Why Do People Stay in Unhappy Marriages? "Marital Privilege" May Be the Answer

Elle Silver

Marriage offers incredible financial and social advantages.

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What is marital privilege? A certain advantage that married couples have over singles.

According to Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author: “People who marry enjoy social, cultural, economic, and political advantages that single people do not, simply because they are married.”

DePaulo goes on to write in her article on the subject that appeared in Psychology Today. “The other half is singlism, the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single.”

The social psychologist explains what she means by this:

Singlism is not as vicious as some of the other isms such as racism or heterosexism… Still, the boxed set of marital privilege and singlism touches so many aspects of single people’s lives that it simply cannot be dismissed. Over the course of a lifetime, the unfair treatment adds up.

Let’s face it: the world favors married people and discriminates against singles.

The privilege of being married.

Many of the privileges married couples enjoy are financial in nature. Investopedia describes tax breaks for married partners:

Couples with unequal incomes generally get a marriage bonus.
The new tax brackets may mean that couples filing jointly are in a lower bracket.

(The “new tax brackets” are part of a law passed by Congress to benefit married partners.)

According to writer Vicky Larson in her piece on Aeon, “Marriage Should Not Come With Any Social Benefits or Privileges,” there are many more perks and legal protections afforded to the married.

Spouses in the US can pass on Medicare, as well as Social Security, disability, veterans and military benefits. They can get health insurance through a spouse’s employer; receive discounted rates for homeowners’, auto and other types of insurance; make medical decisions for each other as well as funeral arrangements; and take family leave to care for an ill spouse, or bereavement leave if a spouse dies.

It doesn't stop there. DePaulo also cites the social and cultural advantages of being married. Married people are looked up to and believed to be happier in our society while single people are dismissed and pitied.

And yet, anyone who’s ever been married also knows how difficult marriage can be. Combined with the advantages of staying married, it's no wonder it's so difficult to divorce.

The stigma divorced people face.

If being married is favored in our society, being divorced carries a stigma. According to a survey carried out by the British family law firm Slater and Gordon, close to half of the divorced respondents interviewed said they faced “daily judgment from people because their marriage has failed.”

The study also found: “…one in ten [respondents] said that they continued working at their marriage because they felt like there was a stigma to being a divorcee.”

A third of the interviewees expressed “they knew getting divorced would be seen as a personal failure so kept trying to salvage their marriage as a result.”

Over half of the divorcees “lost friends after their divorce.”

Is it any wonder that no matter how unhappy a couple might be, many are loath to divorce? Why should they want to when it's so much more advantageous socially, culturally, and financially to stay married.

To be married is to be privileged. Maybe you feel this is as it should be.

I'd love to hear your take on the matter. Please let me know in the comments.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA
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