A wife, O Maghavan is home and dwelling... (Rig Veda 3.53.4)

Grhastha, or householder life (grha - household), is the second spiritual stage (asrama) in the varnasrama system. It lasts from 25th to 50th year of one's life and during this time the grhastha lives together with his wife and children in their house and leads a religious (dharma) and productive (artha) life which enables a certain amount of enjoyment (kama). Among his traditional duties are five domestic sacrifices (panca-mahayajna) which include ancestor worship (sraddha).

Grhastha asrama is the only economically productive asrama and therefore the householders have to support other asramas by giving charity (dana) in exchange for spiritual knowledge. Another duty of householders is hospitality to guests (especially by distributing food).

"The householder is of two kinds: udasina and sadhaka. The householder who endeavors to maintain the house is called sadhaka. "After repaying three debts (to sages, to gods and to the manes) and renouncing wife and wealth, he who seeks salvation alone, is called udasina."
(Garuda Purana 1.49.9-10)

The purpose of grhastha life is to become gradually detached, renounce the material life and adopt the retired life of vanaprastha.

The scriptures distinguish between grhastha (one who lives a householder life according to the scriptures), and grhamedhi (attached, materialistic householder who misuses his material facilities for unlimited sensual enjoyment). The first one is praised because he follows the path of spiritual elevation but the other is condemned.

Further information: Manu-samhita (ch. 3,4,10) etc.

(the difference between grhasthas and grhamedhis is obvious)

"The attached householder remains in his family life, which is full of diplomacy and politics. Always spreading miseries and controlled by acts of sense gratification, he acts just to counteract the reactions of all his miseries, and if he can successfully counteract such miseries, he thinks that he is happy."
(SB 3.30.9)

"Pretentiously religious householder life, in which one is attracted to material happiness and thus also attracted to the superficial explanation of the Vedas, robs one of all intelligence and attaches one to fruitive activities as all in all."
(SB 4.2.22)

"Maharaja Prthu, who was very opulent due to the prosperity of his entire empire, remained at home as a householder. Since he was never inclined to utilize his opulences for the gratification of his senses, he remained unattached, exactly like the sun, which is unaffected in all circumstances."
(SB 4.22.52)

"Those who are interested only in a so-called beautiful life--namely remaining as a householder entangled by sons and a wife and searching after wealth--think that such things are life's ultimate goal. Such people simply wander in different types of bodies throughout this material existence without finding out the ultimate goal of life."
(SB 4.25.6)

"The woman continued: In this material world, a householder's life brings all kinds of happiness in religion, economic development, sense gratification and the begetting of children, sons and grandsons. After that, one may desire liberation as well as material reputation. The householder can appreciate the results of sacrifices, which enable him to gain promotion to superior planetary systems. All this material happiness is practically unknown to the transcendentalists. They cannot even imagine such happiness."
(SB 4.25.39)

"The woman continued: According to authorities, the householder life is pleasing not only to oneself but to all the forefathers, demigods, great sages, saintly persons and everyone else. A householder life is thus beneficial."
(SB 4.25.40)

"Even if he goes from forest to forest, one who is not self-controlled must always fear material bondage because he is living with six co-wives--the mind and knowledge-acquiring senses. Even householder life, however, cannot harm a self-satisfied, learned man who has conquered his senses."
(SB 5.1.17)

"Those who are interested in reviving Krsna consciousness and increasing their love of Godhead do not like to do anything that is not related to Krsna. They are not interested in mingling with people who are busy maintaining their bodies, eating, sleeping, mating and defending. They are not attached to their homes, although they may be householders. Nor are they attached to wives, children, friends or wealth. At the same time, they are not indifferent to the execution of their duties. Such people are interested in collecting only enough money to keep the body and soul together."
(SB 5.5.3)

"Every year the plowman plows over his grain field, completely uprooting all weeds. Nonetheless, the seeds lie there and, not being completely burned, again come up with the plants sown in the field. Even after being plowed under, the weeds come up densely. Similarly, the grhastha-asrama [family life] is a field of fruitive activity. Unless the desire to enjoy family life is completely burned out, it grows up again and again. Even though camphor may be removed from a pot, the pot nonetheless retains the aroma of camphor. As long as the seeds of desire are not destroyed, fruitive activities are not destroyed."
(SB 5.14.4)

"In household life one is ordered to execute many yajnas and fruitive activities, especially the vivaha-yajna [the marriage ceremony for sons and daughters] and the sacred thread ceremony. These are all the duties of a grhastha, and they are very extensive and troublesome to execute. They are compared to a big hill over which one must cross when one is attached to material activities. A person desiring to cross over these ritualistic ceremonies certainly feels pains like the piercing of thorns and pebbles endured by one attempting to climb a hill. Thus the conditioned soul suffers unlimitedly."
(SB 5.14.18)

"King Gaya gave full protection and security to the citizens so that their personal property would not be disturbed by undesirable elements. He also saw that there was sufficient food to feed all the citizens. [This is called posana.] He would sometimes distribute gifts to the citizens to satisfy them. [This is called prinana.] He would sometimes call meetings and satisfy the citizens with sweet words. [This is called upalalana.] He would also give them good instructions on how to become first-class citizens. [This is called anusasana.] Such were the characteristics of King Gaya's royal order. Besides all this, King Gaya was a householder who strictly observed the rules and regulations of household life. He performed sacrifices and was an unalloyed pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was called Mahapurusa because as a king he gave the citizens all facilities, and as a householder he executed all his duties so that at the end he became a strict devotee of the Supreme Lord. As a devotee, he was always ready to give respect to other devotees and to engage in the devotional service of the Lord. This is the bhakti-yoga process. Due to all these transcendental activities, King Gaya was always free from the bodily conception. He was full in Brahman realization, and consequently he was always jubilant. He did not experience material lamentation. Although he was perfect in all respects, he was not proud, nor was he anxious to rule the kingdom."
(SB 5.15.7)

"What person too attached to household life due to being unable to control his senses can liberate himself? An attached householder is bound very strongly by ropes of affection for his family [wife, children and other relatives]."
(SB 7.6.9)

"How can a person who is most affectionate to his family, the core of his heart being always filled with their pictures, give up their association? Specifically, a wife is always very kind and sympathetic and always pleases her husband in a solitary place. Who could give up the association of such a dear and affectionate wife? Small children talk in broken language, very pleasing to hear, and their affectionate father always thinks of their sweet words. How could he give up their association? One's elderly parents and one's sons and daughters are also very dear. A daughter is especially dear to her father, and while living at her husband's house she is always in his mind. Who could give up that association? Aside from this, in household affairs there are many decorated items of household furniture, and there are also animals and servants. Who could give up such comforts? The attached householder is like a silkworm, which weaves a cocoon in which it becomes imprisoned, unable to get out. Simply for the satisfaction of two important senses--the genitals and the tongue--one is bound by material conditions. How can one escape?"
(SB 7.6.11-13)

"Sex life is compared to the rubbing of two hands to relieve an itch. Grhamedhis, so-called grhasthas who have no spiritual knowledge, think that this itching is the greatest platform of happiness, although actually it is a source of distress. The krpanas, the fools who are just the opposite of brahmanas, are not satisfied by repeated sensuous enjoyment. Those who are dhira, however, who are sober and who tolerate this itching, are not subjected to the sufferings of fools and rascals."
(SB 7.9.45)

"All the rules and regulations apply equally to the householder and the sannyasi, the member of the renounced order of life. The grhastha, however, is given permission by the spiritual master to indulge in sex during the period favorable for procreation."
(SB 7.12.11)

"Narada Muni replied: My dear King, those who stay at home as householders must act to earn their livelihood, and instead of trying to enjoy the results of their work themselves, they should offer these results to Krsna, Vasudeva. How to satisfy Vasudeva in this life can be perfectly understood through the association of great devotees of the Lord."
(SB 7.14.2)

"A grhastha must associate again and again with saintly persons, and with great respect he must hear the nectar of the activities of the Supreme Lord and His incarnations as these activities are described in Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Puranas. Thus one should gradually become detached from affection for his wife and children, exactly like a man awakening from a dream."
(SB 7.14.3-4)

"Even if one is a householder rather than a brahmacari, a sannyasi or a vanaprastha, one should not endeavor very hard for religiosity, economic development or satisfaction of the senses. Even in householder life, one should be satisfied to maintain body and soul together with whatever is available with minimum endeavor, according to place and time, by the grace of the Lord. One should not engage oneself in ugra-karma."
(SB 7.14.10)

"The process of chanting the holy name of the Lord is so powerful that by this chanting even householders [grhasthas] can very easily gain the ultimate result achieved by persons in the renounced order. Maharaja Yudhisthira, I have now explained to you that process of religion."
(SB 7.15.74)

"Lord Ramacandra took a vow to accept only one wife and have no connection with any other women. He was a saintly king, and everything in His character was good, untinged by qualities like anger. He taught good behavior for everyone, especially for householders, in terms of varnasrama-dharma. Thus He taught the general public by His personal activities."
(SB 9.10.54)

"This is the most auspicious path for a religious householder of the twice-born orders - to selflessly worship the Personality of Godhead with wealth honestly obtained."
(SB 10.84.37)

"An intelligent person should learn to renounce his desire for wealth by performing sacrifices and acts of charity. He should learn to renounce his desire for wife and children by experiencing family life. And he should learn to renounce his desire for promotion to a higher planet in his next life, O saintly Vasudeva, by studying the effects of time. Self-controlled sages who have thus renounced their attachment to household life go to the forest to perform austerities."
(SB 10.84.38)

"A householder may approach his wife for sex only at the time prescribed for begetting children. Otherwise, the householder should practice celibacy, austerity, cleanliness of mind and body, satisfaction in his natural position, and friendship toward all living entities. Worship of Me is to be practiced by all human beings, regardless of social or occupational divisions."
(SB 11.18.43)

Related links:

Divorce: compilation of references


Indradyumna Swami - lecture on vivaha

Srila Prabhupada's quotes on marriage


Grihastha Manual Index (Radhanatha M., .pdf)

Grihastha Manual Contents (Radhanatha M., .pdf)