Marriage: What Does Love Have To Do With It?

A depiction of an arranged marriage between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain.

An arranged marriage between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain.

To people born and raised in modern-day Western societies, marrying for love is considered a given. After all, doesn’t everyone marry for love? Well, no. Actually, the idea of marrying for love is a rather modern concept. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ghose (2013) writes, “Marriage is a truly ancient institution that predates recorded history. But early marriage was seen as a strategic alliance between families, with the youngsters often having no say in the matter.”

Gallagher (2002) states, “In every complex society governed by law, marriage exists as a public legal act and not merely a private romantic declaration or religious rite.”

Brake (2012) writes, “While the contemporary Western ideal of marriage involves a relationship of love, friendship, or companionship, marriage historically functioned primarily as an economic and political unit used to create kinship bonds, control inheritance, and share resources and labor. Indeed, some ancients and medievals discouraged ‘excessive’ love in marriage.”

Coontz (2005) explains the historical separation of love and marriage:

For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage. In fact, many historians, sociologists, and anthropologists used to think romantic love was a recent Western invention. This is not true. People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply.

But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married. When someone did advocate such a strange belief, it was no laughing matter. Instead, it was considered a serious threat to social order.

In some cultures and times, true love was actually thought to be incompatible with marriage.

Marrying for love would have been bewildering to occupants of medieval Europe, because they considered love to be something taking place outside of marriage, as Coontz (2005) explains:

But for centuries, noblemen and kings fell in love with courtesans rather than the wives they married for political reasons. Queens and noblewomen had to be more discreet than their husbands, but they too looked beyond marriage for love and intimacy.

This sharp distinction between love and marriage was common among the lower and middle classes as well. Many of the songs and stories popular among peasants in medieval Europe mocked married love.

Over time, the reason that people married changed as the benefits of marriage changed. Marrying “for love” became more popular when copulation without procreation became possible, as The Week magazine describes:

The rise of effective contraception fundamentally transformed marriage: Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. If they were unhappy with each other, they could divorce — and nearly half of all couples did. Marriage had become primarily a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness. This new definition opened the door to gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married, too.

With marriage becoming more about love than procreation, the concept of any adult marrying any other adult has become the rule in Western societies, not the exception.

What does love have to do with marriage? In ancient times, nothing; in modern times, everything.

Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.


Brake, E. (2002). Marriage and Domestic Partnership, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from

Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a History. New York: Penguin Group. Retrieved from

Gallagher, M. (2002). What is Marriage For? The Public Purposes of Marriage Law. Louisiana Law Review, Volume 62, Number 3. Retrieved from

Ghose, T. (2013). History of Marriage: 13 Surprising Facts. LiveScience. Retrieved from

How marriage has changed over centuries. The Week, June 1, 2012. Retrieved from

Image Source:

Racist Actor George 'Mr. Sulu' Takei Calls Black Man a 'Clown in Black Face'
Hey Barack! When You've Lost Jimmy Carter ...