Book Review: The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony

By East Coast standards, I married pretty young – 24. It has worked out beautifully, but was, um, shall we say quite the challenge early on. In the midst of this challenging period, a friend of mine suggested I read The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony and I felt like it was very helpful and very accurate and I sure wish I would have read it before getting married and having a wedding. It isn’t that I wouldn’t have gotten married had I read this book first, but rather I would have done it with a different mindset. After I read this, I got online at and sent “used” copies to several of my closest friends. If you are between 20-37 or so, I suggest you get yourself a copy. It is heterosexual focused, but if you can stand the hetero-ness of the whole thing, there is probably helpful stuff for all people regardless of orientation.

The book is not perfect, and Paul (the author) can make some big jumps in her conclusions. So don’t read this as a super-controlled scientific assessment (which it isn’t supposed to be anyway). I found that the book wasn’t anti-marriage or pro-marriage, but rather just touched up on a lot of the realities, myths, struggles, and ideas that Gen X (and a little older and younger) face when it comes marriage — like how so many go into marriage with the subconscious expectation that it will make life complete or fix things that marriages just can’t “fix.”

I was especially thankful on her section about the “wedding industry” that markets absurdly expensive weddings (the perfect dress, the biggest ring, the best food… the most important day of your life!) to individuals and couples and that often contributes to a loss of perspective about what the actual marriage after the wedding might involve. I managed to prevent this madness for our, by “average” wedding standards, small and cheap wedding, but I felt that pressure and that implication that if you make the wedding great, everything else will follow.

One of the most helpful things I got from this book was the articulation of a feeling that I and many of my friends have — that you are not complete until you are married and that being married will “make things okay,” which, until this book, I hadn’t recognized as so widespread/generational/cultural.

Secondly, I appreciated the feeling from the book that divorce can be okay, is sometimes better, but that sometimes a marriage just takes a little more work. I was glad she made it clear that marriage has had too high of expectations hoisted upon it, that it is hard work, can be great, can be hard, and can be rewarding. She is legitimately hard on the “pro-marriage” camp that promotes marriage as the savior of civilization and that advocates staying married at all costs. If you want an anti-divorce book, this is not it. But if you want a fair treatment of many of the struggles that the twenty and thirty somethings face in trying to make a life with a partner, in the face of work, high expectations for marriage, our parents’ marriages and divorces and a culture that sends amazingly mixed and strong messages about marriage, sex, and “success” this is a great place to start. Particularly for those thinking of getting married or struggling in the early years of a marriage, this might be particularly helpful.

Happy reading.

8 Responses to Book Review: The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony

  1. Clyde Grubbs says:

    Working with congregants about their marriages, or divorces is a big part of congregational ministers job.
    We must consel the couples before the marriage, and during, and too often after. And then there is the ministry to the children whose parents are having conflicts and hardest of all ministering to the children of an active divorce. Then there is stess that the minister experiences when a couple who are fighting chooses to do it over joys and sorrows.

    Maybe if we started doing couples work with middle school children they might understand that relationships take work by the time they get out of college.

  2. Steve Caldwell says:

    Clyde wrote:
    “Maybe if we started doing couples work with middle school children they might understand that relationships take work by the time they get out of college.

    That’s why a large chunk of the Our Whole Lives curriculum for Grades 7-9, Graades 10-12, and Adults deals with relationships and communication.

  3. Clyde Grubbs says:

    The team did good work with this curriculium. Now for the children’s story, marriage – it isn’t about bells and smells.

  4. averagedrinker says:

    marriage books? damn. i don’t get the idea that some people rely their marriage on books and theories by authors who may not even be credible enought to write such. if i’ll meet the right guy for me on webdate*com, or through friends, or through my past, then so be it.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I did the Our Whole Lives training for 7-9 and was very impressed with it. I get the feeling that it is less commonly offered for adults, but I feel like it would be really helpful there too.

    Average drinker, I think the idea is not to *rely* on marriage books so much as to learn something from them. Marriage and relationships in general are hard and I feel like it does help to have some insight from “experts”. You don’t need to rely on them at all, but take what works for you.

  6. Bill Baar says:

    Some where I saw statistics saying now, for many reasons: death, divorce, longevity of surviving partner, and postponing marriage; most people will live the majority of their lives alone; as singles.

    That’s actually more consistent with how things were in pre industrial times I think.

    Anyway, it will have some huge impacts.

    Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: a History is an excellant book on how family life has gotten to where it is today.

  7. […] These are two reflection pieces around this idea.  (I also reviewed a good book on marriage here a while back, which is also part of this overall […]

  8. andrea says:

    Chocolate fondue fountain Thanks a bunch for this awesome post. Please keep up the good work. I’ll be coming back lots.

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