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What Are Arranged Marriages?

Wedding bands atop a marriage contract excerpt.
When spouses don't meet until the day of their wedding, it is referred to as an arranged marriage.
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  • Originally Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Revised By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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Arranged marriages are marriages in which family members take a significant role in bringing a couple together. Relatives, particularly parents, often take the initiative to find, evaluate, and approve potential spouses for their children. In some cases, the couple may marry while still relative strangers under the expectation that they will develop a loving relationship over time. These marriages are in contrast to so-called "love marriages," in which a couple is drawn together by mutual attraction and makes the decision to marry on their own. While often associated with cultures in the Middle East, Africa, and India, these arrangements are not unknown in Western countries, particularly among immigrant populations.

Reasons for Arranged Marriages

Religious or cultural issues, preservation of wealth, or the formation of political alliances are common reasons for arranged marriages. Those who practice family-led courtship and marriage may also argue that such relationships tend to be happier and more stable than those that result from modern, western dating practices.

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Religious and Cultural Issues

Many religions and cultures have taboos against the interaction of unmarried people of different sexes. In Islam and some branches of Orthodox Judaism, for example, social segregation of the sexes is the norm, making it difficult for individuals to meet potential spouses on their own. Many cultures also view marriage as an alliance between families, rather than just between two individuals. Families want to make sure that new spouses will make suitable family members, and the best way to ensure compatibility is to be involved in the process of choosing the spouse.

Dynastic and Financial

Historically, families often negotiated marriages to reinforce political alliances or to consolidate wealth. Royalty and nobility typically arranged marriages between their children and the children of other royal and noble houses for political reasons, such as to ensure peace or solidify agreements between nations. A family with significant wealth and property might also encourage its children to marry others with similar or greater amounts of money to maintain the same level of wealth. Those families with high social standing but little money, on the other hand, might arrange a marriage to a wealthy person of lower social status; such a marriage could stabilize the noble family's finances while raising the social status of the lower-ranking family.

Other Reasons

Supporters of arranged marriage often claim that parents usually have a good understanding of what will give their children long-term happiness, making them ideal candidates for choosing the child's spouse. Sociological studies have shown that individuals from similar backgrounds have a better chance of having a happy marriage. When parents arrange a marriage for their children, they are likely to focus on areas of mutual compatibility other than sexual attraction, which can fade over time. Without other factors holding relationships together, such as mutual respect, similar values, and family support, couples are at higher risk of divorce.

The Matchmaking Process

The process for bringing two people together as potential spouses varies by cultural and personal preferences. In many communities, a professional matchmaker introduces men and women to each other in hopes of making a match. Friends or family members may also take it upon themselves to make introductions. In the late 20th century, Internet-based matchmaking services also became available, allowing parents of marriage-age children to consider candidates from around the world.

A significant part of the matchmaking process is the sharing of information about potential spouses. Families and candidates for marriage may receive photographs and detailed reports on a person's family, education, and finances. In some cultures, the family may also consult a fortuneteller or astrologer to determine whether the marriage will be successful. If both families are comfortable with the information provided, they may choose to investigate the possibility of arranging a union.

Courtship

While some families may arrange a marriage in which the spouses don’t meet until their wedding day, many communities discourage this practice. Instead, a man and a woman are encouraged to get to know each other before an engagement or wedding. Some families may permit the couple to meet several times in the presence of a chaperone or even to spend time alone in a public place.

Engagement

As is true for other aspects of an arranged marriage, family, cultural, and religious customs dictate the engagement process. In some cases, the bride's family must approach the groom’s family, while in other cases the groom's family takes the initiative. The matchmaker may be entrusted with bringing a proposal to either side. The engagement may require the families to draw up a marriage contract that may include some type of financial settlement, such as a dowry.

Consent

An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage. Typically, parents grant their children veto power over who they will (or will not) marry. In addition, both civil and religious law often forbids using coercion to get someone to marry against his or her will. For example, Islam explicitly prohibits marriages without consent and requires a woman to agree to the marriage three times in front of witnesses. Unfortunately, forced marriages do take place in some places, and laws against the practice are not always enforced.

Arguments Against Arranged Marriages

Despite strong support for arranged marriages in some cultures and communities, many people oppose them. Opponents note that some families are insensitive to or unaware of their children’s needs and desires, and therefore may arrange unions that lead to unhappiness on either or both sides. In addition, some families may be primarily concerned with social status or financial gain in making a match between their children; this can lead to marriages between people who are otherwise incompatible.

Exploitation and abuse sometimes occur under the guise of arranged marriage. These problems include forced marriages, those involving underage children, and immigration fraud. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have enacted strict immigration laws that require couples to meet in person at least once before the government will issue a marriage visa to the non-citizen partner.

Success Rates

Sociologists note that divorce rates in countries where arranged marriages are common are often significantly lower than in countries where people choose their own spouses. While some experts credit the parent-led courtship process for producing better relationships, not everyone agrees with this analysis. Some critics point out that cultures that practice arranged marriage typically also frown on divorce. This may mean while divorce is less common, the marriages themselves may not be happy or healthy relationships.

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Discuss this Article

anon344434
Post 38

It is easier to poke fun at people from behind a computer screen. I would appeal to the kindheartedness in us all to be civil as we discuss this important topic.

I am from the US. Yet, I have a large number of friends from India. I am commenting on behalf of them now, especially for those who say there is a difference between "arranged" and "forced". I would offer that, if a parent says marry them or it's time for you to get out my house unprepared for life, I would feel forced to marry. If a parent, who I respect and love, tells me to marry them or you will disappoint me and I will treat you differently, I will feel forced to marry.

I also believe there is a difference between an arranged "meeting" (blind date) and an arranged marriage. I have been with my lovely wife for 20 years, and I know first hand that the fewer people you have involved in your relationship (at any stage) then the happier your union. (or at least that worked for me and mine).

Those who defend arranged/forced ("it wasn't my idea") marriages based on the fact that the divorce rate is lower, it does not address the true measurement of success which is that it makes the happiness rate higher. Don't be fooled by low divorce rates. It could only be a sign of a high tolerance rate for pain. -- Will

anon331218
Post 36

Reading all these comments has made me laugh. It is incredible that the majority of people who posted don't know a single thing about arranged marriages.

First, please learn to distinguish between 'arranged' and 'forced'.

Second, arranged marriages aren't only a middle-eastern/Indian thing. If you look at society closely, you'll see that a lot of marriages are arranged knowingly or unknowingly. I mean, what do call it when friends set up their friends with guys/girls? Arranged, obviously!

Finally, please open your minds everyone. No, you don't have to accept the concept of arranged marriages, but the least you can do is to respect it.

P.S. You shouldn't believe all that the media puts out there. They never publish all four corners of a story.

anon330889
Post 35

They say that old people always speak and advise wisely. They have experience of their own marriage and also about other people's marriages in their circle of relatives and friends. Basically, a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. So says Ruth Bell Graham.

I don't think the young generation is mature enough to choose their own life partner. When we allow young people to take their own decisions, it results in breaking of marriages, leading to an increase in the divorce rate all over the world. For this reason, arranged marriages should not be criticized.

anon326102
Post 34

The arranged marriage is a plague on the Eastern mindset. It's not easy to say you come from a screwed up social order.

The main power behind arranged marriages are religious institutions, years of brainwashing and a low end understanding of human rights.

Most Eastern socialists adhere to this charismatic thought that the arranged marriage is a normal thing of life, and yet they are raping the very foundation of innocence in order to selectively control population and wealth. It's about keeping family lines strong and producing offspring in order to carry on the legacy.

anon231321
Post 28

I think arranged marriage is making my children meet people whom we want them to marry. It's very hard on the young marriage-potential boys and girls to see themselves judged on the basis of their academics, careers and life experiences rather than who the kind of person they are. It's a very bad practice and it should be stopped.

How I am with my spouse and the whole life has no bearing on whether we find each other's qualities to be worthy of any negotiation like marriage or engagement, and courtship is nothing, but when you are forced to date someone who seems to fulfill important criteria.

To me, marriage, even in bible and quaran, is mentioned to provide the seed for unconditional love, so I don't think unconditional love can come from this type of silly setup like arranged marriages. It is better to be single and happy rather than putting yourself out as an object in the marriage market, hoping that demands would eventually equal supplies, one day.

anon219484
Post 27

I'm muslim,too and as I grew up, I kind of knew that someday my parents might decide to send me on an arranged marriage occasion. I can say yes or no but they have to choose the guy. Now I'm in my mid-20s and realize that after years of having fallen apart from society, literally because my family is quite conservative and dumb, and lives in a hole where nobody knows them.

I have the urge to be free, to be calm and with no negative feelings. I don't know, but my father always reacts badly when a guy approaches our family, even if its my cousin whom I don't know. That cousin is going to an arranged marriage and stays with us for two days because the girl he is to marry lives in our country, and my father reacts as if he's here for me.

I know that between father and daughter there's a male wanting to control the female thing, but he's going too far. In fact, I think actually my father is a complete idiot. He doesn't know how to handle life and use money. All he does is lose lots of money because he's dumb, and I should let my life be decided by him? He's an idiot who wants attention but speaks crap when people listen to him.

I don't want to see my life ruined, but I'm so shattered, because after all, family is family, and somehow I can't get out of the family situation. He threatens me that if he finds out I chat with boys or look at boys he would turn into Hitler and slit my throat. I don't really care what he tells because I'm in a situation where I'm trying to find myself now and if I find the right guy, I definitely won't listen to my parents, because I know they know nothing about life, and if that moment happens, then I'm off.

But until then, I have to change. We muslims grow up very strict and when we realize that something's wrong, it's almost too late and we already have a social phobia and are very self-conscious because in every situation we hear our parents' forbidding phrases, "You are not allowed to do this and that."

I'm telling you: either I escape from home or I go into a mental hospital.

anon212397
Post 25

I think I don't agree with all your opinions.

anon176191
Post 24

I don't agree with the "arranged marriage", for it restricts the freedom to experience the gradual change from favorable impression. But anything exists for its own reason and we should not take it for granted that it's right or wrong.

anon165781
Post 22

Arranged marriage is bad. i think parents have the right to think about their children they know what is good for their child.

anon164647
Post 21

I am a born and raised westerner who has traveled the world and experienced many cultures. Even my own family is a mixture of native american and european cultures - and "arranged marriages" have been a norm for many generations in both families.

I have dated, been in love, lived with my partner, etc. I could have a love marriage, but the truth is that these are fickle. Even in the love marriages which have endured, that love has changed over time to a level of commitment - not much different from where an arranged marriage begins. And as pointed out before, "arranged" can be a loose term. Websites dole out "arranged" relationships left and right.

Your parents knowing a girl from a family they respect, that could be an "arranged" marriage. It's more a level of match-making, where the parents strive to find the best mate for their children.

In some regions, sure there are socio-economic considerations, but even in western "love" marriages, rarely are socio-economic differences totally ignored. People will still date those which they want to be associated with. Perhaps the largest difference is that in the looser end of western culture, there is no respect for family, so people in this mindset do not think or care about the family of the person they are marrying. The "in laws" are not respected (in fact their own parents may receive little if any respect), and thus the "love" aspect is further entwined with momentary passion and lust. But on the more conservative end of the western culture, we find that many parents do in fact influence the spouse selection ("you must marry within the church”) or "Your spouse needs to have an education" or "Your spouse needs a job."

So then, what crime is it for me to say: "Respected elders of my family, I am willing to listen to your thoughts on the prospect of my marriage; to consider the families which you would suggest; to take a chance on getting to know the person(s) which you would select for me."

It doesn't take a year to figure out if we're attracted or not, and once the engagement process is complete, we can get on living our lives and fostering our love. With each of us committed to making it work, and an underlying natural attraction (remember, we are not forced to marry, only arranged to meet). I think the idea has merit, and should be further considered by everyone.

regin24
Post 20

most of the westerners think of arranged marriage as something cruel or forced. A modern day arranged marriage is where the role of parents is only to introduce their son/ daughter to a prospective partner and give them the freedom to decide if they want to marry the person or not.

At most, the parents can give their advice to their child, but not force them in a modern day arranged marriage.

anon149102
Post 19

Although from latin america, my spouse was from a select group of chosen potential spouses, as i was for her. the family strength came first. It was arranged in every sense, and pre approved in every sense. love, as romanticized in the usa media was not a part of it at all.

30-plus years later and still strong. our daughter, also married from a select group, as agreed by her parents and his.

Youth is a dangerous cocktail of feelings and emotions and lust. Not the best condition on which to make a life long contract.

Romantic love is much overstated, and leads to many horrid relationships and catastrophic economic conditions.

i fully support 'arranged' marriages.

anon146499
Post 18

I live in a country and in a state where arranged marriage prevails very much and love marriages are still an amusement to the society. I know it for the fact that arranged marriages usually turn into a 'forced-marriage' and like someone already mentioned, it turns bad when you can't divorce your partner no matter how much you hate the person due to parental and society pressure. If you're lucky, your affection grows for your partner and you'll stay happy till the end. But the point is: arranged marriages usually turns into a forced marriage. The couples who get married in an arranged setup, you'd rarely find them fully into their partners.

anon144796
Post 16

Arranged marriages are most of the time successful because, at the same time, divorce is also a horrible thing in cultures where arrange marriages are the trend setters. What will people think is going on in their minds and they would rather remain lifelong slaves than get the society talking! Arranged marriages = profile marriages. Education, religion, caste, clan, etc. will be judged, and not the person!

Love comes after the marriage is what they often say, but they don't understand one needs to stick with the one they got married with and they will eventually have to name it love -- an unnaturally born love, more a forced love!

People are just making lives hell on earth! You know, most of the time they say parents have the golden eye to see though out the potential prospects. Guess why? Because they, at their time, never had an other option so they just want to move on the power they get as parents.

It's a sort of tradition and they will just stick to it no matter what happens on earth. What matters for these sort of people is "what will other people think and say?" and not what their own kids want and feel!

anon143261
Post 15

This arranged marriage strips off the happiness of two people in love. i hate this idea.

To the parents who are reading this, please don't be selfish. you are there to guide your children. you are there to give your children their basic needs, but they are not your property. so let them choose who ever they want to be with for the rest of their life.

my boyfriend and i are victims of this arranged marriage. to all close minded parents: you have no idea what are your children are going through. may God bless your souls. and to jeff i hope you are brave enough to fight for us.

anon140376
Post 14

I question the validity of the claim that "brief courtship" exists in arranged marriage. Of what use is a courtship that is brief enough to last for a few hours at the maximum (which is the case in most arranged marriages)?

And that list in which parents supposedly create, picking a match would be more on astrology/caste/religion/status/appearance, not actual compatibility. When there is no other choice other than to live with a specific person, you tend to forcibly get used to liking that life. It does not equal love, which is born naturally.

anon133319
Post 13

The ignorance of those nowadays is hard to believe. Arranged marriages may seem wrong for some areas because it is not in their culture. This american freedom to choose is not available everywhere.

In many modern day countries like India, you have a selection to choose from that are "parent approved."

What is so bad about that?

anon132005
Post 12

Arranged marriages might seem an alien concept to westerners. But look around and you see so many men and women who are either single/divorced. These people go on blind dates,attend speed dating venues, are members on some dating websites etc., etc.

If these meetings for a potential life partner can be 'arranged' by people who know so little about you and still find many takers, I fail to understand why a meeting with a potential marriageable guy/girl arranged by parents/relatives who know your preferences should be viewed so negatively.

And contrary to popular belief, a vast majority of these marriages are not forced. I think people who have posted negative comments here have dated views/believe just hearsay.

anon129785
Post 11

Although I don't agree with arranged marriages, and will never thoroughly grasp the concept, as a final year Law student I have been discussing the issue.

I think anon118544 is uneducated, as he/she clearly did not understand the article.

Firstly this article relates to arranged, and not forced marriages, and obviously you didn't distinguish between the two.

Secondly Buddhism and Hinduism do not require the wearing of a headscarf/ I think you will find that this is Islam.

I don't agree with arranged marriages, however living in a multicultural society, I think one has to be accepting and learn more about different cultures before they can judge. For it really is ignorant to just believe what you read!

anon118544
Post 10

Well, everyone has their opinions obviously. But still. I personally don't think people should be allowed to force their children into marrying someone they don't love/know yet. Possibly just let them fall in love on their own. Just because the women are westerners doesn't mean anything. Everyone is a person.

I don't like Buddhism or Hinduism or any other culture that makes women wear head wear on their heads all the time (most of the time possibly) and it's really annoying when I hear about acid being thrown on their faces when they take it off. So off subject. This really isn't right.

anon96885
Post 9

I didn't like the comments by anon86852, i think that person is closed minded. Before you can speak about a certain group of people, and justify why they choose to do thing the way they do them (things like marriage, you should get to know them.

Marrying someone from the same religion, and cultural background is the reason why those people go back to their countries to find their spouses.

Stop thinking that the universe revolves around the United States and the people in it. in case you forgot, the greatest thing about the united states is its diversity. so imagine if all those people you are mad at for choosing their partners from different countries, all married local americans, our diversity would disappear.

Some people in this world just need to live and let live.

anon84601
Post 5

Even if arranged marriages did end badly often, who are we to say that a large part of their culture is wrong and that they should stop? Yes, they often are for "money or political/society standings", but if you really think about it, half the weddings in our culture are as well.

anon77138
Post 4

people who are uneducated in the matter are the ones that think arranged marriages are bad. Not all relationships end up bad. In most cases they come out good.

anon74141
Post 2

arranged marriage is a crime for both partners. it should stop.

lokilove
Post 1

Aren't women pretty much always the victim of forced marriages?! I've never heard of a forced marriage where the man has become abused etc.

Being a westerner, I just don't see how an arranged marriage could be a good thing. But then I didn't grow up with it as everyday knowledge I guess. Seems to me that the only motivation behind arranged marriages is for money or political/society standings.

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