Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson
Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2014
Review by Lauren Lysack
Like many social institutions, marriage in Canada is constantly evolving, as are our ideas surrounding matrimony. Compared with previous generations, fewer couples today are opting for marriage, and those who do marry tend to do so later in life and in increasingly diverse ways.
As highlighted in the Vanier Institute’s Modern Couples in Canada infographic, 2016 Census data shows that fewer Canadians are getting married while a growing number and proportion are living single or cohabiting with partners, as well as parenting/child rearing without marriage.
However, most Canadians still say “I do”: eight in 10 couples (79%) counted in the 2016 Census were married;1 marriage remains the most common family structure (66% of all Census families include a married couple;2 the majority (56%) of “never-married” Canadians say they intend on getting married someday;3 and the share of same-sex couples who are married continues to increase (from 17% in 2006 to 33% in 2016).4, 5 While the context of modern relationships is evolving, marriage is clearly not a relic of the past.
In The New “I Do”: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, psychotherapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson reflect on marriage in a modern context, exploring how modern couples are increasingly reconceptualizing this form of union, redefining and adapting it to meet their individual and family needs rather than abandoning the idea altogether.
Directing the narrative away from notions of “blame, shame and personal failure,” Gadoua and Larson instead ask why marriage itself isn’t working for so many people.
People get married for diverse reasons and bring with them their own expectations, but many feel held to “traditional” and rigid notions of marriage, only to feel later as though it “failed” if they become separated or divorced. Commonly used language surrounding relationship transitions (e.g. family breakdown, couples breaking up) inadvertently supports this intact/broken framing while also reflecting social norms regarding “ideal” family or relationship forms that may or may not resonate with many modern couples.
Directing the narrative away from notions of “blame, shame and personal failure,” Gadoua and Larson instead ask why marriage itself isn’t working for so many people , and they discuss some of the creative approaches taken by modern couples to consciously adapt their marriages to meet their own needs.
They outline seven “types” of marriages pursued by couples: starter marriages, companion marriages, parenting marriages, living apart together marriages, covenant marriages, safety marriages and open marriages. Each is broadly grouped by the reasons people tie the knot or some other defining characteristic.
Starter marriages, for example, are akin to a short-duration “test marriage” with no children – an arrangement that has been around for generations but has only been openly discussed since the 1960s. In these relationships, which can provide couples with an opportunity to “give marriage a try for a few years” and learn about the experience (hence their alternate name “learner marriage”) without necessarily having an expectation that it will last for the rest of their lives. For each marriage type, Gadoua and Larson describe the rationale, some advantages they can offer, as well as areas where there may be challenges for some people.
In addition to an exploration of modern marriage, The New “I Do” is a road map for people who want to “open their minds to marrying more consciously and creatively.” For each marriage type described, readers are provided with self-reflective questions to guide them as they determine whether or not it aligns with their situation, preferences, experience and/or choices.
Gadoua and Larson provide valuable insights for the conversation around modern relationships and the evolution of family life. Rather than treating marriage as a monolithic and homogeneous block, they recognize that marriages are diverse – a reflection of the various reasons people get married and the aspirations they may have for the future – and can benefit from acknowledging and respecting this fact, and planning their futures together (or apart) accordingly.
Lauren Lysack is responsible for projects and special events at the Vanier Institute of the Family.
- Statistics Canada, “Families, Households and Marital Status: Key Results from the 2016 Census,” The Daily (August 2, 2017). Link: http://bit.ly/2vm6Vva.
- Statistics Canada, Distribution of People Who Intend to Marry or Remarry by De Facto Marital Status and Region of Residence, Canada, 2011 (GSS Table 1), page last updated November 30, 2015. Link: http://bit.ly/2tQamJE.
- The rapid growth in same-sex couples getting married is largely attributable to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Statistics Canada did not start counting same-sex marriages until the 2006 Census.
- Statistics Canada, “Census in Brief: Same-Sex Couples in Canada in 2016,” Analytical Products, 2016 Census, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-200-X2016007 (August 2, 2017). Link: http://bit.ly/2faQPOq.