When a man and woman enter into a socially sanctioned relationship recognized by themselves and their community to be more or less permanent, they are said to be married. All known societies, past and present, recognize the institution of marriage, and, as far back as historical references go, virtually every human being who has lived to adulthood has gotten married.

But it is also the case that the nature of the relationship between husbands and wives varies widely across cultures. Spouses may live together or separately. They may share meals or eat at different times and in different places. A couple may sleep in the same bed or in different rooms or even different houses. They may perform chores side by side or engage in different kinds of tasks and carry them out in different locations. A husband and wife may spend their leisure time together or apart. The relationship between spouses may be egalitarian, or one spouse may be subordinate to the other. Husbands and wives may provide each other with concrete and emotional support during important or stressful times, or each spouse may look outside of the marital relationship in times of need. And their marriage may be the primary source of emotional fulfillment for a man or woman, or the marital relationship may be eclipsed by other, more important, bonds to parents, friends, or others.

What is more, husband-wife day-to-day interaction tends to be consistent in its overall nature. Thus, cross-cultural evidence indicates that husbands and wives who eat together are also likely to sleep, work, and spend their leisure time together, and to be available to each other for help and support during momentous occasions such as the birth of a child. By contrast, where spouses eat apart, they also tend to sleep, work, and spend their leisure time apart, and to participate in momentous events separately (Broude, 1983). Where marriages are characterized by frequent husband-wife interaction across a variety of activities, the marital relationship is described in the literature as intimate. Marriages that are typified by husband-wife segregation are identified as aloof. In a worldwide sample of 73 societies, 56% are characterized by intimate marriages and 44% by aloof marriages (Broude, 1983).

The Trobriand Islanders of New Guinea nicely illustrate the intimate marriage. Husband, wife, and young children live in a house of their own. Opportunities for marital closeness in Trobriand marriages are increased because, once they demonstrate some measure of independence, older children, as well as adolescents, live in separate huts. Husbands and wives eat, sleep, and spend the better part of their work and leisure hours together, talk and joke with each other, and share household tasks, including baby tending. Spouses are devoted to one another, frequently give one another gifts, call each other lubaygu, "my friend," and in general lead a "common life of close companionship" (Malinowski, 1929, p. 109). Similarly, interactions between spouses among the Garo of India are intimate. Households are typically composed of parents and their children, and even when relatives live with the family, the oldest married couple have a private sleeping room. The family cooks, eats, and entertains visitors together in the large front room of the house, and husbands and wives work alongside each other in the fields. Couples sit together, talking and laughing with each other, when they are alone, although, by custom, men and women sit apart in public. Overall, Garo husbands and wives rely on each other for companionship and support, and as the marriage matures, each spouse is regarded as the most important person in the life of the partner (Burling, 1963).

At the opposite extreme are the Rajputs of Khalapur, India, who represent the aloof marriage. Separation of spouses is promoted by the custom of purdah, which requires the seclusion of women. Rajput women spend their time in an enclosed courtyard, performing chores and tending the young children. It is here that women also eat, sleep, and cook. Meanwhile, when they are not working, the men sit talking and smoking with other male relatives and friends in the men's quarters of the house, where a husband may also sleep. The household arrangements are consciously designed to dilute the ties between a husband and wife in order that the attachment of mother and son can be maintained. The result is that husbands view the role of a wife as essentially sexual and reproductive. Only after her mother-in-law dies may a woman become a real companion as well as advisor to her husband (Minturn & Hitchcock, 1966). Traditional Chinese marriages are also characterized by aloofness. Even after they are married, a young husband and wife are kept segregated from each other by their parents. During the day, couples rarely have the opportunity to be alone together in their crowded households and, at night, wives sleep in the women's quarters of the house and husbands sleep in the men's quarters. Males and females are customarily segregated during formal functions, such as weddings or funerals, and it is considered improper for husbands and wives to be seen together in public. Perhaps because males and females have so little contact with each other, interactions when spouses are alone are not characterized by emotional intimacy (Headland, 1914).

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