In an arranged marriage, the marital partners are chosen by parents, community elders, matchmakers, or religious leaders in an effort to guide young people through the process of finding the right person to marry. Arranged marriages worldwide encompass a wide variety of procedures, cultural customs, length of courtship, as well as the practical and spiritual reasons for the matching of the partners. Generally, such a match is based on considerations other than pre-existing mutual attraction. Traditional arranged marriages became less common in the twentieth century, with the majority of young people in most cultures selecting their own spouse, with or without parental approval. However, with the increasing prevalence of divorce among marriages for love, advocates of arranged marriage argue that its values—where the expectation of love is weak at the beginning but ideally grows over time—makes for a stronger and more lasting marital bond.
Historically, arranged marriages between kings or clan leaders have been utilized to cement political alliances. In more recent times, Rev. Sun Myung Moon revived this idea, promoting cross-cultural arranged marriages as a way to promote world peace.
The term "arranged marriage" is usually used to describe a marriage which involves the parents in a process of selecting marriage partners for their children, with or without the help of a matchmaker. There are several types:
Child marriage: The parents of a small child (even infants) arrange a future marriage with another child's parents. The children are betrothed or promised to each other. Often the two children never even meet each other until the wedding ceremony, when they are both of an acceptable marriageable age—which differs based upon custom. In some cultures, the age is at or even before the onset of puberty. Many people who have been married in this way do grow to love and cherish their spouses after the marriage.
Exchange Marriage: This form of marriage involves a reciprocal exchange of spouses between two nations, groups, or tribes. For example, among the Australian Aborigines, the ideal model of any marriage contract is that two men of different groups should marry each other's sisters. This creates a completely symmetrical arrangement, strengthened by the implicit threat that if one husband abuses his wife, the other husband can retaliate against his sister.
Diplomatic Marriage: Marriages are arranged for political reasons, to cement alliances between royal families. The monarchs of Europe were all related by blood due to frequent diplomatic marriages.
Introduction only: The parents introduce their child to a potential spouse that they found through a personal recommendation or a website. The parents may briefly talk to the parents of the prospective spouse. From that point, it is up to the children to manage the relationship and make a choice based on whatever factors they value, love or otherwise (although premarital sex is usually frowned upon). The parents may try to influence the child's choice, or generally pressure their child to choose someone while they are still of "marriageable age."
Love-cum-arranged marriage: This is matrimony between a mutually acceptable and consenting couple that has been facilitated by the couple’s parents. Etymological note: cum is Latin for “with" or “together with."
Mail Order: Sometimes, the term "arranged marriage" may be used even if the parents had no direct involvement in selecting the spouse. A "mail-order bride" is selected by a man from a catalog of women from other countries, sometimes with the assistance of a marriage agency. Mail-order husbands also exist through "reverse publications." Rather than waiting to be contacted, women can contact men directly from advertisements in publications. In such a case, an arranged marriage may be beneficial because the man's parents can become acquainted with the woman and her family to better ensure that she is not misrepresenting herself in order to simply immigrate to a wealthy country. Also, the woman's parents can learn about the man and his family to ensure that their daughter will be safe in a foreign country.
Modern arranged marriage: The parents choose several possible mates for the child, sometimes with the help of the child (who may indicate which photos he or she likes, for example). The parents will then arrange a meeting with the family of the prospective mate, and the two children will often have a short unsupervised meeting, such as an hour-long walk around the neighborhood. The child then chooses who they wish to marry (if anyone), although parents may exert varying degrees of pressure on the child to make a certain choice.
Modern arranged marriage with courtship: This is similar to the modern arranged marriage, except that the children have a chance to get to know each other over a longer period of time via e-mail, phone, or multiple in-person meetings, before making a decision.
World Wide Web Services: For more information on matching and online services, see Matchmaker.
In traditional Indian Hindu society, the caste system prohibits males and females from mixing freely, and so young people rely on arranged marriages by their parents to find their spouse. Educational and economic backgrounds are taken into consideration by the parents. In twenty-first century India, the caste system is somewhat less rigid, and the preferences of the couple are taken into account. It is possible to marry outside of the sub-caste, one’s own language, or province as long as they are still within the same caste. Age and dowry are important aspects of the matching.
Since marriage is considered a marriage of the families rather than just the individuals, the process involved in an arranged marriage can be different depending on the communities and families. Generally, it involves a search for a match, exchange of information, background checks, determining the marriage logistics (dowry, house, wedding expenses etc.), arrangement of acceptance, and the beginning of an engagement period.
In Pakistan, several types of exchange marriage exist. In certain tribal regions and rural areas there is a custom known as "Pait Likkhi" (Urdu: پیٹ لکھی) (Pait (Urdu: پیٹ ) means "stomach" and Likkhi (Urdu: لکھی) means "written;" literally written on stomach). This involves two families agreeing to marry their children while they are still infants, or even before they are born. The actual marriage takes place when groom and bride are in their late teens or adults. "Watta satta" (Urdu: وٹہ سٹہ, literally "give" and "take") is the custom of exchange brides between two clans. In order for a family to arrange a marriage for their son, they must also have a daughter to be married in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son's spouse, a cousin, or more distant relative is acceptable.
Participants in these marriage customs stress that they follow Islamic law (Sharia). The law in Pakistan prohibits women from marrying without parental consent, based on Islamic teachings in the Qur'an that require fathers to protect their daughters, which has been interpreted as advocating arranged marriages. Specifically, it is seen as a father's duty to find suitable husbands for his daughters. However, he should not force them into unwanted marriages.
Nevertheless, there are also child marriage practices in Pakistan that appear to violate Islamic laws. For instance, "Vani" (Urdu: ونی) is a child marriage custom in tribal areas in which blood feuds are settled with forced marriages. A young bride may spend her life paying for the crime of her male relative.
Even though arranged marriages were once the norm in Chinese society, it has become common practice for young people to choose their own spouse. However, after the couple decides to marry, the parents, or older relatives, take over all the arrangements, observing the traditional customs. In Chinese culture, a marriage is not just between two people, but an establishing of a relationship between two families. The groom's parents investigate the reputation and lineage of the bride’s family. A meeting will take place for the families to meet, usually with the bride and groom present. The bride’s family will take this opportunity to ask about the status and wealth of the groom’s family, and to ensure that their daughter will be treated well. If the parents are not happy about the background of the other family, the wedding does not take place. If both families accept the match, the wedding and engagement negotiations continue according to traditional customs.
Shim-pua marriage (Taiwanese: sin-pū-á, sim-pū-á) was a Taiwanese tradition of arranged marriage, where a poor family, burdened by too many children, would sell a young daughter to a richer family for labor, and in exchange, the poorer family would be married into the richer family, through the daughter. The girl acted both as an adopted daughter to be married with a young male member of the adopted family in the future and as free labor. Shim-pua marriage fell out of practice in the 1970s, due to increased wealth from Taiwan's economic success.
By the end of the twentieth century in Japan, approximately 30 percent of marriages continued to be the traditional arranged marriages called omiai (Japanese: お見合い). Those seeking an arranged marriage enlist the help of a nakōdo (Japanese: 仲人), "go-between" or matchmaker. After being matched, the couple meets and decides if they feel suitable for each other. The parents are usually present at the first meeting. The couple continues to meet socially over a period of time before deciding to marry.
In Korea, traditionally the primary emphasis for marriages was on lineage and prosperity of the family. The social status of the husband's family was greatly affected by the marriage, and so marriage between different social classes was rare. A matchmaker relayed information about social and economic status as well as other factors. Often agreements for the future wedding were made when the participants were very young. According to the traditional way of the past, the couple did not meet one another until the wedding. By the late twentieth century, arranged marriages had become rare except in rural areas. In these cases a matchmaker is still involved, but the couple makes the final decision about marriage. This process, called chungmae, allows the couple to meet but several traditional procedures are still followed.
Among Muslims, an arranged marriage refers to a marriage where husband and wife became acquainted during meetings initially arranged by their parents, with the stated intention of finding a spouse. This process usually starts with the family asking questions about the personality, beauty, family, education, and finances of a potential partner. After finding someone that appears to be compatible, they make a recommendation for the couple to begin meeting. Islam prohibits unmarried, unrelated men and women being alone together and physical relationships are not part of the meetings. The couple makes the decision whether to accept the marriage or not, since Islamic law prohibits marrying anyone against his or her will.
Shidduch (or shiduch) (Hebrew: שידוך, pl. shid[d]uchim שידוכי means a "[a] match" between a man and a woman, as well as the system of introducing eligible and marriageable singles to each other in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The Talmud (tractate Kiddushin 41a) states that a man may not marry a woman until having seen her first. This edict is based on the Torah statement: "Love your neighbor (re'acha) like yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), where the word "neighbor" can be interpreted as "spouse." In other words, a marriage that is arranged so completely that the prospective couple has not even seen each other is strongly discouraged, based on the understanding that such a marriage is likely to be doomed without love.
In many groups belonging to Orthodox Judaism, dating between the sexes is limited to the search of a partner for marriage, and only follows a period during which both sides (usually the parents, close relatives or friends of the persons involved) make inquiries regarding the prospective partner, such as on his/her character and level of religious observance.
A shidduch is often begun by a suggestion from close family members, friends or by people (men and women) who have made this process their hobby or even their vocation (a shadkhan or "matchmaker"). A professional shadkhan often charges a fee for his or her services.
After the match has been proposed, the prospective partners see each other a number of times. It depends on the community practice how many times a couple meets before a decision has to be made whether there will be an engagement or not.
Historically, diplomatic marriages between members of royal families have been a means to seal political alliances. The form of the marriage set the terms of the alliance. When a king of one state married a the princess of a neighboring state, it signaled the former state’s superiority. For example, the Bible brags about King Solomon’s marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1, 9:16) because it established Israel’s rank above Egypt. When a king married his son to a neighboring state’s daughter, it indicated an alliance among equals, as when Marie Antoinette, the fourth daughter of Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria-Hungary, married the dauphin (crown prince) of France, who would become King Louis XVI.
While arranged marriages are normally contracted among families within the same community, far-sighted leaders have employed arranged marriages to bind together disparate cultures and nationalities in their realms. The most notable of these was Alexander the Great, who in 324 married 10,000 of his officers to Persian women. The mass wedding, held at Susa, was a model of Alexander's desire to consummate the union of the Greek and Iranian peoples.
In modern times, Rev. Sun Myung Moon advocated cross-cultural arranged marriages as a means of peace-building. Couples from enemy nations who work out great differences in the crucible of married life are said to contribute to the resolution of their nations’ historical and cultural conflicts. Thus, in 1988 he arranged marriages of 6,500 couples where one partner was Korean and the other was from Japan—Korea’s historical enemy resented for the brutality of its colonial rule during the first half of the twentieth century. The international couples recognized the challenge of creating harmony between each other in spite of their different nationalities, cultures, and historical memories, as a way to contribute to the reconciliation between their nations. Rev. Moon described the process:
Imagine two enemy families who have cursed each other throughout their lives, people who would never dream of living together. What would happen if these families joined together through a cross-cultural Holy Marriage Blessing? A son from one family and a daughter from the other family become husband and wife, love each other and build a happy home. Would the parents in each family curse their own children? When their son loves this beautiful daughter of a hated enemy, and she as their daughter-in-law gives birth... the grandparents would smile with pleasure. In time the two lineages that were once soaked with enmity will be transformed.
The debate surrounds one main question: can an individual be trusted to make his or her own decision about choosing a mate, and if not, can the parents do a better job of it?
Opponents of arranged marriages often believe that only individuals have the right to make such a choice, and that they will ultimately be happier making their own decisions. In such a view, the romantic attraction between the partners is a primary consideration.
Critics are also concerned about a person's ability to adapt to another person from a different background, especially if they have spent no time together before their marriage. In cases of international arranged marriages, brides may face cultural and linguistic barriers in their new countries and with their husbands. Husbands are unfamiliar with their new wife's culture, language, food preferences, or religious practices.
Critics also note that some parents or matchmakers may have stereotyped ideas and the spouses and/or families may be disappointed. Equally, the parents may have a self-centered motivation, choosing a spouse based on their family connections or occupation, rather than on suitability to their own child.
Proponents of arranged marriage often note that individuals can be too easily influenced by the effects of romantic love to make a good choice. In some societies, such as China, the relationships between generations in the family are more valued than the marital relationship. The whole purpose of the marriage is to have a family.
Religious couples believe their marriage should have God at its center, and through that connection true love will emerge between them. If their spouse is introduced to them by their parents or religious leader, the couple can make the first step toward centering their marriage on a higher purpose rather than their own individual desires.
Furthermore, proponents believe that parents can be trusted to make a match that is in the best interests of their children. They hold that parents have much practical experience to draw from and are less misguided by emotions and hormones. Love has been known to blind people to potential problems in the relationship such as the Arabic saying: "the mirror of love is blind, it makes zucchini into okra." In addition to this, it is common for families to be involved in the relationship and therefore natural for the families to feel connected to the lives of the couple. This tends to create a network of support for the couple.
Arranged marriages have existed since ancient times and the process has continued to be developed along with the technological advances. Critics and proponents of arranged marriage both agree that true love is the main component for a happy marriage and family. Spiritual and cultural backgrounds and practices play a large part in arranged marriages. While some critics like to see a couple spend more time together before the marriage in order to understand each other's character and personality, many proponents of arranged marriage expect this process to take place after the commitment of marriage.
Exchange marriages between children of different, possibly enemy, families in some cases lead to increased resentment and hatred, and in others to the resolution of old grievances and the embrace of former enemies into one family. The difference stems from the basic motivation for the marriage. Marrying the son or daughter of your enemy does not always bring reconciliation, especially when, as in some arranged marriages in Pakistan, the marriage takes place in order for the parent to "pay" for a crime (such as murder) and the daughter of the criminal spends her life suffering at the mercy of the resentful family. The key to overcoming such resentments or feuds is the desire of the couple to overcome the past and develop new relationships.
When the relationship between two people is based on self-centered desires, any kind of marriage is doomed to produce difficulties. On the other hand, when a couple is committed to putting their family’s welfare above their own desires, obstacles can be overcome naturally and such a couple can find lasting happiness. In an arranged marriage, their efforts to this end are strengthened because they recognize that their union has significance for more than just themselves; it means the uniting of two families, two clans, even two nations.
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