Marriage's Purpose

Musings on a Carol Dweck quote

Posted Sep 28, 2016

Jeff Belmonte, CC 2.0
Source: Jeff Belmonte, CC 2.0

Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford, known for encouraging "a growth mindset." She believes that key to success is driving hard to make the most of your genetics.

So it's not surprising that about marriage, she would write, "The whole point of marriage is to encourage your partner’s development and have them encourage yours."

That is one of her most widely quoted pieces of advice: A Google search found it cited 523 times.

My first reaction was to agree. While few of us choose to marry primarily for mentorship, the essence of a marriage does seem to be in nurturing The Love of Your Life, knowing s/he'll do the same for you. Such caring mentorship is something sought by most, found by few, in or out of marriage.

But on reflection, it strikes me that Dweck's definition of marriage---that its "whole point" is peer mentoring, feels restrictive. As with most things, one size does not fit all.

I'd guess that, in Dweck's heart of hearts, she doesn't feel so absolutist about it. To check that, I sent her a draft of this article but she did not respond.

So assuming she meant what she wrote, here's why I disagree with her:

Mightn't two people who don't particularly value peer mentoring but share a big sexual appetite marry at least partly to have ready sex without having to pay for it nor incur the health and emotional risks of multiple partners?

Mightn't two people who aren't much on peer mentoring marry at least in part to have someone with whom to share life's rituals: kissing good morning, having breakfast together, sharing workday's events and pastimes, and/or going to sleep with the comfort and security of a life partner lying next to you?

Mightn't two people who aren't much on peer mentoring marry in part because they want children, and the legal and spiritual bonds of formal marriage make it more likely they'll stay together, which they view as good for the child?

Mightn't two people who aren't much on peer mentoring, especially if older, marry for security--financial or healthwise---so they won't be left helpless if, at an advanced age, they lost their job? It isn't easy for older people to find work, or if they got seriously ill, to fend for themselves.

Mightn't "the whole point of marriage" change over a couple's lifetime? Forty years ago, I married my wife, Barbara rather than just continuing to live "in sin," in part because I wanted to signal her daughter that I would always be her daddy and because Barbara was a person with whom I sensed I'd enjoy sharing many aspects of life for a long time: conversation, activities, sex, and yes, The Dweck Factor: "encouraging my partner's development," something that, as a counselor type, I love doing. Today, 40 years later, "the whole point of our marriage" has evolved. Now it's more about sharing activities we enjoy doing together---watching movies and plays, taking walks, inviting couples to dinner, and doing projects together--like the show she and I are doing Odd Man Out . And yes, I continue, per Dweck, to enjoy being her mentor.

The takeaway

If you're single but looking to marry, do you agree with Dweck's statement, "The whole point of marriage is to encourage your partner’s development and have them encourage yours?" If not, what do you view as the core goal(s) of the marriage you're seeking?

If you're married, was there a "whole point" of your marriage when you first married?  If so, what? And how about now? Want to change anything?

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His newest book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.