Arranged Marriages – What You Need to Know

Arranged Marriages - Things You Can Learn From Them

The majority of people in Western societies have the general idea that first comes love, then comes marriage. This is so much in their psyche that the idea of an arranged marriage sounds strange. Yet, arranged marriages form an integral part of some of the largest of civilizations across the world.

The overriding fact is that arranged marriages are no less successful over the long-term than love marriages where partners spontaneously fall in love. In fact, the arranged-vs-love-marriage debate has been on for an aeon.

Overall, the practice of arranged marriages has greatly declined in prosperous countries especially in the West. However, certain countries in Europe and even in North America still engage in arranged marriages.

This is more prominent among royal families, aristocrats and minority religious groups. Also, most wealthy royals and aristocratic families engage in arranged marriages partly to protect or streamline the inheritance of their wealth.

For the most part, arranged marriages are alive and kicking in other cultures across the globe. Arranged marriages are a mainstay in countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Kenya, and those in the Middle East.

In fact, after studying about 142 cultures worldwide, Broude and Greene reported that 130 of these cultures have elements of arranged marriage.

For instance, reports indicate that India has about 90% arranged marriages. Likewise, about 74% of young Indians[1] – those between 18-35 years – prefer to have an arranged marriage over a love marriage, according to a 2013 IPSOS survey.

Another fact is that India has a very low divorce rate of merely 1.1% as compared to other countries. Besides that, a “Bombay High Court[2] hearing claims that love marriages in India have a higher divorce rate compared to arranged marriages.

What is an Arranged Marriage?

In general, we regard a marriage as “arranged” when its proposition is by people who are not the ones marrying. Either the parents of the intending-couple, professional matchmakers, marriage sites, or trusted third parties can take care of the planning of an arranged marriage.

In certain arranged marriages, the partners marrying may not know each other prior to their wedding day. The intending-couple trust at least in part other people such as the family or even community members to make the overall decisions that result in arranged marriages.

Statistically, an estimated 80 percent of documented cultures in the world engage in some form of arranged marriage practice. The stark reality is that arranged marriages have been part and parcel of a way of life that has been prevalent across the world for over 5,000 years.

Thus, from ancient China to classical Greece to the tribes of Israel, marriage has normatively been a family affair. A man and a woman usually marry in order to forge and maintain bonds between families. Thus, the spouses have duties that not only to binds them to each other. In actuality, the marriage also binds them to the rest of their kin.

Conversely, in love marriages, the intending-individual solely handles the burden of finding a potential marriage partner, courting him or her, popping the question, and making arrangements for the wedding.

About Choice in Arranged Marriages

Wedding Couple in outdoor dusk photoshot

The relative power and involvement of the intending spouses varies extensively. There are cases where at times the potential spouse can only resist through extreme measures such as feigning insanity or illness.

There are other approaches where the potential spouses have full veto power over a potential match. Also, the power of a potential spouse to refuse a match varies according to gender. Mostly, males have more power to refuse than females.

Brides and grooms have some choice in the matter in most traditional cultures that practice arranged marriages. In Sri Lanka for example, men and women who like each other (or are in love) normally use indirect channels to inform their parents of their choices in advance.[3]

Additionally, most families use similar criteria such as matching based on attractiveness and socio-economic factors that the individuals themselves would have used if they had a free choice. A classic example would be the Jewish custom of having a matchmaker arrange a suitable match.[4]

Also, the potential power of spouses to refuge a match comes from the possibility of having pre-marriage contacts. Usually, some arranging practices permit more pre-marriage contacts for potential spouses. This allows them develop their own opinions and provide input in the overall arrangement.

However, such pre-marriage contacts are not like the Western ideas of dating and courtship. In fact, continuing to meet with a potential partner carries strong commitments.

Thus, there is usually no real pressure about choice especially among the educated and civilized population. So, if the matches don’t like each other, then, it’s off to the next matchmaking. It’s also interesting that in India, individuals from the highest educated and westernized strata still prefer an arranged marriage over a love marriage.

Love and Satisfaction in Arranged Marriages

Couples involved in arranged marriages usually do not know their potential partners that much as at the time of their wedding. In certain cases, some even get to see each other in person for the first time on the wedding day.

According to most experts, couples in arranged marriages tend to view their marriage from a more practical standpoint. The process usually does not allow passion to blind their decisions. The section immediately below and others thereafter will help to underscore the importance of this.

In her book, The Art of Choosing, Prof. Sheena Iyengar highlights one of the studies by Usha Gupta and Pushpa Singh of the University of Rajasthan. The Indian study made comparisons between couples who chose to marry for love and couples whose marriages were arrangements of their parents.

Below is a comment by Prof. Sheena on the findings of the Gupta study:

The couples who had married for love and been together less than a year averaged a score of 70 points out of a possible 91 on the love scale, but these numbers steadily fell over time. The love couples who had been married ten years or longer had an average score of only 40 points. In contrast, the couples in arranged marriages were less in love at the outset, averaging 58 points, but their feelings increased over time to an average score of 68 at the ten or more years’ mark.

Sheena Iyengar Author, “The Art of Choosing”
Arranged Marriages - Romantic Love Decrease Graph
FIGURE 1 Romantic love decreases after people marry for love. A study in India compared arranged marriages to those in which the spouses married because they were in love. Just as the average American marriage, romantic love decreased substantially as the years went by after people married for love.

A Sudden Popularity of Love Marriages

There’s also an interesting twist about the sudden shift in spousal selection towards love marriages. Even in North America, people only recently started feeling that marriage requires love. Statistics available in 1967 shows that 76 percent of women and 35 percent of men would have married an otherwise perfect partner whom they did not love.[5]

But today, most North American if not all, would refuse such a marriage. In fact, North Americans use romance as a reason to marry to an unprecedented degree.[6] This has become so ingrained in their culture that even young North American children taunt one another about cross-sex friendships by chanting “First comes love, then comes marriage…

But George Bernard Shaw made a somewhat succinct comment that marriage inspired by love brings two people together…

…under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.

George Bernard Shaw

The evolution of arranged marriages over the millennia is a possible reason why most arranged marriages tend to work. The practice realizes the fact that despite their relationship compatibility, arranged marriages can still be quite rocky and challenging.

The practice of arranged marriages often make breakups difficult through various methods. They have the belief of having smoother road ahead once they cross the rocky parts. It’s just an idea from someone which seems to make a lot of sense! At least to me.

Variations in Arranged Marriage Practices

Arranged Marriages - Sitted Indian Bride

There are a lot of inconsistencies across and within cultures about the arrangements for arranged marriages. The fact that cultural practices for arranging marriages are not static due to changes over time also complicates the issue.

Some of these differences in practice include for instance, who is eligible for marriage. Also, there is the issue involving prepubescent children where some cultures and subcultures vary about their eligibility for marital arrangements.

There is also the disparity about whether the age of eligibility for marriage is the same for males and females. Also, there are variabilities of opinions regarding whether first cousins are desirable or appropriate marriage partners.

Another variability in arranging practices is about who does the arranging. While parents play a primary role, there are cultural differences concerning the extent of involvement of fathers versus mothers, or both parents.

Besides the parents, certain cultures equally engage a variety of individuals. An example is in traditional Hindu arrangement practices where uncles and priests may be involved. Despite the fact that the parents make the primary decisions, they see the consultation of such individuals as useful in identifying and evaluating potential suitors or brides.

Arranged Marriages vs. Forced Marriages

There is a lot of confusion about arranged marriages. This is often in context of other types of marriages that look a lot like it.

The problem is that a lot of people confuse arranged marriages with forced marriages. And this is perhaps the most pervasive and damaging misconception about arrangement marriages.

A forced marriage is an arrangement where one or both spouses marrying are doing it with their consent. This also translates to marriages involving minor children.

In essence, a lot of people believe that couples, especially the women, get into arranged marriages because of coercion. This is however not the case with arranged marriages.

However, this does not mean that there are no forced marriages. And this is despite the fact that there is a universal ban on forced marriages. This is because they are basically a violation of human rights. Yet, the practice may still exist in several cultures where the enforcement is lax.

Thus, a forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage. There is usually no use of force in normal arranged marriages.

6 Facts About Arranged Marriages

Several positive components come together to make arranged marriages thrive. Some of these include the following points.

1. Established Compatibility

Arranged marriages do not pair couples in a random manner. For the most part, arranged marriages involve partners who grown up with similar belief systems. This helps to increase their chances of having high relationship compatibility.

Thus, the people making the arrangements, whether they be family or matchmakers, take certain things into serious consideration. Part of their duty is to ensure that the intending spouses share similar traits, values, and beliefs.

This forms an important foundation because similar belief systems and values are paramount for the development of any successful marriage.

In general, partners in arranged marriages share similar educational, religious, financial, and world views. This is because most families prefer other families that have similar societal status.

Thus, the chances of partners in an arranged marriage having cultural differences greatly reduces. This effectively removes one of the most common challenge in a lot of love marriages.

But there are cases where individuals often make their love marriages work despite having different belief systems. However, such marriages are often fraught with a lot more challenges.

It is best and less complicated to first establish great relationship compatibility when getting into a marriage union. As a result, sharing the same ethical values, traditions, and background as your partner makes for one less thing to worry about.

2. Prescreened and Reduced Choices

One of the advantages of arranged marriages is that the potential partner comes vetted by those involved in the arrangement. Thus, the people the intending-spouse’s respect and trust handle most of the hard work the decision making process involves.

This is important because finding a suitable partner is one of the most common complain people who are trying to marry have.

The prescreening process involved in arranged marriages helps to reduce the number of available options to pick from. Equally, it helps to ensure that once the intending-spouses make a decision, it is difficult to renege on later on.

This is unlike in most love marriage situations where the individual might have difficulties figuring out when to stop searching. Also, when making a partner choice in a love marriage, a lot of people base their prescreening criteria mostly on the potential partner’s physical attractiveness.

Social psychologists call this “attractiveness matching“. It’s a fancy way of saying that individuals have a tendency to prefer people with whom they share comparable attractiveness.

Most of these attractiveness factors on which most love marriages are based are short-term in nature. Also, they rarely make significant contributions to the development of a long-term loving relationship.

The prescreening process helps to reduce the potential biases of the intending spouse’s singular decisions. Thus, decisions are more objective when the spousal selection process involves trusted third parties.

3. Quicker Spousal Decisions

Most people have a general belief that when making important life decisions, such as marriage, one has to spend more time and effort in order to get the best possible outcomes.

This is partly why the dating process in most love marriages is often long and elaborate. Unfortunately, this makes the final decision of a potential partner more difficult. As a result, there is often a lack of a set timeline for deciding on a partner.

The “apparent” wide pool of potential partners also compounds the situation. While each potential partner might have different attractive qualities, no single one ever has “all” of one’s desired qualities. The final decision to pick one potential partner often leaves the individual having what psychologists call the “choosing feels like losing” effect.

At the same time, there is also the tendency of spending too much time in making critical and deliberate judgments about a potential partner.

Despite this popularly held view about decision making, new scientific evidence is pointing to the contrary.

For instance, researchers in an IKEA furniture study[7] found that shoppers were happier weeks later when they took less time to decide on the furniture to buy. In testing the “deliberation-without-attention” effect, the researchers concluded that people tend to make the best choice among complex products when they spend less time making the decision.

Limited Deliberations

However, the processes involved in arranged marriages help to significant reduce the amount of time spent on deciding on a potential partner. Once introduced to the potential partner, one has little or no time to engage in extensive comparisons or careful thinking.

Arranged marriages make the intending couple to make their decision based mostly on their intuition or gut instincts. With limited choices and expectations, such arranged marriages stand a better chance of having more satisfying outcomes.

However, this is not suggesting that choosing a partner is a straightforward or even trivial decision. The point is that there is a lot of merit in reducing the available choices. Also, that there’s merit in involving people we trust in the decision making process.

4. Lower Couple Expectations

One of the biggest issues with love marriages has to do with the level of expectation the partners have of each other. Most love marriage partners generally have high expectations. This often concerns things like loyalty, perfection, desire, passion, and solutions to all their problems.

The reality is that setting high expectations are a slippery slope to base the happiness and success of a marriage on. When such high expectations are not met, as is often the case, such marriages tend to suffer as a consequence.

Conversely, partners in arranged marriages have a lower level of expectation of each other. They generally start with lesser expectation as they do not yet know each other that well.

This is often the case because a lack of knowledge about an individual generally reduces the level of expectation placed on such an individual. In general, forming an “accurate” expectation about someone entails having an in-depth knowledge of that individual. Thus the more knowledge acquired about a person, the higher the expectation produced.

As a result, partners in arranged marriages take time to become curious about each other. With time, they get to understand each other and build the love in their marriage.

Thus, arranged marriages are not based on all the grand expectations that most love marriages often start out with. Since they have low expectations of each other, the chances of disappointment by the other partner greatly reduces.

This also gives the partners the opportunity to meet and even surpass each other’s expectations. As a result, they are more likely to derive a lot of satisfaction from the marriage.

So, having high expectations in love marriages can easily let the partners down. But the expectations in arranged marriages are more realistic.

5. Known Prospective Intentions

The element of surprise which fuels the attraction and passion in romantic relationship. This might be probably what makes love marriages so attractive to people. For the most part, dating couples don’t initially have a final picture of where the relationship is heading. They simply cross their fingers hoping that they’ve found their perfect match.

Arranged marriages have the advantage of the intending partners knowing from the outset what the other’s intentions are. For most types of arranged marriages, this allows the partners to skip most of the “getting-to-know-you” aspects involved in a normal dating process. It also reduces the otherwise tension of them putting their best foot forward.

Without floundering too much, such clearly known intentions help to fast-track the commencement of deep and intimate discussions. This enables the partners to openly talk about serious relationship issues such as their individual goals, values as well as overall compatibilities.

6. No Prerequisite Relationship Experience

There’s one very common praise for love marriages. And this is that the partners already know themselves very well before they marry. But how true is this common view?

Must an individual have previous relationship experience in order to know what he or she wants in a potential partner?

We all know that while dating and courting each other, most partners generally put their best foot forward. Harry Reis, Ph.D. – a leading social psychologist from the University of Rochester – calls this

‘disillusionment’: Lovers initially put their best foot forward, ignoring each other’s – and the relationship’s – shortcomings.

Dr. Reis further points out that:

But after they tie the knot, hidden aspects of their personalities emerge, and idealized images give way to more realistic ones. This can lead to disappointment, loss of love and, ultimately, distress and divorce.

However, this does not deny the fact that one can gain a lot of lessons from past relationships. At the same time, one cannot deny the fact that self-discovery and growth can also be experienced in arranged marriages.

Also, in a study, researchers asked newlyweds to talk about their relationship history up to the time of their marriage.[8] On assessing the marital satisfaction of the newlyweds two years later, the researchers were surprised that:

…having a highly romantic reconstruction of one’s courtship does not predict marital well-being… Instead, only a generally positive tone without romanticism seems to be important.

Thus, first dating other individuals is not a universal prerequisite for having a successful long-term relationship. Also, having a single partner for life – as in an arranged marriage – also helps to completely eliminate the longing for the ones who got away.

The Cons of Arranged Marriages

Like everything that has both a good and a good side, arranged marriages equally have their bad sides. Sadly, it is the negative aspects of arranged marriages that most of the Western world are aware of.

Arranged marriages are generally consensual but there are often situations involving the use of force and pressure.

There are also issues when an arranged marriage involves an arrangement of dowry. At times this might involve the woman going to live with the husband and his immediate family. The combination of both of these factors seem to place women in a more dangerous position.

In India for instance, there are evidence that female in-laws often combine with or encourage the husband in the physical abuse of young wives.[9,10]

Also, most societies that practice arranged marriages are often societies where men and women don’t necessarily have equal rights. In such societies, there are also evidence indicating the oppression and abuse of women, and often children.

With that said, arranged marriages involve a lot of very complex issues. This is because the variety in practices across cultures and over historical time is very large.

In Conclusion…

Love takes a lot of different kinds of forms and shapes! Having the “best” or “most romantic” story of how you met each other and a great “proposal to match” do not necessarily make for a great marriage.

In fact, you don’t have to feel let down if your story doesn’t sound like a classic Hollywood romance script.

And as Eric Baker would often say:

Everyone is happy to explain “how they met” but few give the details on “how they stayed together.”

Arranged marriages show that sometimes a third party can be very helpful in vetting potential life partners. And they might do this effectively if not better than you might yourself. Also, having a single partner for life is just a different path to experiencing self-knowledge.

Overall, the truth is that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way of marrying. For any marriage to survive long-term, the couples have to put in the hard work, have patience, and mutually respect each other.

Yet, based on statistical averages we’ve got irrefutable evidence that couples in arranged marriages don’t only get to fall deeply in love as those in love marriages, but they grow to become happier and stay happier than those in love marriages.

Thus, though arranged marriages start out less happy, with time they become even happier than love marriages. And stay that way.

However, the final choice depends on the individual where such opportunity avails itself as it’s culturally normative for some. The important thing is that after the wedding, both spouses should be ready to put in the hard work of making the marriage succeed.

How you meet your spouse is just a different path towards finding true marital happiness and satisfaction. Ultimate happiness comes not from making the choice but in fulfilling one’s duties.