My parents had an arranged marriage, as did their parents before them. I chose to take another route and fall in love before marriage, not after it.
But it’s always fascinated me – the complexities of arranged marriage and whether it actually works or not. So, in this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons so you can make up your own mind about it.
Let’s start with the good stuff:
The advantages of an arranged marriage
1) It’s an introduction rather than an instant marriage proposal
Contrary to popular belief, nowadays, an arranged marriage is not much different from your best friend introducing you to someone casually over drinks.
Okay, maybe minus the drinks but you get the gist – it should be an introduction and no pressure to jump straight into commitment.
My grandparent’s generation, for example, might have met their future spouse once (or sometimes not at all) before the wedding day. The families would do all the planning with little or no involvement from the actual couple.
Back in those times, and even in some very conservative families today, the couple will remain strangers until the day they wed.
A lot has changed since then – now, most families will introduce the couple and depending on religious practices, allow the pair to get to know each other, either alone or chaperoned.
Most couples will have a significant engagement period where they can date before marriage, get to know each other’s families, and start planning their future life together.
2) Shared values and beliefs make it easier to build a life together
Marriage is the act of two people coming together, and with them, they bring both their upbringings, habits, and traditions.
So when the family scout out a suitable partner for their child, they naturally try to choose someone who shares these values. This can range from:
- Having the same religious beliefs
- Being from the same or similar culture
- Working in similar sectors/having financial compatibility
Now, to some, this might sound limiting, and for good reason. My partner is of a different culture and religion than mine, and we love the diversity and sharing of our cultural practices.
But for many families, preserving these customs is of utmost importance. They want to pass down their beliefs to the next generation, and the easiest way to do this is by
finding a partner of similar standing.
And that’s not the only reason:
Couples who share the same values tend to experience less conflict since they’re already on the same page as each other.
And, if the couple’s upbringings are similar, it makes it easier for them to merge into each other’s families.
After all, in most cultures that practice arranged marriages, you don’t marry just your spouse, you marry into their family.
3) There’s no ambiguity around the other person’s intentions
Have you ever been in a relationship and a few months (or even years) down the line, wondered whether your partner wants to ever officially settle down with you or not?
Or, being on a first date, unable to work out whether the other person wants a one-night stand or something more serious?
Well, all that ambiguity is taken away with arranged marriage. Both parties know exactly what they’re there for – marriage.
I asked a cousin for her take on this – she had had boyfriends in the past, but ultimately opted for an arranged marriage when the time felt right.
She enjoyed the fact that when her (now) husband was first introduced to her, the time they spent getting to know each other was more meaningful because they both had the common goal of getting married.
They went on dates, spent hours chatting on the phone, all the usual excitement that comes with falling in love, yet their conversations were focused on figuring out if they would make suitable life partners for each other.
In her words, it saved a lot of faffing around and time-wasting.
4) You don’t have to do the hard work of finding “the one”
Let’s be honest, dating can be great fun, but it can also suck if you struggle to find people you connect with on a relationship level.
After a while, you can end up wondering how many frogs you need to kiss to find “the one”. In an arranged marriage, forget the frogs, your family will do their best to find someone they feel suits you in every way possible, the first time around.
Now, that’s not to say having past relationship experience isn’t useful – it is.
You learn a lot from heartbreak or dating the wrong person. You learn what you want and what you don’t want in a relationship.
But for many young people, not having to search for “the one” frees up time to focus on other things; career, friends, family, and hobbies.
It’s also less stressful since the families will usually “vet” each other beforehand, so when you are introduced to a potential partner you already have the low-down on their job, family, lifestyle, etc.
The usual information that takes a few dates to learn is already given upfront, making it easier to see if the match will work out or if it’s unsuitable.
5) Strengthens the family unit
Many cultures that practice arranged marriage focus more on togetherness rather than individuality.
Family ties are very strong, and when a young person allows their parents to find a future partner for them, it’s a sign of great trust.
And the truth is:
The newly married couple will tend to keep their families in the mix, even once they’ve moved out and created a life for themselves.
And one more point:
As the newlyweds get to know each other, so do their families. This creates unity within communities, as families are invested in helping the couple succeed in their marriage.
6) There’s a lot of support and guidance from the families
And leading on from the last point, this unity within families means that the couple will receive an exceptional amount of support from their loved ones.
In an arranged marriage, you aren’t wed and then thrown into the world and left to work out the complexities of marriage alone.
Oh no…quite the opposite.
The parents, grandparents, and even extended relatives will band together and help the couple in times of need, as well as with:
- Resolving conflict between the couple
- Helping with children
- Supporting them with finances
- Ensuring the marriage remains happy and loving
This is because EVERYONE is invested in the marriage, not just the couple.
The families want to see it work out. And since they made the introduction, it’s on them to ensure their kids’ happiness throughout the marriage (to an extent).
7) It can elevate social status
It might sound outdated to talk about social status and standing, but in many cultures around the world, this is still an important factor when choosing a spouse.
But the truth is, in many societies marriage is seen as a way to preserve the wealth of the family.
Or, as a way to elevate one’s status, if they marry into a family wealthier than their own.
But ultimately, it’s a way to ensure financial stability for both the couple and their families.
It wasn’t uncommon in the past for families who wanted to enter into business together or form alliances to arrange for their youngsters to marry.
The marriage was a way of bonding the two families together.
**It’s important to note that arranging a marriage solely on wealth preservation with no regard as to whether the couple would even get along is irresponsible. The positives of arranged marriage lie in finding a partner who is compatible in all senses, not only financially.
8) It’s based on compatibility instead of emotions
Compatibility. Without it, no marriage would last.
Some even say compatibility is more important than love.
It’s what allows you to live harmoniously with your spouse…even once those feelings of infatuation and romance have died down.
Having spoken to several young men and women about arranged marriage and why they opt for it even though they’ve been brought up in Western countries, many cite this as their reason for it.
They appreciate that love and dating are a natural part of life, but they don’t want to be caught up in emotion when choosing a life partner.
For a marriage that will last, having someone objective (the family in this case) who can judge whether the couple will make a good match or not seems like the safer option.
9) It’s a way to honor cultural traditions
As we’ve already established, arranged marriages are very much a cultural/religious practice. Here are some parts of the world where it’s still the done thing (to varying degrees):
- In India, it’s believed around 90% of all marriages are arranged.
- There are also high levels in surrounding Central Asian countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
- In China, the practice of arranged marriage was still common up until the last 50 years or so, when people decided to start taking their love lives into their own hand’s thanks to a change in the law.
- This can also be seen in Japan, where the tradition of “Omiai” is still practiced by 6-7% of the population.
- Some Orthodox Jews practice a type of arranged marriage whereby the parents will find suitable spouses for their children using a matchmaker.
Now we know that it’s more than just finding two people who get along; upbringing, finances, status, and more all play a part in arranged marriages.
But most importantly, perhaps, is the continuation of culture and religious beliefs. With each generation, traditions are passed down, with no fear of them becoming lost due to the mixing of cultures.
To some, this is a positive. Others may see this as a limitation, and truthfully, it can be both!
10) There may be more incentive for the couple to make it work
Again, this is a point which can be taken both positively and negatively. We’ll cover the negative aspects of it in the section below.
So what’s good about this incentive?
Well, rather than give up at the first hurdle, most couples will think twice before separating.
After all, both families have invested a lot into making this marriage happen, so you can’t duck out the first time you argue or face a tough patch in life.
It may also encourage the couple to respect each other even when there’s rising tension.
The last thing you want is your parents finding out you cursed at the man/woman they’ve introduced you to. Your nasty behavior will reflect on them.
Of course, this is easier said than done. And in an ideal world, respect would be given regardless of family involvement or not.
But in reality, arranged marriages are extremely varied and complex – they have their fair share of issues just as any type of marriage does.
So, with that in mind, let’s check out the cons of an arranged marriage to get the whole picture, because while it works for some, for others it can end in heartbreak and despair.
The disadvantages of an arranged marriage
1) Marriage can feel like a contract rather than a union of love
If it wasn’t clear before, there isn’t much room for emotion in an arranged marriage.
No one is going to ask the couple whether they’re in love because most of the time they haven’t had enough time together for that to happen before the wedding.
Marry first, then fall in love.
And when you add in how some marriages are arranged, it can almost seem like a job application – in India, for example, it’s common to use a “biodata”.
Think of it as the equivalent of a marriage CV.
Although there are different formats, they generally include things like:
- Personal details such as date of birth, place of birth, parent’s names, and family history
- Employment and education history
- Hobbies and passions
- A picture and details of appearance (including skin color, height, hair color, and fitness levels)
- Religion and even level of devotion in some cases
- A brief introduction of the bachelor/bachelorettes and what they’re searching for in a spouse
This biodata is passed around through family, friends, matchmakers, online marriage websites, and so on.
When parents begin searching for a future bride or groom, they’ll pour through different biodata until they narrow down potential matches.
And even in the absence of the biodata, it can still feel like a contract since their families make all the arrangements and negotiations.
2) An arranged marriage couple may lack trust in each other
And because the couple themselves may not be given sufficient time to get to know each other, they risk entering a marriage where there’s no trust built up between them.
Sometimes for religious and cultural reasons, the couple might not be able to meet up alone, even if they’re engaged.
They require a chaperone when going out, which takes away the chance of having real, open conversations with each other.
Can you imagine dating someone with a family member hanging around on each date?
It’s a recipe for awkwardness, and therefore the couple ends up putting on their best behavior. They never get the chance to reveal their true selves.
This can have negative effects, as the start of any marriage is always a turbulent period while the couple learns to adjust to living with each other.
Add distrust into the mix and it can put quite the strain on the relationship.
3) It can become a burden on the family to impress future in-laws
One bad mark against a family’s name can have dire consequences on their child’s prospects of a good marriage proposal.
Families tend to ask around in the community, check with local religious leaders, and even consult friends or colleagues of the potential spouse and their family to find out more.
So all of this is an immense amount of pressure on families to have an impeccable reputation.
But let’s be honest about one thing:
Mistakes happen. People mess up. No family is perfect.
Is it fair that a young woman should suffer and be judged because her uncle committed a crime back in the ’90s?
Or that a young man will be penalized because his family is dysfunctional, even though he’s chosen a better life path for himself?
Unfortunately, this aspect of arranged marriage can potentially keep two people who would have been very happy together apart, solely because the families don’t like the look of each other.
It can also create an unhealthy environment whereby families become more concerned with their image in society rather than whether their family members are genuinely happy.
4) The family can become too involved in the marriage
As you might have noticed from the advantages of arranged marriage, the families are very much a part of the mix.
And this can become a real headache for a newly-wed couple who just want to start their life together.
- In-laws may interfere because they feel they’re entitled to since they had a hand in making the match.
- When the couple argues, the families might take sides and end up alienating each other or their son/daughter-in-law.
The bottom line is:
Sometimes, the issues of the married couple can spread out, like a ripple effect amongst the family, making the problem bigger than it needs to be.
But with that in mind, not every family is like this. Some prefer to put the couple in touch and then take a step back once they’re married.
After all, getting to know each other and navigating the rollercoaster of matrimony requires patience and time. Especially if you haven’t lived together before marriage.
5) The couple might feel pressured to get married
Let’s get one thing straight before we jump into this point:
Arranged marriage isn’t the same as forced marriage. The former requires the consent and willingness of both individuals. The latter is a marriage performed without consent and is illegal in most (if not all) countries.
But with that being said, I can’t lie and say that family and societal pressure don’t still play a role in arranged marriages.
I know I’m not alone in knowing of couples who begrudgingly got together because their families wouldn’t accept a “no” without putting up a fight.
This applies to:
- Saying yes to a match even if one or both don’t feel any connection
- Saying yes to getting married in the first place, even if one or both are against the idea of marriage
In some cases, even if the family gives their child a choice to accept a match or not, subtle emotional blackmailing can still sway the person’s decision.
This can be incredibly tough for the people to deal with; they don’t want to offend their family. But committing their life to someone they’re unsure of/unattracted to/disconnected from is a big sacrifice to make.
6) It could be harder to get a divorce
And for similar reasons listed above, the family pressure may put off unhappy couples from even considering divorce.
This can be for several reasons:
- They’re afraid of shaming or bringing dishonor to their family by getting a divorce
- Their family encourage them not to consider divorce to keep the peace between the two families
- A divorce may not feel like it’s just between the couple; it can feel like trying to divorce the entire family
Interestingly, the statistics on divorce in an arranged marriage is much less than in “love marriages” (marriages out of personal choice without external help). Some studies have shown they make up roughly 6% of divorces globally.
On the other hand, love marriages make up about 41% of divorces globally.
So there’s a big difference there, but it may not all be for good reasons:
- Some believe this is due to issues like gender inequality, lengthy and costly divorce processes, and social stigma.
- In some societies where arranged marriage is practiced, getting a divorce is looked down upon, and it’s usually divorced women that are labeled negatively.
- There can also be cultural/religious implications that may make it harder for a couple to get divorced.
The hope is that as younger generations embrace arranged marriage, they adapt it to suit the times we live in, and stand up for their legal rights as well as happiness.
The truth is, many marriages do fail, and though no one desires a divorce, it’s much better than being stuck in an unhappy relationship.
7) The couple might not be a great match
It’s bad enough when you pick the wrong person to date and it ends terribly, but imagine marrying someone you didn’t even choose and finding out you have zero in common?
The truth is:
Sometimes the matchmakers and families simply get it wrong.
Naturally, they want the best for their children, but other influences can get in the way that stops them from realizing how incompatible the match will be.
And sometimes, even if everything looks perfect on paper, there’s just no spark.
And let’s face it, a marriage, whether love comes first or after, needs a connection. It needs intimacy, friendship, even attraction.
A close friend of mine had an arranged marriage – she knew the guy growing up, but only very casually. So when her parents introduced her to the idea of marrying him, she accepted.
Their families got along well, he was a nice guy, surely they could make it work, right?
A few years down the line and they were utterly miserable.
They just couldn’t get along, no matter how much support they got from family and friends. Neither did anything wrong to hurt each other, they just didn’t have that vibe.
This is just one example, and for every bad relationship, there are good ones to counteract.
But it would be unrealistic to imagine that parents will always find the right match for their children.
After all, your preferences for a partner might not necessarily reflect that of your parents!
8) It can encourage caste/social discrimination
This falls under what is called an “endogamous marriage”. Families will only consider suitors from their own religion/social standing/ethnicity and even caste (mainly in India).
For example, if you’re a Muslim, your family will only consider proposals from other Muslim families (and reject all else). Same for Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and so on.
India has four main castes, and some conservative, traditional families wouldn’t entertain the idea of marrying their child to someone from another caste.
Caste discrimination is illegal but still happens frequently.
But times are changing, and people are realizing how the caste system harms more than helps in society.
Not only does this limit the pool of potential partners to be matched with, but it enforces negative stereotypes and this has wider implications throughout society.
9) It doesn’t cater to non-heterosexual marriages
Throughout my research on this topic, it occurred to me that no stories of arranged marriages included the LGBT+ community.
I dug a little deeper – some people had shared their experiences – but for the most part, it’s as if there simply isn’t the option to have an arranged marriage and be Gay or Lesbian.
This is because:
- In many religions where arranged marriage is practiced, homosexuality usually isn’t accepted or even recognized.
- Many cultures also follow the same stance, making it hard for people to come out, let alone ask to be matched with someone of the same sex.
Unfortunately, this can leave some people feeling lost – they might want to honor their culture by entrusting their marriage to their family, but they’re unable to fulfill that wish.
And whilst there are small steps forward for the LGBT+ community, in some countries, they face a barrage of discrimination and inequality, even so far as homosexuality being declared illegal.
Love knows no boundaries and doesn’t discriminate. As society moves forward, it’s a must that everyone is included and free to live life on their own terms, including in marriage.
10) There’s no room for individual choice
And one of the final disadvantages of arranged marriage is that the couple can end up feeling stripped of their right to make individual choices.
To keep a balanced view, let’s just remember that not all families will behave the same way.
In some cases, the couple will have a say in every step of the process. They may even be in the driving seat with parents just there along for the ride and to oversee things.
But unfortunately, for others, this won’t be the case. They may have the right to say yes or no to potential matches, but their opinions may be overlooked during the planning stages of the wedding.
Or, of the living arrangements after the wedding (as it’s common in some cultures for the newly-weds to remain living with the groom’s parents and family).
Family expectations can get in the way, aunties and uncles take over the wedding prep, and suddenly the couple finds themselves left on the sidelines of the biggest day of their lives.
You can see how that must be frustrating.
Even though an arranged marriage is based on rationality, not emotion, there’s no doubt that a torrent of nerves, excitement, and curiosity is going through the couple’s minds.
And, naturally, they want to plan the wedding and their future life following their own style.
So there we have it – the pros and cons of arranged marriage. As you can see, there’s a lot to take in. Some parts of this tradition are well worth considering, but the risks are all too real as well.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal choice and what you feel comfortable with.
I know plenty of independent, strong-willed people who embraced the traditions of their culture with a modern-day approach. They had arranged marriages but on their terms, and it worked out a treat.
Others, like myself, have opted to search for love without the help of our families. I personally believe there’s beauty in both, so long as the freedom of choice is there at all times.