Over the last several decades we’ve come to a different take on marriage, as part of a much larger cultural shift I discussed before. Marriage is now primarily a relationship for the betterment and self-fulfillment of two individuals. Two are stronger than one, after all. Together two individuals can better gratify each other’s desires and fulfill each others needs””right up until the moment they no longer seem able or willing, of course.
None of that is false, so far as it goes. But when you take this understanding of marriage and place it within the context of a self-indulgent culture like ours, you create marriages between two people looking to get the most out of the relationship for themselves. University of Virginia sociologist Sarah Corse and Harvard sociologist Jennifer Silva, for instance, describe the rise of “therapeutic” marriage, which centers on the “happiness, equality, mutuality, and self-actualization of individuals.”
When the individuals involved think they can get more for themselves outside the marriage, they cheat or just “consciously uncouple,” to use Gwyneth Paltrow’s morally beatific euphemism for divorce. “[W]e don’t divorce””or have affairs””because we are unhappy but because we could be happier,” explains therapist Esther Perel.