Home » Examining the good marriage – article included

Examining the good marriage – article included


Minimum 2 full pages. 

Using information from Bengston chapters 11 (pp. 269-270) 

Social Exchange Theory (especially pp. 137-139), please select one of the topics below 

1. Examining the Question of the Good Marriage (Bengston et al., 2005, pp. 272-274)



Examining Epistemological Assumptions in Marital Scholarship In this subsection, we examine contemporary behavioral approaches in an attempt to illustrate why rigorous analysis of epistemological assumptions is crucial to theorizing about marriage. To illustrate why a commitment to epistemological assumptions contributes to the formation of particular knowledge claims about marriage, we contrast the behavioral approach with contemporary feminist, philosophical, and religious approaches to marriage. Behavioral epistemology. In the past two decades, psychologists have advanced knowledge claims of marital relations by challenging the SE/ RC perspective and research findings acquired primarily through survey methods. These challenges have largely centered on the assertion that studying what people say about themselves is not a substitute for studying what they do. The SE/RC approach has been faulted as “a theory in how people perceive interaction, not a theory of interaction per se” (Gottman, 1982, p. 950). Instead, psychological researchers propose to study marital interaction as an “exchange of behaviors” (Bradbury et al., 2000, p. 965) and suggest observational and daily diary techniques as the methods of choice (for a review, see Gottman & Notarius, 2000). The aim is not simply to catalog various behaviors prevalent or absent in marital relations but to discover the behavioral sequences productive of (dis)satisfaction in marriages. The emphasis on behavior has resulted in some important methodological developments in the study of marriage. Although behavioral researchers researchers maintain an allegiance to marital quality as the dependent variable, how they measure marital quality has changed, shifting from a focus on both frequency of certain types of behaviors and evaluations of the marriage to a focus almost exclusively on level of satisfaction. This enables researchers to posit behavioral patterns as predictive of (dis)satisfaction in marital relations rather than confounded with it (Fincham & Bradbury, 1987) and thus to produce evidence for “the guiding premise of the behavioral approach to marital quality,” which is “that positive and constructive behaviors enhance marital quality and negative or destructive behaviors are harmful” (Kluwer, 2000, p. 68). Scholars who take the behavioral approach often pride themselves on being more “scientific” in their work than those who use other approaches to understanding married life and tend to regard other theoretical perspectives on marriage as imaginations “not based on empirical knowledge” (Gottman, 1999, p. 6). Instead, behavioral researchers propose to develop “a real theory of how marriages work and fail to work” through empirical analysis of “what real couples do to accomplish the everyday ‘tasks’ of being married” (Gottman, 1999, p. 7). However, behavioral theorists adopt an insufficiently critical epistemological framework for the study of married life. Their claims rely on a theory/data split that assumes that a simple recording of observable events produces atheoretical evidence. Such claims are not without their critics and amount to the adoption and championing of one of a number of possible epistemological frameworks for the scientific study of marriage. By understanding the epistemological commitments of behavioral researchers, we can help to make sense of why they rarely discuss their ontological assumptions explicitly: They seek to present themselves as merely reporting observations and discovering simple behavioral patterns. Nevertheless, the behavioral approach does entail critical ontological assumptions regarding the human actor and what it means to be married. Alternative epistemologies. When seen from within the received view of scientific inquiry, behavioral epistemology makes sense. However, when it is viewed from alternative epistemological standpoints, certain blind spots start to emerge. In particular, atheoretical observation is revealed to be less benign than it may at first appear. One can see this point most clearly when one adopts the epistemological standpoint offered by critical theory (a blanket term often used to describe several alternative paradigms, including neo-Marxism, feminism, materialism, participatory inquiry, poststructuralism, and postmodernism; for reviews, see Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 2000). Guba and Lincoln (1994) suggest that the “common breakaway assumption” of critical theory from the received view is an epistemological difference, a difference suggesting that epistemological assumptions are formative claims of knowledge about families. We illustrate this difference through a discussion of feminist and recent religiocultural theorizing on marriage. Of all the forms of critical theory, feminist theorizing has probably had the largest impact on the field of marriage studies. As Fox and Murry (2000) note, “Across varied disciplinary fields, feminism as an intellectual orientation has taken a critical eye to received traditions of scholarship and epistemology.” Thus this perspective provides marriage scholars with new and different concepts, questions, methodologies, and ways of organizing and seeing research A variety of different and even competing views exist within feminist theory, but most scholars suggest that all strands of feminist theory share certain themes or assumptions (Fox & Murry, 2000; White & Klein, 2002), including the following: (a) Women’s experiences are central, normal, and as important as men’s experiences (Wood, 1995); (b) gender is a basic organizing concept in social life (Thompson, 1993; Wood, 1995); (c) a feminist gender perspective presupposes that gender relations are shaped by historical and cultural contexts and must be studied in those contexts (Lincoln & Guba, 2000); and (d) feminist theory is emancipatory (White & Klein, 2002). These assumptions have allowed feminist-informed scholars to observe and conceptualize aspects of marriage that were previously hidden from view. For example, many feminists see traditional marriage as problematic for women. They assert that traditional gender-structured marriage, with its centrality in patriarchy, devaluation of women’s contributions, and hierarchy of gender, is oppressive and costly to women in financial, emotional, and physical terms (Blaisure & Allen, 1995). As noted above, a behavioral epistemology leads us to explain marriage as primarily a matter of explaining each individual’s marital satisfaction. A feminist epistemology, on the other hand, enables researchers to ask why women would be “satisfied” with, and not see as unfair, the often imbalanced division of work in the marital relationship (Blaisure & Allen, 1995; Thompson, 1993). Theorizing marriage is no longer reducible to seemingly atheoretical observations of individual spouses’ satisfaction. Feminist inquiry calls for critical examination of the ideology and practice of marital relations (Blaisure & Allen, 1995). A similar critique of behavioral epistemology can be informed by religious and philosophical understandings of marriage. As with feminist and other critical theories, a central aspect of this religiocultural view is that our observations of marriage are informed by our theoretical commitments. In this case, our theoretical commitments can be informed by religious traditions and concepts. This type of mixed discourse is possible because of an often overlooked symmetry between religious thought and secular thought. All types of thinking, whether religious, philosophical, or scientific, involve a complex interweaving of several dimensions of thought. These include foundational metaphors that convey fundamental assumptions about views of reality, human nature, and other aspects of the human condition. A careful analysis of all types of thinking invariably reveals assumptions and judgments at the ontological, epistemological, and teleological levels. As Browning (2003) notes, religiously informed scholars hold that “the deep metaphors of all practical thinking have the status of faith-like assumptions” (p. 3). Therefore, because such metaphors “can be uncovered in all instances of practical thinking, the distinction between explicitly religious practical thinking and so-called secular thinking is not categorical” (p. 3). Both scientific and religious forms of reasoning are based on assumed metaphors about the basic nature and structures of life; therefore, religiously based concepts and perspectives can make valid contributions to family theory development. Of course, for religiously informed theories to influence social scientists, they must be put forward in ways that allow scholars to use scientific methods to establish the credibility of their ideas. This can happen when scholars form mixed discourses in which religiously based concepts are interwoven with theoretical arguments that can be expressed in recognizable An example of this type of theory development in the marriage field is the work of Browning and his colleagues, who have explored the possible relevance of Western religious traditions to contemporary family issues, including marriage (Browning, 2003; Browning, Conture, Franklin, Lyon, & Miller-McLemore, 1997). They use the term critical familism to identify a paradigmatic position that abiding themes from religious traditions can be coupled with the best insights of contemporary human sciences to offer a unique understanding of marriage. Critical familism is “critical” in that it “attempts to expose, critique, and reform distortions of social, economic, and political power which function to block or undermine free formation and support of the equal-regard mother-father partnership” (Browning, 2003, p. 4). According to this alternative perspective, the principles supporting such critique can be found within Jewish, Christian, and other faith traditions and gleaned from insights drawn from contemporary moral philosophy. These traditions recognize marriage as a central aspect of both personal and collective religio-cultural aspirations and highlight the need for scholars to consider the “mutual regard” (e.g., equality, commitment, self-sacrifice, other-centeredness) and social institution (e.g., community support, social goods) dimensions of the marriage relationship. Examining the Question of the Good Marriage What is a good marriage? This deceptively simple question plays a central role in how researchers study marriage and, in turn, how marital therapists and educators focus their intervention efforts. The received view of the good marriage. Scholars working within the received view have defined the good marriage predominantly in terms of spousal satisfaction and relationship stability. In their review of longitudinal research on marriage, Karney and Bradbury (1995) point out that “marital researchers have rarely explored outcomes other than satisfaction or stability” (p. 16). Indeed, although there has been a recent shift in focus in marriage scholarship (i.e., from status variables to interaction processes), the way current scholars define the “good marriage” has changed little since the early theorizing of the 1940s and 1950s. The conceptualization of marital quality according to the two primary factors of marital stability and marital satisfaction has been one of the most enduring aspects of marital scholarship through the 20th century. Although marital satisfaction has shown remarkable endurance as the primary criterion used to define the good marriage in the social sciences, it would be inaccurate to say that this construct has not changed or progressed over time. Furthermore, scholars operating within the received view have begun to recognize that we have been overly dependent on the behavioral and social exchange views of “marital satisfaction” as the outcome variable of choice (e.g., Fincham, Beach, & Kemp-Fincham, 1997). During the past decade, scholars have questioned some of the conceptual assumptions that have provided the foundation for how marital satisfaction has traditionally been defined and measured (for a review, see Bradbury et al., 2000). For example, Fincham et al. (1997) have challenged the long-standing assumption that researchers can measure marital satisfaction accurately by using bipolar or single-dimension measures (e.g., dissatisfied versus satisfied). An emerging line of research supports this challenge and suggests that positive and negative evaluations in marriage can be conceptualized and measured as separate, although related, related, dimensions (see Fincham & Linfield, 1997). Reconceptualizing marital satisfaction in this way has potentially far-reaching implications and will enable more detailed descriptions of change in marital satisfaction over time and the factors that account for these changes. Theorizing the good marriage. Although recent reconceptualizations of marital satisfaction have invited scholars to view the construct in broader and more nuanced ways, these developments have tended to represent refinements of the existing definition of a good marriage rather than an alternative definition. Recently, however, some scholars have begun to question the assumption that satisfaction and stability should be the primary outcomes in marital research and practice. In particular, they have questioned the assumption that personal satisfaction or happiness is the defining feature of a good marriage 2000). An alternative to this “communication-based satisfaction” definition of marital quality is available in concepts that relate to personal characteristics and focus on what spouses contribute to marriage, such as generosity, loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, devotion, maturity, and goodwill (Fowers, 2000; Gottman, 1999; Stanley, 1998). Similarly, conceptualizations of the marriage relationship that transcend individual experience and emphasize companionship also provide alternatives to traditional definitions of the good marriage. Fowers (2000) has argued that concepts such as partnership, teamwork, cooperation, collaboration, and coordination represent a view of the good marriage that is couple centered rather than individual centered. Whether or not one agrees with Fowers regarding what constitutes the good marriage is not important; the point we wish to emphasize is that his alternative conceptionalizations are healthy for the field, enabling us to see dimensions of marriage that may have gone unnoticed in the received view. The integration and innovation that Fowers has produced are direct results of the kind of sustained, explicit, and rigorous theoretical analysis we are advocating for the field of marriage scholarship. We also see the benefits of shifting gears and theorizing the good marriage in another line of critique of marital satisfaction. Loveless (2000) argues that traditional notions of marital satisfaction assume that all happiness is functionally equivalent, when in fact differences in marital satisfaction between spouses and couples may differ not only in degree, but also in kind. Specifically, he asserts that “all happiness reported by those studied is assumed to be equivalent in kind and varying only in quantity, where in fact it may have distinct types or subtypes with significant qualitative differences” (p. 7). If all reported satisfaction in relationships is treated as equivalent, equivalent, there is no way to distinguish, for example, between a spouse who is happy because he gets to buy everything he wants and one who is happy because he has a deeply committed friendship with his partner. Drawing from moral philosophy, Loveless identifies three types of happiness that spouses and couples might find in marriage: hedonism (the relatively indiscriminate satisfaction of desires), individualism (in which one discriminates between worthwhile desires and harmful ones, and then chooses to satisfy the former), and altruism (in which the needs of others, not personal desire, are one’s primary concern, and happiness occurs as a by-product of serving others in a perceived human unity). This opening up of the concept of marital satisfaction through rigorous theoretical examination of grounding assumptions enables marital scholars to produce new typologies that may connect well with existing research on attributions in marriage and help explain varying levels of resilience of satisfaction over time in marriage, in that some types of satisfaction may be more stable than others.

Bengston, Vern L.; Acock, Alan C.; Allen, Katherine R.; Dilworth-Anderson, Peggye; Klein, David M.. Sourcebook of Family Theory and Research (p. 274). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

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