Is Love a Flimsy Foundation?: Soulmate Versus InstitutionalModels of Marriage

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Social Science Research



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Steven Nock argued that love—understood narrowly in terms of emotional and sexual intimacy—was a flimsy foundation for relationships and that the institution of marriage provided a firmer footing for stable, high-quality relationships than love alone. Relying on data from the Marriage Matters Survey of 1414 married men and women in Louisiana (1998–2004), we extended Nock’s insights to consider whether contemporary marriages organized along institutional lines enjoyed more stability, satisfaction, and less conflict than marriages organized around a soulmate model. Largely consistent with Nock’s perspective, we found that individuals who embraced norms of marital permanency and gender specialization and were embedded in social networks and religious institutions enjoyed high-quality stable marriages, so long as they also focused on the expressive dimension of married life. By contrast, spouses who embraced a soulmate model of marriage experienced high levels of satisfaction but also experienced high levels of conflict and divorce. Finally, spouses who embraced traditional norms about marriage without the benefit of social support for those norms reported low levels of marital quality.

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