In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Darling, Is Marital and Labor Mobility Good for You?

“You will always be my endless love.” Lionel Richie

"You will always be my endless love." Lionel Richie
"Forever, and ever, you'll stay in my heart." Aretha Franklin

Labor and marital (as well as romantic) mobility is on the rise in modern society; it seems that the change is greater in labor mobility. Labor mobility is not taken to be cheating, and upon entering a new workplace, people are aware of its temporary nature and accept it. Can such an attitude be adopted towards marriage?

Labor mobility expresses the extent to which workers are willing to move from one workplace to another. Such a move can involve, for instance, the move to a different geographical place or to a different occupation. Those moves can be horizontal -- that is, there might be no change in the worker's status -- or they can be vertical, in which a change in status does occur. An upward change in status will increase a worker's future mobility, whereas a downward change will reduce it. Labor mobility can be gauged by the lack of impediments and presence of benefits in these changes. Impediments can consist of difficulties in changing a location or the inability to cope with the demands of a new occupation. Benefits are expressed in increased work satisfaction and personal advantages. Maintaining a high level of labor mobility facilitates a more efficient system of labor.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Marital mobility can be described along somewhat similar lines. Marital mobility expresses the extent to which spouses are willing to move from one marital relationship to another. Such a move can include, for instance, a different marital relationship or a different kind of romantic relationship. In principle such moves can be horizontal or vertical; that is, the situation can remain similar to what it was or it can improve or deteriorate. Horizontal changes are less likely to be pursued because of the cost involved in leaving an existing relationship. The possibility of improving the quality of a relationship is likely to increase marital mobility. Marital mobility can also be gauged by the lack of impediments and presence of benefits in such a change. Impediments can consist of personal and social difficulties, such as the hurt that is inflicted upon the family, the financial cost, and the risk of the situation not improving even while the costs of separation must still be paid. Benefits are expressed in improved romantic relationships and personal satisfaction. Maintaining a high level of marital mobility allows greater weight to be given to the element of love, but it also increases uncertainty and insecurity.

Both types of mobility are on the rise in modern society. This is even more obvious concerning labor mobility as there are now many occupations that have become obsolete while new ones have emerged. Mobility is now easier and more tempting in terms of both the reduced cost and the increased benefits. This situation is also evident concerning marriage. To a large extent, this has occurred because of two major developments in modern society: (a) the lifting of many of the constraints that once prevented marriages from dissolving, and (b) the apparent presence of so many attractive alternatives that offer the promise of replacing any given marriage. Nowadays, getting out of a committed relationship and getting into a new one is much easier. (see here and here).

Can we then view marital mobility in the way in which we view labor mobility? When it comes to the issue of labor mobility, we tend to assume that our job is basically provisional and that we should always keep an eye out for a better post. Should we assume the same concerning martial mobility? Should we tend to assume that marital (or other types of romantic) relationships are by nature temporary and always consider ourselves available if a better romantic relationship comes our way?

I believe that there is here a fundamental difference. With regard to work, there is very little if any normative value in remaining in the same type of job, as our workplace is not a living creature toward which we have moral obligations. Organizations do not have the moral status of people. Of course, when we change our workplace or our job, we should not hurt those who remain behind in our old workplace, but our major responsibility at work is usually to the organization and not to a particular person. In marriage, one's main obligation is toward one's partner and family and not toward the institution of marriage itself.

The obligations toward one's spouse are not absolute. In most modern societies, there is no moral obligation to stay within a marital relationship that is dead, but there is some kind of obligation to make the effort to stay in marital relationship when there is a chance that a profound loving relationship can be established. There is the normative demand that each partner should make compromises that will bring the two closer together. However, there is also the desire to be in a loving relationship where both people are happy with each other. The notion of being with one's partner for a long time is an essential part of ideal love. However, when this love is absent, staying together might harm both partners.

People who are in profound love relationships do expect that their romantic relationship will last for a long time, and rightly so. But they should also be aware of the possibility that it will end. The death of love, although often associated with death in general, is certainly different. The death of a particular love can be the seed for generating a new and profound love (see here).

Although we should accept the mobility of love, just as we do the mobility of labor, we should aspire to limit the former much more than the latter. Genuine love is based upon an element of stability and the normative wish and hope for it to endure over time (see here).

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, please do not change me as often as you change your job. I believe I can be of value to you for a much longer time."



Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.


Subscribe to In the Name of Love

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?