The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage in America Is Becoming an All-or-Nothing Institution

Eli J Finkel*, Elaine Ooi Yan Cheung, Lydia F. Emery, Kathleen L. Carswell, Grace M. Larson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Throughout American history, the fundamental purpose of marriage has shifted from (a) helping spouses meet their basic economic and political needs to (b) helping them meet their intimacy and passion needs to (c) helping them meet their autonomy and personal-growth needs. According to the suffocation model of marriage in America, these changes have had two major consequences for marital quality, one negative and one positive. The negative consequence is that, as Americans have increasingly looked to their marriage to help them meet idiosyncratic, self-expressive needs, the proportion of marriages that fall short of their expectations has grown, which has increased rates of marital dissatisfaction. The positive consequence is that those marriages that succeed in meeting these needs are particularly fulfilling, more so than the best marriages in earlier eras. In tandem, these two consequences have pushed marriage toward an all-or-nothing state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-244
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 15 2015


  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • instrumentality
  • marriage
  • self-expression
  • suffocation model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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