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When did Americans begin to think of marriage as "work," as in, "If you want your marriage to succeed, you have to work at it." Kristin Celello answers this question (and a lot of others) in her timely and relevant new book Making Marriage Work. A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States (UNC Press, 2009). In the nineteenth century, she explains, it was hard to get a divorce, marriage was viewed as an irrevocable duty, and divorce rates were low (by modern standards, of course). But beginning in the later part of the century all those things began to change. It became easier to split up. You just went to Nevada and got a "Reno divorce." People began to expect things like "fulfillment" from marriages. A "good provider" or "obedient companion" wasn't enough. As a result, divorce rates in the United States began to rise. They continued to do so--excepting momentary declines--for the next 70 years. Thus was born the "crisis" of marriage in America. Happily, a new kind of therapist came to the rescue: the marriage counselor. Marriage experts first appeared in the 1930s and their numbers have grown with the divorce rate. Today marriage counseling is an American institution, just like mom and apple pie. If you want to know how that happened--and it's a fascinating story well told by Kristin--you should read this book. It probably won't save your marriage, but it will certainly enlighten and entertain you for a few hours.
19th Century, 20th Century, Advice Literature, Christianity, Counseling, Divorce, Family Life, Feminism, Gender, Ideology, Marriage, Popular Culture, Religion, Women, World War II
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