9 Marriage Models Defined by Wallerstein and Hetherington

marriage models
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Do you ever wonder what kind of marriage you have? If you talk to people about what type of marriage they have, they probably say they either have a traditional or a companionate marriage. However, there are quite a few other marriage models, including the marriages of your own parents and grandparents.

Two authors have much to say on the topic. They both have thoughts and theories as to different "marriage models".

Let's explore what authors Judith Wallerstein and E. Mavis Hetherington have to say on the topic.

Judith Wallerstein's Marriage Models

  • Traditional -- In this type of marriage, the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is the home-based homemaker.
  • Companionate -- Companionate unions are based on the spouses having mutual interests in their careers and children.
  • Rescue -- The central focus of this type of marriage appears to be on being able to heal the damage of a dysfunctional childhood or earlier hurting and damaging relationships. It is often a marriage of the walking wounded.
  • Romantic -- For these married couples, the initial romantic spark is essential and exciting and for them, sensuality continues through decades together.

Here are some quotes on these types of marriages from The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts written by Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee.

Description of a traditional marriage:  "... has at its core a clear division of roles and responsibilities. The woman takes charge of home and family while the man is the primary wage earner."  

Danger of traditional marriages: "... focus so narrowly on bringing up the children that the partners view each other only as parents; they dread the time when the children will leave home, knowing they will be left with little in common." 

Description of a companionate marriage: "... "most common form of marriage among younger couples ... it reflects the social changes of the last two decades. At its cores is friendship, equality, and the value system of the women's movement, with its corollary that the male role, too, needs to change. A major factor in the companionate marriage is the attempt to balance the partners' serious emotional investment in the workplace with their emotional investment in the relationship and the children." 

Danger of companionate marriages: "... it may degenerate into a brother-and-sister relationship. Invested primarily in their respective careers, husband and wife see each other only fleetingly, sharing a bed with little or no sex or emotional intimacy." 

Description of a rescue marriage: "The healing that takes place during the course of the marriage is the central theme." 

Danger of rescue marriages: "Instead of healing, a new forum for replaying earlier traumas. Spouses have the capacity to wound and abuse each other ...the hopes for rescue and comfort that led to the marriage are buried and forgotten." 

Description of a romantic marriage: "... a lasting, passionately sexual relationship. A couple in a romantic marriage often shares the sense that they were destined to be together." 

Danger of romantic marriages: "... freezing husband and wife into a self-absorbed, childlike preoccupation with each other, turning its back on the rest of the world, including the children." 

E. Mavis Hetherington's Marriage Models

  • Traditional -- Partners have distinctly defined roles and the relationship is in jeopardy if one spouse decides to change their role. As long as both are okay with their roles, their marriages have a low divorce rate.
  • Cohesive-Individuated -- These couples believe in combining gender equity with intimacy allowing personal freedom. Renewal, affection, support, and companionship are important to these individuals whose marriages have a low divorce rate.
  • Pursuer-Distancer -- The most common type of marriage with one spouse being aloof and the other wanting more intimacy. This type of relationship has the highest divorce rate.
  • Disengaged -- These couples, with a low priority on intimacy and a strong belief in independence, drift along together for years before their marriage crumbles.
  • Operatic -- These volatile relationships often have heated fighting followed by passionate lovemaking. Since they are prone to abuse, both emotional and physical, they have a high divorce rate.

Regardless of the type of marriage you have, if you both get along, feel loving towards each other and have mutual respect, it must be working. Don't focus too much on labels.

Purchase from Amazon: The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts  by Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee or For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered  by E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly 

Article updated by Marni Feuerman