Marital typologies are classifications of marriages based on systematic differences among them. An assumption underlying the study of marital typologies is that within any given sample of marriages, a few discrete, meaningful types can be discerned. Marriages are categorized into types in order to understand the communication that occurs between husbands and wives. Typologies of marriage range from vague, non-theoretical formulations to elaborate conceptual models that include empirically testable statements. Researchers have adopted logical, intuitive, and empirical approaches to classify marriages to explain changing family forms over time, to help therapists working in clinical settings with troubled couples, and to aid researchers reflecting post hoc on data collected for other purposes. The resulting typologies, which focus on qualitative dimensions of relationships, have been theoretically interesting and heuristically valuable in sorting marriages.
One of the early distinctions made in the literature, for example, is between institutional and equalitarian marriages (Adams 1971). Institutional marriages emphasize the value of law, conventional morality, and authority structures, whereas equalitarian marriages emphasize the values of mutual affection, common interests, and consensus. These two types differ fundamentally in the source of social control that regulates the marital relationship. Levinger (1965) categorized marriages into one of four types based on placement of the marriage as high or low on stability and satisfaction. That is, the first dimension focused on the boundaries of a relationship or the strong or weak external stability forces holding a couple together. The second dimension involved marital satisfaction, happiness, or the attractions of a relationship. The resulting four types of marriages represented the first indication in the literature that marital stability and marital satisfaction might be independent of one another. Using clinical interviews collected for other purposes, Ryder (1971) developed a typology of marriage that included 21 marital types involving various combinations of 5 conceptual dimensions. One was the Competent Husband–Incapable Wife pattern. The husbands in this couple were viewed as effective whereas the wives were evaluated as unable to cope with the demands of life.
The scientific model for formatting typologies, however, involves both the rules for classifying cases as well as the actual assignment of empirical cases to particular types. Marital typologies follow the conventional logic of classification in that the categories on which the system is based must be mutually exclusive and comprehensive. In other words, the typology must permit every marriage to be assigned unambiguously to one and only one type. Furthermore, to advance the understanding of interpersonal dynamics of marriage, the attributes on which the discriminations are based need to include significant dimensions of marriage or those capable of explaining marital behavior and communication.
Monothetic classification schemes for marriage are a yes/no affair. That is, a marriage is happy or unhappy; stable or unstable; traditional or nontraditional. Although this approach was appealing in the early stages of the work on marriage, it became clear that many characteristics of a marriage, however, are not simply present or absent but are those that the marriage possesses to a greater or lesser degree. Furthermore, simple discriminations along one or two dimensions did not capture the range and variety of marital styles. In contrast, polythetic classification schemes place individuals in the same type when they share a large number of characteristics. Polythetic schemes propose a series of important dimensions of marriage and subsequently allow the empirical clustering of dimensions to define the types of marriages. Fitzpatrick (1988) classified marriages according to three basic dimensions: ideology, interdependence, and philosophy of communication. These dimensions interact to form three different types of marriages: traditional, independent, and separate. Traditionals value sharing and companionship in the marriage and are capable of handling their disagreements. Independents engage in conflict, open expressions of positive and negative feelings, and bargaining. Separates maintain psychological distance in the marriage and avoid open conflict.
Two key methodological issues emerge consistently in this research. The first issue concerns the aggregation of data from the individual to the couple level. That is, in describing marital types or systems, the unit of analysis is the marriage, which is not simply the sum of the individual behaviors or perceptions. The second issue is one of data structures and analysis. In dealing with data collected from the self-reported responses or the interaction of husbands and wives, the correlation/dependency in the data can affect the validity of the statistical tests, and must be taken into account in the model.
Typologies are of interest only if they can be associated in a predictive and explanatory way with a wide variety of communication behaviors and outcomes, aside from those that define the categories. This is the key direction for future research and theory.
- Adams, B. N. (1971). The American family: A sociological interpretation. Chicago, IL: Markham.
- Fitzpatrick, M. A. (1988). Between husbands and wives: Communication in marriage. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
- Fitzpatrick, M. A. (1999). Racing toward the millennium: Twenty-five years of research on communication in relationships. Human Communication Research, 25, 443 – 448.
- Koerner, A., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (2002). Toward a theory of family communication. Communication Theory, 12, 70 – 91.
- Levinger, G. (1965). Sources of marital dissatisfaction among applicants for divorce. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 36, 803 – 807.
- Ryder, K. S. (1971). A typology of early marriage. Family Process, 9, 385 – 402.