There is nothing new in marriage between different classes – kings and queens have done it before and royal heirs of today are still doing it. And yet the institution of marriage all over the world has somehow always aligned itself along horizontal lines so that the majority of people appear to choose partners from roughly similar cultural and economic background. If you on the other hand are thinking of marrying someone from a different class, here are a few aspects you may wish to consider first.
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More money often means more power
Though the idea of more money equaling more power in a relationship seems like a bad after-taste of nineteenth century Utilitarianism and the materialism of the Industrial Revolution, nevertheless the economics of relationships continues to be an ugly fact. Rarely is any marital relationship completely even in its power-sharing dynamics – almost every marriage has a partner who is empowered to take more important decisions than the other. And in modern times, power is usually associated with financial resources. In cross-class marriages, one partner will usually have more money, therefore more options and, almost inevitably, more power in the relationship. This imbalance of power may not have been problematic in times when marriage was not supposed to be a relationship between equals – in patriarchal societies, it was accepted that the male partner would wield more sexual, economic and political sway over the female partner in all institutions ranging from law, medicine, governance to family and marriage. Likewise in matrilineal societies, a husband submitted to living with his wife’s family and adapting himself to the ways of the established household. The notion that marriage should ideally be a relationship between equals is relatively new, one that came about as a by product of female emancipation and increased egalitarianism in different social institutions in the latter half of the twentieth century. In this modern notion of marriage, if one partner has more power - as a result of access to greater financial resources - it becomes difficult to maintain the illusion of an equal relationship. The partner with the fewer resources thus feels controlled and disempowered and soon things lead to marital conflict with the less empowered partner taking recourse to other means - like denial of sexual love or neglect of domestic duties – to affirm his/her position in the marriage.
Difference in cultural assumptions
Marriage between partners from difference classes is not simply about two partners having different financial resources but also about clashing cultural and social norms. People who marry across class lines are moving outside their comfort zones, into the uncharted territory of partners with a different level of lifestyle and education. These differences are most starkly represented in the different set of assumptions that the partners may have about things like manners, food, child-rearing, gift-giving and how to spend vacations. Thus even though the partner from the so-called lower class may be earning a comparable salary, still his/her food habits, table manners and recreational preferences may clash with the partner who has spent his/her formative years in elite schools and among wealthy people. Something as practical as hobbies and interests may reveal a noticeable difference between partners brought up in different social classes – one may prefer bowling on Friday nights and meeting friends over in pubs while the other may wish to go sailing on the marina or go to the opera on Sunday night. While these differences may seem meagre in the context of romantic love, couples who share similar cultural tastes and habits have been known to better weather the everyday stresses and strains of married life.
Differences in value systems
At the heart of diverging cultural assumptions in different classes lies a different set of values as well. Even though basis code of morality is uniform for the whole society – as indeed it is codified in law – certain differences in what is and is not important for individuals and relationships may create a breach in an inter-class marriage. In a rural classes belonging to agrarian economies, for instance, family and kin networks are extremely important and individual choice is accorded less value. This is because farm and land-based economic activities are labor-intensive and need participation from several family members. On the other hand in urban professional classes, it is alright to follow individual impulses and gratify personal desires. Such differences in value systems could be difficult for a couple to adjust to, in case they come from different classes.
Bringing up kids
While a couple with a reasonable degree of maturity may be able to find a meeting ground between diverging cultural assumptions and value-systems, the cracks can be difficult to paper over when the time comes to bring up the next generation. The answer to questions like how to raise kids, which values to follow, which customs to adhere to will decide which class background is being given more importance since each parent will have a different way of doing all these things. In the event that children are being brought up according to the values and culture of a particular class, the partner from the other one may end up feeling like an outsider or even disempowered. For the children from the marriage too, exposure to differing and often clashing values and norms may create confusion, uncertainty and unfortunately compel them to take sides.
While love is bandied about the as the only reason for cross-class marriage, sometimes couples are less than honest about their motivations. Individuals from working classes seeking richer partners are nothing new – they see their partners as tickets to a more comfortable way of life without having to work forty-hour weeks for it. At the same time it is not necessary that wealthier singles always marry partners of so-called lower classes out of love – indeed motivations can range from getting a wife and housekeeper for the price of one to taking a poorly-off partner as a do-good project which may help the rich person to feel less guilty about his/her enormous, and usually inherited, wealth.
In the end, the success or failure of a marriage depends on the two people who make up the relationship. Mutual love, respect and trust are usually enough for two people from different backgrounds, whether that of class, religion or race, to have a life together. However if one is able to go ahead with eyes open and aware that there will be challenges, it will make the process that much easier.