The Changing of Marriage Over Time

Marriage has long been a part of Western civilization, but early history shows marriage was more about money, politics, and power than it was about love. In the heat of the debate about “traditional marriage,” and the likelihood that it can end with filing for divorce, more changes could be coming.

changes in marriages over time

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  • Ancient Greece
    • Love is honored, especially between two men.
    • Inheritance is more important than feelings in marriage.
    • If a man dies without male heirs, his daughter can be forced to marry her next closest male relative, and must divorce her current husband if she’s already married.
  • Rome
    • Statesman Marcus Porcius Cato divorces his wife to have her marry his ally, Hortensius, to strengthen the family bonds.
      • When Hortensius dies, Cato remarries her.
  • 6th-century Europe
    • Germanic warlord Clothar marries four women for strategic purposes, even though he was baptized Christian.
  • 12th-century Europe
    • Upperclass marriages are usually arranged before the couple has met.
    • Aristocrats believe love and marriage are not compatible; love can only thrive in adultery.
  • 14th-century Europe
    • Ordinary people cannot choose their own mates.
      • In 1344, one lord declares his tenants, including widows and widowers, marry people of his choosing.
      • Elsewhere, people must pay a fee if they want to choose their spouse.
  • 16th-century Europe
    • French essayist Michel de Montaigne asserts that men who love their wives must be so boring no one else could love them.
  • 1600s-Victorian Era
    • 1690s U.S.: Passionate love between spouses is not a common sight.
      • Clergy warn about loving your spouse “too much” and using pet names that will “undermine husbandly authority.”
        • 18th-century Europe: Love starts earning merit.
      • Women declare loveless marriages are regrettable, but it is also important to consider money when choosing a spouse.
        • 1840, England: Queen Victoria starts the tradition of virginal lace and the white wedding


      • Once seen as the “lustier” sex, women are now seen as pure and chaste.
      • Men are more likely to have sex with prostitutes than with their wives.
        • Mid 19th-century U.S.: Honeymoons replace bridal tours—trips where the bride and groom visit the family who could not afford to attend the ceremony—but many brides still bring their girlfriends along.
    • 20th-century Today
      • 1920s U.S.: Dating becomes the new craze, allowing the couple to get away from family.
        • Pop culture starts embracing sex, but many people believe marriage is in trouble.
          • 1950s U.S.: Marriage becomes mandatory and nearly universal.
        • Four out of five people surveyed believe remaining single is “immoral” “sick” and “neurotic.”
          • 1970s U.S.: Women become more self-sufficient and change societal rules.
          • 1970s U.S.: Women become more self-sufficient and change societal rules.
          • Bickering couples split up, and, rather than work at problems, divorce.
          • Divorce rates increase substantially.
            • Today: Marriage serves as the ultimate expression of love.
          • Gay couples seek the right to marry.
          • Gay marriage is legal in:
            • Maryland
            • Maine
            • Massachusetts
            • Connecticut
            • Iowa
            • Vermont
            • New Hampshire
            • New York
            • Washington state
            • Washington D.C.
          • Marriage rates decline as people are encouraged to live with someone to be sure they are soulmates before marrying.
          • Divorce rates in America:
            • 1990: 4.7 per 1,000 population
            • 2000: 4.0 per 1,000 population
            • 2010: 3.5 per 1,000 population

      Facts About Marriage

      • Men who make it a habit to kiss their wives every morning live five years longer than men who don’t.
      • Men in love show increased activity in the visual part of their brain; women in love show increased activity in the area of the brain that controls memory.
      • Marriage-by-Proxy—marrying without being present at your own wedding—is legal for military personnel in California, Colorado, Texas and Montana.
        • Montana even allows for double by-proxy weddings, meaning neither the bride nor the groom must be present to marry.
      • In Kentucky, it’s illegal to marry the same man four times.
      • In South Carolina, it’s illegal for a man age 16 or over to propose unless they mean it.
      • In Delaware, it’s legal to annul a marriage that takes place because of a dare.
      • American businesses lose $6 million in revenue every year from marital hardship.
        • Employees in happy marriages are more productive at work.
      • The first recorded mention of same-sex marriage occurred in Ancient Rome.
        • It went without comment until Christianity became a religion.
      • Denmark became the first post-Christianity nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 1989.
      • Since Virginia law required slaves to leave the state when freed, in 1815 a woman asked the state government to enslave her again so she could remain with her still-enslaved husband.

    This infographic was provided exclusively by Total Divorce.

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