As early as the 12th Century, Roman Catholic theologians and writers referred to marriage as a sacrament, a sacred ceremony tied to experiencing God's presence. However, it wasn't until the Council of Trent in 1563 that marriage was officially deemed one of the seven sacraments, says Elizabeth Davies, of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
Following the development of Protestant theology, which did not recognise marriage as a sacrament, the Council felt a need to "clarify" marriage's place. "There was an underlying assumption that marriage was a sacrament, but it was clearly defined in 1563 because of the need to challenge teaching that suggested it wasn't," Davies says.
Through most of Western civilization, marriage has been more a matter of money, power and survival than of delicate sentiments. In medieval Europe, everyone from the lord of the manor to the village locals had a say in deciding who should wed. Love was considered an absurdly flimsy reason for a match. Even during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras, adultery and friendship were often more passionate than marriage. These days, we marry for love—and are rewarded with a blistering divorce rate.
In considering the period of Charles I and the Civil War, Peters describes the transition that the image of marriage went through as a result of the divisive issues in the 1620s and 1630s, and the trauma of armed conflict. In doing so, she shows the transition from a marriage in which the husband (the king) is absolute, to one in which the spouse (Parliament) has the right to rebel; and then the transformation of the marriage contract as a model to that of fathers and sons as described in Filmer's Patriarcha. For the later Stuarts, with their parliamentary difficulties and the exclusion crisis, there were those royalists who argued for Adam as the first father and husband, while theorists like Locke, for instance, put forward a concept of parental authority.
Furthermore, many of the things people think are unprecedented in family life today are not actually new. Almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before. There have been societies and times when nonmarital sex and out-of-wedlock births were more common and widely accepted than they are today. Stepfamilies were much more numerous in the past, the result of high death rates and frequent remarriages. Even divorce rates have been higiher in some regions and periods than they are in Europe and North America today. And same-sex marriage, though rare, has been sanctioned in some cultures under certain conditions.
The increasing prominence of marital therapists and relationship experts after the War may be tied to the rise of a larger therapeutic culture in America. Family values and psychological maintenance went hand-in-hand. As Celello notes, there is ample evidence of an increase in psychological awareness, vocabulary and expenditures in the latter half of the 20th century: Joseph Veroff finds that in 1976 one-half of Americans said they would consider seeking help for a hypothetical personal problem, an increase from the one-third of respondents who said they would seek help in 1956.