The Suffocation of Marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow Without Enough Oxygen
Eli J. Finkel, Chin Ming Hui, Kathleen L. Carswell and Grace M. Larson
This article distills insights from historical, sociological, and psychological perspectives on marriage to develop the suffocation model of marriage in America. According to this model, contemporary Americans are asking their marriage to help them fulfill different sets of goals than in the past. Whereas they ask their marriage to help them fulfill their physiological and safety needs much less than in the past, they ask it to help them fulfill their esteem and self-actualization needs much more than in the past. Asking the marriage to help them fulfill the latter, higher level needs typically requires sufficient investment of time and psychological resources to ensure that the two spouses develop a deep bond and profound insight into each other’s essential qualities. Although some spouses are investing sufficient resources—and reaping the marital and psychological benefits of doing so—most are not. Indeed, they are, on average, investing less than in the past. As a result, mean levels of marital quality and personal well-being are declining over time. According to the suffocation model, spouses who are struggling with an imbalance between what they are asking from their marriage and what they are investing in it have several promising options for corrective action: intervening to optimize their available resources, increasing their investment of resources in the marriage, and asking less of the marriage in terms of facilitating the fulfillment of spouses’ higher needs. Discussion explores the implications of the suffocation model for understanding dating and courtship, sociodemographic variation, and marriage beyond American’s borders.