home-schooling to home gardens), the meaning and practice of marriage will change. Unmarried men and women will become much more attentive to potential partners’ virtues, including their ability to bring home a steady paycheck and contribute to domestic production, and less concerned with their ability to emote. In facing new trials and tribulations, married men and women will be less focused on their own emotional fulfillment and more focused on meeting the basic financial, social, and educational needs of their children, themselves, and their parents. Divorce rates will fall and marital commitment will rise, as a family-first model of marriage comes to the fore in American family life. In other words: Soulmate marriage, R.I.P.
W. Bradford Wilcox is senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.