Although the average marriage today is struggling, the best marriages are flourishing like never before, a new book argues.
In The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work (Dutton, 2017), relationship expert and Northwestern University professor Eli Finkel reverse-engineers today’s best marriages, distilling strategies that couples can use to strengthen their own marriages.
Building a marriage that meets our expectations has become harder, even as the benefits of doing so have become larger.
Why have the best marriages gotten even better while the average marriage has been struggling? In the book, Finkel argues that much of the divergence results from changes in our expectations for marriage. As marriages have focused less on basic survival and economic considerations and more on higher-level emotional and psychological considerations, building a marriage that meets our expectations has become harder, even as the benefits of doing so have become larger.
Finkel, director of Northwestern’s Relationships and Motivation Lab and a professor in the psychology department, combines insights from economics, history, sociology, and psychology to identify what the new, “ideal” marriage looks like and how more couples can achieve it.
Marriages are very different today from how they were in the past: Finkel’s overview of marriage in America underscores how today’s marriages are—relative to the marriages of the past—much more focused on self-discovery and personal growth.
Finkel writes that even though today’s spouses are less dependent on marriage for basic survival than our forebears were, we expect each other to fulfill more roles than ever—confidant, sexual companion, best friend, co-parent. This change puts a new level of marital bliss within reach, but it also places more marriages at risk for disappointment and dissolution.
Finkel first introduced the concept of the “all-or-nothing marriage” in the New York Times in 2014. The article ignited debate and remains one of the Times’ most trafficked opinion pieces ever. The book updates and elaborates Finkel’s theory. His most recent article, “How to Fix the Person You Love,” appeared September 10 in the New York Times.