University of Cambridge

A Dialogue On The Future Of Couples


The paper will be an examination of the views of three sociological theorists i.e.; Sigmund Freud, Anthony Giddens and Judith Butler. Freud was known for introducing the transference theory or psychoanalysis into sociology. This idea was based on the existence of three elements of the psyche i.e. the id, ego and superego. (Held & Thompson, 2003)

Judith Butler on the hand is widely associated with the queer theory and contemporary feminism. Anthony Giddens is largely influential in redefining the major concepts of the self, modernity and causes of social changes. Since these authors representative entirely different ideologies and standpoints, their viewpoints in the debate will be diverse but rich. Through these three theorists, the paper intends on arguing that there is no future for couples in the future.

Freud: the idea of the existence of couples is largely governed by narcissistic or anaclictic ideas. Couples may not survive in the future because of the divergence of these ideas. Narcissistic individuals are those ones who are self loving and tend to look out for individuals who resemble themselves or ideals of themselves. Usually, women tend to fall in this category because they may be looking for persons who resemble a part of their past. For instance, if a person had been masculine before reaching puberty, then she may feel the need to continue with that masculinity by identifying a partner who possesses those traits. Consequently, this forms the basis for selection of partners. In other words, women tend to look for partners who might fulfil their ideals. (Halpin, 2003)

On the other hand, men do the opposite; they tend to look for partners based on the anaclictic ideals. In other words, their definitions of ideal partners are those individuals who resemble their parents, more so, their mother. In light of these, ideal couples are essentially made up of person who longs to be loved and admired as do the narcissistic persons while the latter group, i.e. the anaclictic persons tend to give more love.

Given the basis of these concepts, then one can assert that there is no future for couples given the fact that prospective female partners may not resemble a person’s mother. This is because most women are self sufficient and may not be the nurturing kind. On the other hand, women may find it extremely difficult to find a male partner of their choice because they tend to look for persons who represent the ideal description of what they would like to be yet such an ideal is difficult to come by. (Bone, 2005)

Giddens: I agree with you Freud about the future of couples. However, my explanation about why their future is uncertain is not founded on psychoanalysis; instead, it is founded on the issue of self identity. Unlike your explanations which place emphasis on the individual alone, my explanations dwell more on the influences that society exerts upon a person’s choice to remain in a relationship or to remain single. In traditional societies, issues were pre-defined, roles were pre-set and all one had to do was to fit into those shoes. However, modern society presents a series of different scenarios today.

Men and women today find that they have to keep asking themselves what they want to do, how they choose to act or who they would like to be. Consequently, different persons come up with different answers to these questions. This reflects on the issue of coupling in that the disparities existing between those choices makes it so difficult for individuals with the same types of needs or preferences to live and cope with one another and this ruins the possibility of the existence of couples in the future. (Christopher et al, 2001)

Butler: I also, believe that the future for coupling is quite shaky. However, my explanations are based on feminist theories rather than what you were putting forward Giddens. First of all, when someone asked me whether I was for or against gay marriage, I refused to answer that question. This is because if I had chosen to answer it, I would have been confined by the very obstacles which the question seeks to unravel. The truth of the matter is that this question of existence of couples or even marriage in the future is misguided. The priorities should be on the issues affecting vulnerable groups such as transgendered persons or the gay community.

But instead of diverting to another topic, let me answer that one, I firmly believe that the term couple is restrictive. It tends to focus on two individuals yet marriage can be an arrangement that encompasses more than two individuals. But given the evolving nature of society, then it is likely, that this notion can be accepted and that society may do away with this issue in the end. Additionally, I also believe that conventional definitions of constituents of a marriage or a couple will be changed in the future. Consequently, the hope for existence of traditional relationships may not be plausible. (Ritzer, 2003)

Freud: I strongly disagree with you on the issue of coupling constituents. This is because gay unions in themselves undermine the very definition of marriage in the first place. I know that this may sound incredibly conservative, but it is may affirm the conviction that gay unions will result in the institution of unconventional forms of marriage such as multi-partner unions, parental cohabitation and single parenting. Consequently, one cannot hide under the premise that these kinds of unions are typical. They introduce the concept of family change and in fact question the naturalness of the heterosexual relations.

Giddens: I have to concur with you Freud on that one, in my book “The transformation of intimacy” I have talked about the issue of gay couples or gay unions. I explained that these kinds of unions have reduced marriage to an issue that simply reflects the emotional connection between two individuals. It is devoid of other issues that held traditional couples together. For instance, the issue of economic dependence in these new unions is no longer a serious concern. Additionally, couples were held together by their mutual need to parent their offspring.

However, in modern alliances, these latter factors have been removed from the equation and it has now become an issue of mere emotional satisfaction. By reducing everything to this level, then society has accepted the notion of a pure relationship as was elaborated in my book. This will only serve to undermine the future of traditional couples. (Shumway, 2003)

Butler: I think all of you have misplaced this concept completely. First of all, you have all assumed that unconventional unions are some forms of alternative kinships. I put it to you, that marriage is merely one form of addressing the issue of kinship. In your perspective, you are merely considering certain issues such as coping with illness, ageing, attending to basic needs. However, the two of you have not considered responsibilities that the community holds towards persons who still love, live, thrive or even die outside conjugal arrangements. Society has not embraced the issue of giving kinship to those people who choose to defy gender norms. For instance, such persons may lose their employment, be physically injured, undergo various stresses or even lose their lives yet their issues have been treated as if they are private matters. It is my firm belief that eventually transgendered or gay people may become centres of attention in the future and they may not be regarded as vulnerable groups. (Butler, 2004)

Freud: I believe that the future for couples is dim not just because of the changes taking part in the external environment but also because there is a need to address the dynamics of a relationship. Whenever, women get into relationships, they tend to carry forward feelings that they had in their past. Most of them tend to carry the sentiments they held towards their parents. For instance, women who had stable relationship with their fathers tend to have a negative attitude towards their mothers. Consequently, when they enter into marriage, then they tend to carry forward those same feelings. (Mestrovic, 2002)

During the first years of a marriage or relationship, women tend to hold on to their hatred for their mother, consequently, they will love their parents more. However, with time, this hatred will begin piling up and will still need to be directed somewhere. Consequently, such women tend to take it to their respective partners and this may eventually ruin the relationships. The same scenario may also be applied to gay unions as parental hatred is still carried forward. Because of such rivalry, then the chances of forming lasting unions in the 21st century are much slimmer today than they were in the past.

Giddens: it seems as if Freud is mostly focusing on the family unit and the individual as an entity that operates in isolation. However, I think that there is much more at stake for the future of coupling in the future. This involves the macro environment. One cannot operate in isolation in this day and age, there is a need to look into macroeconomic issues that could be causing the current social patterns we see today. (Giddens, 1987)

When analysing these issues, it is necessary for one to ask himself/herself why there are so many divorce rates today. Additionally, one needs to look into the real reasons why so many people are moving form one relationship to another or why there is so much openness about the issue of sexuality today.

One can assert that this is visible because there was a combination of individual and macro level issues that both came into play to determine these outcomes. I put it to you that there have been collective changes created by women movements, varying laws and regulations about marriage etc. But also, there have been choices from individuals about the issues that will govern their lives in the next few years. Consequently, one must exercises a lot of caution in trying to understand such matters as most of them may not necessarily be brought about by one particular issue; instead, there should be a focus on all issues surrounding the matter.

Butler: My sentiments about marriage are likely to permeate into other sectors of society and possibly be accepted by many other persons in the future. I believe that there is not future for marriages because they are simply a symbolic representation of sentiments that people hold for one another and should therefore be left as something that is optional to the affected parties. Care should be taken when examining the issue of marriage. This is because when people associate marriage with health insurance, power of attorney or inheritance rights, then they are undermining civil rights in the first place. They should instead be a struggle to ensure that all persons regardless of their sexual attractions or gender are accorded these rights and that they are not tied to the institution of marriage. In other words, I believe that most marriages are usually seen as political paths or economic paths within which individuals can achieve what they desire. This is a misguided notion which will soon come to pass in the future. There are many revolutionaries who are taking on my point of view about this and it is possible that this same point of view may be propagated by others in order to ensure that the fairest method for dealing with the problem is chosen. (Ritzer, 2003)

Giddens: In relation what you have said about the changing rules in society is the issue of media. I believe that society has been radically transformed due to the role that media have played in their lives. Most televisions, internet, magazine readers are constantly looking for things that will excite them. Consequently, bringing out stories that are of interest to the public necessitates depicting stories about couples that have separated or divorced. (Gauntlett, 2002)

The media brings out the fact that monogamy, heterosexuality and stability are three characteristics that are incompatible together or they are idealistic traits. The recipients of these messages may then be prompted to enact those depictions. While it may be true that some of those propagations may not be practical at that time, they usually contribute towards adoption of these non conventional unions and in the end, they reinforce the stereotypes witnessed in mass media. Consequently, the media plays an important role in shaping the ways of life of people and since it does not support stable unions, then chances are that couples may become extinct in the future.


Butler, J. (2004): Can marriage be saved, The Nation, 17th June

Halpin, D. (2003): Hope and Education: The Role of the Utopian Imagination; Routledge, p.63

Gauntlett, D. (2002): Giddens’ work on modernity and self-identity: Media Gender and Identity, Routledge

Giddens, A. (1987):  The Nation-State and Violence; University of California Press, p 7

Mestrovic, A. (2002): The Last Modernist, Routledge, p 245-270

Ritzer, G. (2003): The Blackwell Companion to Major Contemporary Social Theorists, Blackwell Publishing

Bone, J. (2005): The Social Map & The Problem of Order: A Re-evaluation of ‘Homo Sociology; Journal of Theory & Science

Shumway, D. (2003): Modern Love: Romance, Intimacy, and the Marriage Crisis, NYU Press, 2003

Christopher G. et al (2001): Social Theory in a Globalizing Age; Palgrave Macmillan, pp 145-156

Held, A. & Thompson, J. (2003): Social Theory of Modern Societies; Cambridge University Press, pp 155

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