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20180406 – The All or Nothing Marriage



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The main idea of this book is to trace high level logic of marriage from economic necessity to the being the tool of self-expression and propose the new notion of marriage: all or nothing marriage that would be flexible enough to be capable meeting needs of the contemporary world with its economic independence of women, value of individual choice, and high demand of investment into growing the next generation. All this is done by using vast amount of empiric data accumulated about contemporary marriage via statistical and sociological research of recent decades.


Preface: Panic in Evanston

Author starts with the story of the beginning of his development of the new theory of marriage, which started from request for article about marriage. Author looked at all forces that impact this institution and concluded that it is under serious strain and could buckle. More detailed analysis showed that while the institution of marriage is struggling, there is a reason for optimism because good marriages now are better than ever before. In short, he puts it as “all or nothing” theory of marriage. At the end author briefly goes to review of liberal vs. conservative approaches.

Part One Marriage Today

1 Temperamental but Thrilling

This chapter starts with reference to a couple of books called “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild”, both about women running away from seemingly good marriages. After supplying this narratives by reference to men doing the same, author looks at the history of marriage in America and identifies 2 great transitions: The sentimentality Transition of 1880s when industrialization allowed people to go above partnering for physical survival and the authenticity transition of 1950-60s when search for fulfilment and change of mores created wave of divorces:

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Author links it to Maslow’s pyramid and then discusses Michelangelo effect when people try to create perfect sculpture from “ugly stone” of another person. He also connects it to weakening of social networks that before put pressure from outside to support a marriage and provides a nice graph demonstrating data about this:

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Author also discusses another important point – the growth of demand to other people that is hard to meet for any conceivable marriage partner. Here is illustration:

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At the end of chapter author discusses his believe that we are actually at the final stages of paradigm change and that the new paradigm is still marriage, only happier one.

Part Two Historical Perspective

This part is historical so author goes through periods:

  1. Pragmatic Marriage

Marriage for survival, with example of Lincoln parents and through various periods in American history:

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  1. From Pragmatism to Love

This is about the next step: transfer from pragmatic marriage to search of love. This came with industrialization and huge improvement in survival rates leading to decrease in fertility that provided much more opportunities for women to live their live instead of constantly producing and burying children. This new love based marriage of industrial age came to fruition in 1950s and was undermined after that by 5 important factors:

  • Women economic dependence
  • Social isolation of nuclear family
  • Lack of insight in one’s spouse due to different (working/non-working) live experiences
  • Stunted psychological development
  • Often subordinated sex drive
  1. From Love to Serf-Expression

This starts with reference to Sex and the City as a typical example of search for love and meaning in live, which somewhat impedes marriage and then moves to intellectual roots of this process and needs for self-expression. Here is example of results of study of this process:

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Author also points out to probably the most important fundamental transformation of society that underlying these processes- change in male/female difference in method of resource acquisition from women being internal family support producer to being equally to men external market producer:

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Author presents 5 challenges of the Self-Expressive Marriage:

  • The Elusive Self
  • The Porcupane’s Dilemma: hard to get close to warm each other
  • The Struggle for Balance
  • The Inexorable Rise in Demand for Sexual Fulfilment
  • Men’s stanted psychological development

At the end of chapter author discuss emerging pattern of Fuly Functioning Couple and again refer to the Sex and the City pointing out that it eventually comes down to marriage.

Part Three: All-or-Nothing Marriage

  1. Personal Fulfillments and Marital Commitment: The Detente

This starts with discussion of marriage becoming tool of personal fulfilment in late 1700s when couples start forming based on love. This approach was expanding until 1950 when pursuit of happiness and meaning went beyond traditional arrangement. Author provides useful breakdown for these two objectives:

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  1. Marriage at the Summit

Here author compares what he calls “Frightened marriage” with his idea of “All or Nothing” marriage. The “Frightened marriage” is basically the pattern that existed up until now when marriage was necessity for survival and raising children. Now, when industrialization freed people from domestic work, made it easy access to food, energy, and comfort, old forces that kept marriage alive are gone. Now the objective is much more self-actualization via work, entertainment, health maintenance, elaborate satisfaction of natural needs like food and sex, and on and on. Author provides a number of research results demonstrating that time spent by spouses together is declining as well as time spent on children. Author refers this phenomenon to decline in value of traditional marriage that was kept together by external needs, which he calls suffocated marriage. However, he is optimistic that it will be substituted by Enriched marriage, the one that is kept together by common interests of spouses and mutually enriching relationships that are beneficial for both.

  1. For Richer or Poorer

This is about economic foundation of the new model of marriage. He points out that marriage stressed most of all when economic wellbeing is stressed and links it to the levels of education:

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Another interesting chart demonstrates that actuall cultural values are practically the same for all economnic classes of Americans:

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Author also discusses a hypotheses that it could be explained by mental deficiencies of lower classes like low levels of self-control and such. As it should be expected, leftists attack it and put blame on external circumstances. Interestingly enough the very high income marriage is often similar to lower class in terms of instability. Author explains it by pointing out that very hihg income peope too busy working and interacting outside of home and find self actualization opportunities there.

Part Four Toward Stronger Marriages

  1. For Better or Worse

This is about complexity and unreliability of self-expressive marriage – humans tend to change with time and they are not necessary changing in synch, and it shows:

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There is also an interesting phenomenon of looking at the process through rose colored glasses. The graph below demonstrates that people look at the past as the continuing improvement, when their actual reporting at the time shows otherwise:Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.54 PM

The recommendation author comes up with is: “do not idealize and you will not be disappointed”:

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  1. Lovehacking

This is about psychological tools that could be useful in achieving marital satisfaction: 

Another hack is to take third party perspective. The third hack is Abstract Reframing procedure: convert any specific complement into statement of general admiration by a partner. This helps people with low self-esteem:

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Also is effective tool expression of gratitude:

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Overall author provide quite convincing data that use of these tools could be effective.

  1. Going All In

This is about details of handling complex self-expressive marriage. It goes through communications, responsiveness, various activities and such. It also cautions about possible negative consequences of “Going All In” such as revealing incompatibility.

  1. Recalibrating

This chapter is about recalibrating expectation from marriage if one is going to pursue this new high altitude and complexity marriage with its increased independence and each spouse that could require complex reconciliation procedures in all areas including sex, social interactions with outsiders, consensual non-monogamy. For the last one author provide an interesting graph:

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The final graph here is on high value of low expectations for really bad cases, but higher benefits of high expectation if marriage is fulfilling.

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  1. The Marital Buffet

The last chapter is pointing out that Americans now have a huge number of options in marriage and non-marriage, so it would help when one understands what they are before actually making the choice.


I like data richness of this book and generally agree that old institute of marriage needs significant upgrade in order to keep its validity in the age when necessity of domestic work, formerly domain of women or servants, had practically disappeared, in turn making hierarchical structure of family invalid. The effective marriage today got to be cooperative enterprise of free individuals kept together not by consideration of survival or economic necessity, but by huge physiological and psychological benefits that it could bring to these individuals. The value of having a spouse, as the second half of you, different but continuously attached to you for a very long time, could not be matched neither by short-term hookups nor my professional help nor by chemical enhancements. Certainly the process of selection of spouse as live-long partner could be enhanced by psychological and physiological testing that is rapidly developing all the time and by some additional tools that will be developed to support parallel development of individuals over their live time, but I do not think that there is anything else that could match such long term partnership in the level of benefits provided for wellbeing of individual.


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