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The all-or-nothing marriage

New book provides roadmap for navigating modern marital waters

EVANSTON - What does a modern marriage look like? And how can today’s couples seek personal fulfillment in their marriages while remaining committed to it for the long run? This September, Northwestern University professor and relationship expert Eli Finkel reports on his latest discovery — that although the average marriage today is struggling, the best marriages are flourishing like never before.

In his first book, “The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work”(Dutton; Sept. 19), Finkel reverse-engineers today’s best marriages, distilling strategies that couples can use to strengthen their own marriages.

He will discuss the book at a special event later this week at which he will be interviewed by NPR’s Peter Sagal. Finkel directs Northwestern’s Relationships and Motivation Lab and is a professor in the department of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and in the Kellogg School of Management.

The event, which is free and open to the general public, will be held at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 22 at the Kellogg Global Hub, White Auditorium, 2nd floor, 2211 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus. A reception and book signing will follow the Q&A.

Media planning to cover the event should contact Hilary Hurd Anyaso at 847-491-4887 or

In addition, Tweet @NorthwesternU with your love, relationship and #AllOrNothingMarriage questions and get answers from Finkel on Friday, Sept. 22 from 3 to 4 p.m. 

Why have the best marriages gotten even better while the average marriage has been struggling? In “The All-or-Nothing Marriage,” Finkel argues that much of the divergence results from changes in our expectations for marriage. As marriages have focused less on basic survival and economic considerations and more on higher-level emotional and psychological considerations, building a marriage that meets our expectations has become harder, even as the benefits of doing so have become larger.

Finkel integrates cutting-edge insights from economics, history, sociology and psychology to identify what the new, “ideal” marriage looks like and how more couples can achieve it.

Below is just a brief peek into the book:

  • Marriages are very different today from how they were in the past: Finkel offers a brief but sweeping overview of marriage in America, underscoring how today’s marriages are — relative to the marriages of yesteryear — much more focused on self-discovery and personal growth.
  • Changing expectations: Even though today’s spouses are less dependent on marriage for basic survival than our forebears were, we expect each other to fulfill more roles than ever — confidant, sexual companion, best friend, co-parent. This change puts a new level of marital bliss within reach, but it also places more marriages at risk for disappointment and dissolution.
  • Re-spark and re-calibrate: Finkel lays out actionable strategies to re-spark or re-calibrate struggling relationships (for both married and unmarried couples).

Finkel first introduced the concept of the “all-or-nothing marriage” in his 2014 New YorkTimes feature article of the same name. The article, which introduced a new theory of marriage, went viral, ignited debate and remains one of the Times’ most trafficked opinion pieces ever. This book updates and elaborates Finkel’s theory, leveraging insights from his study of marital failures and successes and providing an accessible progress report on the most significant discoveries from the science of close relationships. Finkel’s most recent article, “How to Fix the Person You Love,” appeared Sept. 10 in the New York Times.