Actually, I'm pretty certain legalised marriages in the West started as property, business, and treaty affairs. They only happened between men of property, and women whose fathers owned property, which was a tiny minority of the population for centuries. The marriage contracts, as opposed to the usual marriage certificate of today (unless a pre-nup is involved), were usually elaborate documents swapping assets, real estate and money between the groom and father-in-law. It was unusual for the wife to receive any of these things as part of the contract, as it was presumed that her husband would provide for her out of his own income, and after that her son/s or son/s-in-law would. The social apex of marriage was the union of a ruler with the daughter or sister of another ruler, and involved treaty law. Given the number of baronies, principalities and dukedoms and postage stamp kingdoms around, those types of marriages were really rather common.
In a minority of cases the marriage contract would stipulate the woman would receive ownership of a sum of money, which she then had a right to dispose as she liked in her own will. This was usually a privilege granted to higher ranking women.
Most other people got married by moving in with one another, with or without a personal ceremony, like holding hands and jumping over a broomstick together in the village square. The vast majority of people couldn't afford the church fee to get married in a church, and before somewhere in the 1800's, it wasnt' expected of anyone not in the upper class. Go back far enough, and once women left puberty they were addressed as "Mrs [father's surname]" as a gesture of respect, before they lost their virginity or paired up with someone.
Basically, marriage was a loveless, romanticless, institution for centuries. The husband in many eras and places was not expected to remain faithful, and after the wife had produced "an heir and a spare" wives were often allowed and expected to have discreet affairs too. People who coupled up for love usually did so outside marriage.
Edited, Mar 22nd 2012 12:52am by Aripyanfar