Consider your own personal feelings about breakfast cereal. Do you enjoy it? Do you prefer it over other breakfast items? The answers to these questions should give you a basic understand of your personal stance on cereal. This personal stance, or set of beliefs, could be coined your cereal paradigm. Now ask yourself another question. Say you were staying at a hotel that offered a continental breakfast. The night before the desk clerk informed you that this breakfast would consist only of cold cereal and milk. What would you do? Perhaps if you enjoyed cold cereal you would happily go down the next morning and eat the breakfast. On the other hand, if you had a negative opinion of cold cereal you might seek out an alternative for breakfast. You might even do a bit of shopping the night before to make sure you had some coffee or a bagel on hand. Now here’s the key about this hypothetical situation: your personal beliefs and opinions about cereal are now driving your behavior. In other words, your cereal paradigm is having an effect on your breakfast behavior, both before and during breakfast. Your relationship paradigm works in the same way. Ever since you were little, you’ve had beliefs, attitudes and opinions about relationships, dating and marriage. This idea form the basis for what I call Marital Paradigm Theory. Marital Paradigm Theory suggests that your marital paradigm is comprised of beliefs regarding both getting and being married. I suggested that your beliefs about getting married are comprised of three distinct, yet interconnected dimensions; marital timing, marital salience, and marital context. Marital timing refers to beliefs regarding the ideal and expected timing of marriage, formal engagement, as well as the ideal length of courtship. Marital salience refers to general beliefs about the importance of marriage and marrying. Marital context refers to beliefs an individual has regarding what individual, relational and cultural context marriage should occur within, including beliefs about mate selection and personal readiness. For example, beliefs that marriage should occur with certain religious rituals or that one should have certain financial obligations paid off prior to marriage would fall under this dimension. Marital context as presently described does not refer to the specific decision to marry a particular partner (i.e. “I will marry you once you’ve done _____”) but instead refers to the generic and general beliefs one holds regarding what context marital transitions should occur within in most situations. Likewise I believe one’s beliefs about being married can be broken down across three dimensions which I label marital processes, marital permanence, and marital centrality. Marital processes refer to beliefs and expectations regarding what one expects to happen within marital relationships in regard to marital process. This includes beliefs about the marital transition and marital adjustment, as well as beliefs about what marital relations should encompass regarding issues such as work/family balance, housework, and intimacy. Marital permanence captures one’s beliefs about commitment and under what circumstances marriages can be dissolved. Thus, marital permanence captures beliefs about divorce and divorce proneness. Marital centrality is a parallel concept to marital salience, capturing the relative importance one places (or believes one should place) on marriage while married and how central a place the spousal role should play in one’s life. This may be in comparison to friendships, career aspirations, or parenthood.
Brian J. Willoughby, Ph.D.