Marriage and Symbolic Interactionism

3 March 2017

Mid Term Research Paper Marriage and Symbolic Interactionism Marriage continues to be a popular institution in the United States. Although looking at the statistics in regard to marriage today you can see how commitment to marriage is faltering. Due to over half of all marriages ending in divorce, the institution of marriage and what it represents is continually coming into question. In researching different theories in Sociology, the central idea of symbolic interactionism, and how we attach meanings to symbols, is the key to understanding how we view the world and communicate with each other.

This theory was researched by sociologist Herbert Blumer. In this theory human beings respond to things based on the meanings that those things carry for them. The interpretation of what the meanings are is part of our historical social interaction. Marriage and the symbols they use to represent that commitment are lost in today’s society. Part of the reason that people don’t hold marriage to such high regard as they once did, is the symbolic interactionism that represents the sanctity and commitment of marriage has changed

When we look at what the symbolic imagery of marriage and divorce carries in today’s society we can see how the translation of different symbols carry different meanings now than what they carried 100 years ago. 100 years ago getting divorced was viewed as immoral, people actually held themselves accountable based on how others in society viewed them. Marriage has become more how you feel all the time, instead of how the commitment to the marriage itself is paramount.

The changes over the past 100 years in the symbolic interactionism of marriage can be directly connected to the rise in divorce rates in today’s society. The differing viewpoints on symbols of marriage, divorce, and commitment have altered our collective thoughts in our modern society on the symbolism of marriage. Symbolic interactionism provides a framework for analyzing how people define and act in relations to marriage. How people perceive or process information pertinent to marriage is relevant to marital functioning.

Modern, contemporary society’s mindset on marriage has shifted considerably over the years. Some research has noted the increase in early sexual experiences, greater acceptance of cohabitation and the increase in narcissistic tendencies, are complicating and muddying the ideals of what marriage means to people today. Research done on this subject resulted in several studies that found that spouses who did not believe that marriage would last forever, were less likely to commit to the relationship financially and were more likely to have extramarital affairs.

Social meanings of marriage have been studied endlessly to come to an understanding of what shared ideals American mainstream culture has. Steven L Nock, PhD. , (1950-2008), Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, was a recognized expert on the role of marriage in society. Nock suggested that there were seven dimensions of marriage: 1. People enter marriage voluntarily 2. People must reach a level of maturity to marriage 3. Marriage is heterosexual 4. The husband is the head of the family 5. Marriage is monogamous 6.

Parenthood is part of marriage 7. There are often distinct gender roles associated with married couples These ideas are an interpretation of what society views as concepts of marriage. One of the things I found to be interesting in the above list was the absence of the word love. People have sweet; romantic notions about what marriage and love is and the reality may be something a lot more abrupt and less like a fairytale. Obviously, not everyone is going to believe in all of these selected concepts. Multiple research projects and studies have been one to try and define what marriage means to people in our society today and how focusing on peoples marital expectations can demonstrate what the meaning of marriage has for people today. I think one of the differences of today’s society viewpoint of marriage and the one from a hundred years ago is the meaning of love. Today we are more focused on our wants and needs as emotional beings. We look to our partners to fulfill our intimacy needs. Once those feelings change we are given the option of leaving the marriage.

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