Doesn’t everyone want their husband or wife to be their life “soulmate” – bound together by a powerful love that makes you each other’s best friend and perfect mate?

The “soulmate” is actually a very new idea in human experience, emerging as a concept in just the last hundred years or so. It came to be known as Companionate Marriage and focused more on friendship and personal, individualistic fulfillment, rather than on marriage as a commitment to a larger life founded upon the purposes of raising a family.

Dr. Scott Stanley is a leading marriage scholar at the University of Denver and he calls this more subjectively personal view of marriage “soul-mate-ism,” explaining,

The belief that you will find in a mate the one unique person on the planet who understands your deepest desires and fears, accepts all of who you are unconditionally and who becomes joined to you, making one complete whole in mind, body and soul. The power of this type of relationship is so great that you will know fully and rapidly when you find ‘the one.’ Further, if you have not married ‘the one,’ you should move on.

But is the soulmate conception of marriage good for marital longevity and overall happiness?

Increasingly, solid sociological research tells us it is not. It is an illusion.

Professor Stanley warns “soul-mate-ism conveys an expectation of heavenly connection that makes earthbound relationships more difficult.”

University of Virginia sociology professor Brad Wilcox explains in his important new book, Get Married, that the 2019 California Family Survey, fielded by YouGov, “found that married men and women who embraced the ‘soulmate’ model were more likely to report that their marriage might not last, compared to those who took the family-first view.”

Wilcox adds, “After controlling for education, race, ethnicity, and gender, the survey found that husbands and wives who took the soulmate view were about 90 percent more likely to report doubts about the future of their marriage.”

In contrast, Wilcox notes, “Husbands and wives who embrace the family first model of marriage – which is more other-centered – report not just more stable marriages but more satisfying ones than those who identify with the soulmate model.”

The California Family Survey revealed that married men and women who embrace the range of attitudes and behaviors found in a more family-first approach – committed more to the well-being of the family itself and its members – were “58 percent more likely to be satisfied with their marriages, compared to husbands and wives who were adherent of the soulmate model.”

What’s more, married mothers and fathers who strongly hold that “one of marriage’s key purposes is to give children the best shot at life” are 40 percent more likely to say they do not see divorce as a possibility in their future compared to those who see marriage as a means of personal happiness.

Wilcox posits, based on the current research,

Today, husbands and wives who embrace the family-first model enjoy a richer, more realistic view of marriage, one that pushes them to look beyond themselves and their own feelings to prioritize the welfare of their spouse and other family members.

He continues, “They understand that marital love is not about always being ‘in love’; rather, love is a  decision to will the good of the others in your family – starting with your husband or wife.”

The 2022 State of Our Unions report from the National Marriage Project revealed that husbands and wives who “completely agree” they are totally committed to their spouse and his/her well-being are markedly happier in their marriages than those who express a soulmate view of marriage. Wilcox expounds,

Net of socioeconomic controls, these married men and women are about five times more likely to be very happy in their marriages, and four times more likely to report that it is “not at all likely” their unions will end in divorce, compared to other husbands and wives who are not as committed.

Notably, 73% of married couples in the California Family Survey said they think marriage is more about a family-first model of “kids, money, and raising a family together,” while only 27% that marriage is about a soulmate connection of “intense emotional/romantic connection.”

This data shows us that the fundamental social institution of marriage exists to create unions that thrive on selflessness and service to others, just as scripture teaches us.


Image from Getty.