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Arranged marriage vis-à-vis a love marriage – which is better?

October 23, 2008

Arranged marriages, according to trend expert Marian Salzman, will get more popular in the west. This is what she said in her book, Next Now:

…arranged marriage makes sense in a world in which the search for “the one” has disappointed so many people.”

I wonder if she is implying that arranged marriages are more stable and do not disappoint. There are others who are propagating this. One of them is Reva Seth who recently wrote First Comes Marriage in which she presents the argument that arranged marriages are better than love marriages and likely to be more successful.

Are people in arranged marriages happier?
I do not believe that arranged marriages are happier than love marriages or vice versa (when I say arranged it does not mean forced as in the India I grew up in, girls and boys are eager to marry the arranged way and would feel upset if their parents abdicated the responsibility). If there is evidence that arranged marriages last longer it has more to do with the kind of people who enter them. It is quite possible that the majority of those who opt for an arranged marriage come from traditional societies where the idea is to compromise, and sometimes people compromise to an extreme degree just to keep the marriage together as society disapproves of divorces. This does not mean that arranged marriages are loveless or that they are unhappy, but if they are unhappy, there could well be a reluctance to divorce.

Another reason why there is less divorce in arranged marriages is that people entering arranged marriages want to marry, are ready to marry. This factor should never be underestimated in the success of a marriage as people who want marriage are more likely to work at it. In a love marriage on the other hand, both the partners may not be equally eager to marry, and may not even be mentally ready to have children. If there are such differences in attitudes amongst the two, the chances of divorce increase.

Different reasons for unhappiness
But as I said, it’s not the kind of marriage per se that is critical to a couple’s happiness, it’s the kind of people who enter it and their mindset at the time of marriage. However, I always did wonder if the kind of marriage (arranged or love) has a bearing on the reasons for divorce.

From my own subjective viewpoint I can’t help feeling that people who marry for love are more like to be unhappy if their partner’s behavior is perceived to change after marriage…in other words personality differences which can arise once the initial flush of physical love starts to wane. Most people assume that love marriages get into trouble because people from different backgrounds marry and cannot adjust but I don’t think this is the main reason because when two people fall in love they already know that they are from different backgrounds. Generally they feel their love can surmount anything and everything…they have great hopes from each other and they expect unquestioning love and support from their partners. This kind of support may not be forthcoming.

In an arranged marriage, two people even if they have chemistry with each other and are half in love, do not really know each other that well and therefore their expectation levels are lower. If things go wrong in their relationship, it could be because they have been lied to by the other party. This can happen in an arranged match as the prospective bride/groom already knows what the other is looking for and can pretend to have it.

Things can also go wrong in an arranged marriage when couples imagine that a common background, similar interests and lifestyle also translates into common values. They could perhaps even imagine that it means a certain type of personality or temperament. Nothing is further from the truth! A common background can never assure anyone of common values or even a particular type of temperament as one’s background has too many variables. A lot depends on the individual family situation that the partner grew up in. People are not the stereotypes that we imagine them to be from their resume! Huge mistakes can be made if there is no attempt to get into the details. And if one prospective partner is bent on fooling another, no amount of “meetings” can help. Sure, this kind of subterfuge can happen in a love marriage too, but the chances are lower as one does not meet the other with the intention to get married and there are better chances of seeing him/her in a more natural (as opposed to artificial) environment. One could get to know his/her friends, which may not be possible in an arranged match.

What’s best, love or arranged?
Maybe it could have been arranged…if life was like it was then…when arranged marriages happened only between families that knew each other, where the couple knew of each other through common friends and acquaintances. When I was growing up this was how marriages were arranged. Even if one picked up a name from a newspaper there was a huge army of people in the family who started to make enquiries and tried to find common acquaintances and friends. As there was no question of marrying into an unknown family, it  ensured a certain degree of safety.Today, not only are inquiries superficial, the kind of benevolent family network that existed a few decades ago does not exist.

So the only thing left is to extend the courting period as much as possible and ask direct questions to the other party. One has to ensure that there is no miscommunication because even though there may not be an attempt to fool another, wrong assumptions can be made. Also, attempts should be made to contact as many friends, relatives and acquaintances of the family as possible. Finding a not very friendly relative always helps. It is my belief that that if a family has little or no contact with relatives, a red flag should go up (in the Indian context).

Whether an arranged match or a love match is better also depends a great deal on the personality of the individual. People brought up on a diet of love and romance will never feel comfortable with an arranged match, however many arguments are presented in its favour. And then there are those who feel it is demeaning to flirt and try to get a partner that way. In any case, some people from traditional societies just don’t know how and often make the wrong choice. Girls and boys in western countries are used to dating from a young age and by the time they are in their mid twenties have developed some sort of antenna to find a suitable partner but a person from a traditional society who is not exposed to the opposite sex could make a grave mistake.

Those with a long list of dos and don’ts about their future partners are unlikely to find someone in their social circle and an arranged marraige may be suitable for them. For example, if a person is rigid about aspects like religion, or say veganism, or wants to marry a scientologist, then it’s best to try the matrimonial columns/website. But they could also look into themselves and see whether their rigidity simply means that they want a submissive partner. I personally believe that it is possible to be happy even if one’s food habits are different as long as one does not expect the other to share them. Same way, it is possible for two people from different religions to be happy as long as they give each other the space.

Overall I think there are no rules and I personally feel that it’s best to keep an open mind about both kinds of unions. It does seem impossible to say whether arranged marriages are happier or love marriages. Perhaps if people in the west start taking to arranged marriages in a big way then we might find out whether arranged matches make for longer lasting unions because it will be easier to compare arranged marriages with love marriages. To make a sensible comparison one needs plenty of people from a society which accepts divorcees and a society where there is some measure of gender equality.

(Please note that I am not an expert on these issues and these are my personal views.)

Related Reading: What kills a marriage quicker: A physical affair or an emotional one?
It is possible to arrange love
A British reality TV show which arranges marriages online
Matrimonial websites get specialised
Divorce rates of the world
Internet marraige bureaus thriving in India
Even India’s urban elite not likely to marry outside their religion
Do children affect the health of a marriage?
Checking out the other sex

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126 Comments leave one →
  1. phantom permalink
    October 19, 2009 9:00 am

    I struggle to accept a generic “one size fits all” definition of arranged marriage, and love marriage. The concept of arranged marriage has evolved somewhat over time, and now can be seen in various shades of distinction. On one end of the spectrum we can have an arranged marriage where either one or both of the couple literally have no “free” choice in the matter, and the entire process of partner selection, marriage timing and process, is ordained by the families. On the other end of the scale, we can have a scenario where the boy & gal are introduced via family/community, and after spending some time getting to know each other, they each are able to make an informed and free choice.

    Difficult to quantify the split of arranged marriages across these 2 extremes. I dare say that it much depends on demographics, rural/small town/metro, and community too. One would expect urban middle upper class scenarios to reflect the liberal structure of arranged marriage, more so than in small towns, villages. Having said that, I know of several gujju and marvari familes in bbay where the girl is married off to a suitable lad from the same community, with the girl not really being given much choice in the matter. A good friend of mine, a muslim from Hyd gor married recently, and much of the decision making on various aspects of the marriage (incl selection of the girl) was decided by my friend’s father.

    Bottom line – a couple can meet in school, college, at work, through common friends, in a bar, at a party, while vacationing, or through family/community. Ultimately, people have to meet through SOME forum. The only difference with meeting a potential partner through the family/community route is that there can sometimes be an indirect, informal expectation of commitment placed onto both the guy and girl, arguably more so for the girl. After all, how many marriage candidates can a girl keep turning down, before her own parents/relatives/community members get fed up, and she gets labelled as a “problem” candidate in the arranged market. In this sense, when two ppl meet through a non-family forum, there is total free will at play, and they get to make their own informed decision about each other and THEN engage the family/community.

    In my book…theres nothing wrong with an arrange marriage construct, as long as both guy and girl get to spend some time to get to know each other. It takes a lifetime to truly know someone, but engaging with someone in a free and independent manner for a few months even is perhaps better than rushing in blind. Many arranged marriages do follow this model, but many don’t either, and the latters ones would be well served to bring in more “free choice” for the boy and girl.

    Re love marriage and possible correlation with higher divorce incidence than arranged marriage – this probably has nothing to do with any inherent issues of which marriage construct is more robust, and more to do with the possibly higher “freedom quotient” in most love marriages, as compared with arranged marriages. By this I refer to the notion that given a love marriage couple’s willingness and ability to execute a “free choice” relationship to begin with, chances are that the individual and collective personality of the couple is probably less traditionalistic than an arranged marriage couple (who by virtue of being willing to undergo an arranged marriage, have shown some inherent willingness to conform to traditional cultural norms). This implies that most love marriage couples would probably be more “free agents” than their arranged marriage counterparts, and thereby possess a lower threshold of tolerance than the arranged marriage folk, and also a lower degree of willingness to “stay married” just to maintain cultural dignity. Certainly, among all my friends, I’ve noticed that the love marriage couples tend to be less “formal” in their relationship, than the arranged marriage couples.

  2. December 6, 2009 9:41 pm

    I believe that the Idea of an arrange marriage is ugly to a lot of countries that have industrialized, but I know quite a few numbers of people who have done such. True it was hard at first for them, but they found that they truly love each other. This taking into account that I’m only looking at 10 cases. all friends of mine who had previously gone through divorces when they married for love. It seems that specially in the united states where Divorce has become the norm for most Americans. The term I learn from my friend veronica was “If your not happy move on!” has turn marriage into a joke. This is also happening in many other countries. Now! don’t get me wrong there are occasions were the woman is being a abuse thats a different case. A lot people say that woman are more widely abuse than men. But they fail to neglect that there is men who are abuse too. The issue is that men won’t report such for its the way men ( where the term machismo comes from) deal with such matters. I think arrange marriage and love marriage are both equally great if placed in the right scenario.
    (Remember that Machismo is characterized in different levels)
    1. level 0 is the basic acts of being a man and keeping equal respects towards a woman.
    2. level 1 is basic machismo where the man believes he is the leader and main provider.
    3. level 2 is becoming an extreme of that idea (This type of man can be abusive).
    4. level 3 is the pure extreme of that Idea (men at this level are very abuse and manipulative).
    (some say the most type of dangerous type of man)
    (most of arrange marriage biggest fear is encountering a man who hits this form of Machismo)
    most men who are abuse find themselves in level 0 or 1 as the safest type of personalities. This men as seen on the 10 cases I have studied are the most loving and care giving.
    In my opinion both love marriage and arrange marriage are equally good in the right circumstances.
    Hope u all enjoyed my opinion and if you disagree oh well.

  3. Mashal permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:08 am

    i am a 21 year old pakistani women who has been arranged marriage but due to educational issues is not living with the spouse at this time. My concern is that i wont be able to completly be in love with my spouse due to the fact i have had prior relationship experience none that i am still attached to currently but just for reference, and my spouse hasnt so we have been given 9 month to get to know each other via phone and some sporatic meetings because he lives a distance from me. i just cant find myself loving him although i dont want to hurt his feelings i admit to loving him when he asks me. because of the culture do you believe that love will come naturally if i embark the journey with him? or will it remain loveless but married? if i sound confused its because i am! help me please!

    Mashal, I don’t find your message confusing at all. It is clear that you are in a dilemma because you have not been given any time to develop love for your husband. I firmly believe that love can develop as long as you have forgotten your old one. – Nita

    • vasudev permalink
      January 16, 2010 9:00 am

      nita…i am confused as well ’cause i have heard a thing about eastern hemisphere female philosophy which says:

      a woman loves only once!

      dunno if it is brand propaganda ( i can definitely see the emerging young indian generation thinking differently) but a 21 yr old pakistani girl (a muslim) must have lived with the orthodox view as cited above?

      That of course, as you rightly said, she might find a lot of change in her outlook if she lives together with her husband and forgets her ex-love. i think we need to give that a shot.

      Vasudev, I have not heard of this eastern philosophy so I cannot comment on that. It depends on temperament. – Nita

  4. Mashal permalink
    January 16, 2010 11:37 am

    thank you Nita i believe that love can come with time with my husband i just wanted an assurance from and outside view. wish me LUCK!

    Best of luck Mashal and God be with you. – Nita

  5. January 20, 2010 11:03 pm

    i FEEL THAT ARRANGED MARRIAGES HAVE CHANGED AND BECOME MODERN . NOWADAYS PEOPLE DECIDE AND PARENTS GIVE APPROVAL IN ARRANGED MARRIAGES ALSO. NO FUSS. SO ARRANGED MARRIAGES ARE BETTER BECAUSE THE KIDS ARE HAPPY. PARENTS ARE HAPPY, EVERYTHING IS OKAY.
    PURE LOVE MARRIAGES NEVER WORK. PARENTS NEVER ACCEPT THE GIRL/BOY. RELATIONSHIPS GO SOUR. I HAVE SEEN THIS A LOT.
    DIVORCES ARE IN BOTH BUT FOR DIFFERENT REASONS THOUGH. SO IF YOU WANT A SAFEKIND OF MARRIAGE THEN GO FOR THE MODERN ARRANGED MARRIAGE NOT THE OLD ONE. AVOID LOVE MARRIAGES.

  6. Akash singhal permalink
    August 22, 2010 7:39 pm

    I am like the arrange marriage. According to me. Arrange marriage is the best to life.

    • sabiha permalink
      March 19, 2012 4:23 pm

      oh as i am jst of 15years so i dnt know much abut love but stil i say its better to have arrang mery

  7. ABHIJIT THALE permalink
    July 15, 2011 11:31 pm

    WE ARE INDIAN, INDIA HAVING GREAT COLTURE THAN WHAT ABOUT LOVE, IF LOVE MARRIGE IS SUSIDE THAN ARRENGE MARRIGE MURDER FROME OUR PARRENTS THAN MY FRIENDS THAN WE ACCEPTED OUR PARRENTS WISH ATLEAST THEY ARE HAPPY

  8. cookiecutter permalink
    August 17, 2011 1:50 am

    Any marriage whether love or arranged requires compatibility of the emotional, mental and physical kind to be truly successful.
    Any marriage wherein the two people mistake tolerance for love and respect and cling along in unfulfilling situations is nothing better than a farce. Whether you take six days or five years, figure out what you want and can give and lay this out with the other person- the answers may be suprisingly similar or otherwise and can be eyeopeners before making the choice.

    We desis like to think that matching overall superficial factors like family, background education etc is good enough and the rest will follow but forget that all of the above do not gurantee similarity of thought and vision in terms of life. Parents also play the see-saw game wherein they want us to lead and succeed academically, be the best at it all but dont believe in our choices at the end of the day and think they know better. They have exposed you to the world and taught you the fundamentals so they need to accept that you will make reasonable choices and interfere only if it is strongly detrimental to the child i.e abusive relationships, criminal issues etc.
    Lastly it is not possible to expect anyone to function without expectations, every generation has their own concerns and in ours both genders are exposed to the ways of the world early on. This means we all want and need certain things from our relationships and especially from a spouse so there is no reason to exclude mental/physical compatibility as “good to have” but not necessary kind of traits. Intimacy is essential to marriage and we need to change the desi idea that it is only sex.Aas someone who has been fortunate to meet the right man , I will say that happiness is multi-fold when both partners are satisfied emotionally and sexually and the respect becomes intrinsic to the relationship.

  9. November 6, 2011 11:14 pm

    just read this and should say excellent post..!!
    Thank you..

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