Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Until the Legally Predetermined Period Has Ended, Do We Part?!

During a recent Shadowrun game (a dystopian role playing game), the issue of marriage came up. Matt was telling me that in the Shadowrun world that marriage is becoming archaic, that the marriages that do exist are purely secular, and that such marriages as polygamy are allowed. Somehow, from this, we ended up on the topic of marriage in today's world, a topic we're both interested in for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that we're, well, married. For whatever reason, issues of marriage have always been of interest to me. I love shows like Sister Wives, and maybe my almost obsession with issues of marriage comes from having been once divorced. I don't know, either way, this is a topic that commonly comes up between us.

During that conversation, we broached the subject of contractual periods of marriage. I know, this is a touchy subject largely because the institution of marriage in the western world is a religious one, even though it's controlled by secular bodies and many secular people get married. I think it's also appalling because our culture has this silly, antiquated notion that the only reason to get married is to have a family--defined by two parents (of different sexes) with children, and excluding couples without children, or same sex couples.  Would you believe that young people, of the millennial generation, still say they want to get married to "have a family"? This is their go-to answer, not for the number of other reasons, like companionship or economic stability, but to have a family. This is something students in English 111 say, across the board. It's unbelievable to me.

Anyway,  I still think that contractual periods of marriage is an interesting idea, one that would reduce the divorce rate considerably. So this morning, when my lovely friend Amberly posed this Psychology Today article "Getting Marriage-Whys: What We Really Need to Change," by Susan Pease Gadoua, my interest was immediately peaked. The article talks about the "one-size-fits-all institution" of marriage, discussing, you guessed it, the idea of periods of contractual marriage--something under consideration in Mexico, it would seem. She says, "Instead of holding everyone in the culture to a single standard forever, people in this model of marriage would be set up to succeed. And then everyone would live happily ever after."  And largely, I agree with her... though I do have some problems with her ideas.

Imagine a world where you could be married for a certain period of time, renew your marriage or not, and be free without the stigma of divorce to seek a more satisfying union elsewhere. That would be ideal, wouldn't it?  My biggest problem with this ideology is that it doesn't take into account such issues as the pain that would be caused if one spouse or the other didn't want to renew. Right now, you make a choice and are stuck with it forever, unless you get a divorce, but pain is inevitable either way, right? So, is it really better than divorce? I don't know. It also doesn't take into account the financial feasibility of this option, which in my opinion is quite low.

What I do know is that a happy marriage is worth the promise to stay together forever, without the worries that having to renew a marriage contract would include. Matt and I have a very happy marriage, and though we have problems, I'm not sure I would want to deal with having to renew my marriage license, like I do a driver's license. Though Matt and I have gotten into a lot of conversations about the fact that a marriage license is one of the only licenses that doesn't have to be renewed. Ironically, the law assumes you may go blind, or be unable to drive, but it fails to assume that you may grow discontent with your marriage. Good job, government.

I think, rather than contractual periods of marriage, that putting stricter regulations on getting married in the first place would be a more reasonable answer. Maybe don't let 18 year olds get married?  Maybe make the legal marriage age 25 or after the successful completion of your first college degree, which ever comes first?  There was a time not all that long ago that people getting married at 18 wasn't a problem. People divorced less then. Today, it's a problem--and for the record, I also think young people shouldn't be able to go to college until they're 25 and have some life experience by which to be able to appreciate said education, but that's another blog post entirely.

So take a minute to read the article and then tell me what you think. You've got my opinion!


  1. I hate the idea of contract marriages because why bother if you think it's only temporary? I've never been divorced or had to divide a household, but I've been told it's a bitch. Why bother merging into a household and setting up joint bank accounts (I know some couples don't, but many do) and buying a house together if you already think, "Eh, we'll just try this out for two years and then maybe go our own ways." Who WANTS to go through that messy breakup? Why not just stay single and keep your own separate places then?

    I honestly don't get how telling people, "Go ahead, have a string of two-year marriages! It's cool" somehow improves the divorce rate. Sure,people might not be "divorcing" but they are ending marriages just the same, unable to settle in to a long-term commitment. True, not every relationship is meant to be long-term, but that's why we don't marry everyone we date!!

    I DO believe we should make people go through more pre-marital counseling to get married *for their own good* since divorce isn't all that fun and it wouldn't be a bad idea to protect people from their own shortsightedness. I *don't* think that limiting the age you get married will matter -- plenty of people marry at 27 and divorce at 32. Hell, I know one gal who was divorced FOUR TIMES by her 38th birthday and I'm sure at least two of those marriages were after her 25th birthday! (I always want to ask her: "I don't get it. if you aren't any good at marriage, why do you keep DOING it?!!")

    I REALLY think we have to stop people from having BABIES before 25, but that's a whole other ball of wax.

    I don't think I agree with making kids wait to go to college until they've had life experience because then they are that much more likely to have a bunch of kids between 16 and 25!! True, some kids lack the emotional maturity for college at 18 or 20, but that's because their parents didn't force them to grow up, but throwing them into the real world with no structure isn't going to solve that problem, either. At that age kids are kinda reckless and crazy and need something to stabilize them -- if not college, then the military or whatever. Let them be a little reckless and rebellious but also give them some structure to guide them as they grow up and settle down. Also, this way they will be more prepared to afford and raise the kids they start having at 25 or 28.

  2. I hate to cheat like this, but my thoughts on the matter were all stated quite aptly in the above comment, so...ditto all that.

    Interesting read.

  3. True, some kids lack the emotional maturity for college at 18 or 20, but that’s because their parents didn’t force them to grow up, but throwing them into the real world with no structure isn’t going to solve that problem, either.

  4. I have to say, I'm legitimately confused by your vehement disapproval of this idea. Alternative lifestyles are certainly less accepted--something we should know, given our somewhat "alternative lifestyle" in choosing to be childfree--but I can't help feeling like there's nothing wrong with being open to at least discussing it on a philosophical level.

    If contractual marriage were a reality--rather than a theory--then people wouldn't do the things you suggest, at all, but would rather take measures to avoid having to de-tangle themselves later. They wouldn't merge bank accounts, or buy big-ticket items jointly, which many married couples already refrain from doing anyway. I have a professor, Dr. S, who commented once in class that he and his wife don't have shared assets and it sparked a weeks long discussion between me and some local friends about how that might work and the chance that it could work for us. Obviously, we all opted out, but at least we were all willing to discuss it openly.

    They also wouldn't take one another's names, another thing that already happens right now. I have another professor who has been married for 35+ years, but she and her husband don't have the same name. When it came up once, she said she had taken his name for a little while, decided it wasn't her, and changed her name back.

    Rather, people would be more independent, which surely wouldn't be a bad thing. Less women would find themselves in a position to rely completely on their husbands, which you have to admit is a really negative effect of the current marital system--extenuating circumstances notwithstanding. If marriage were contractual, which doesn't suggest that they couldn't be long-term contracts, then people would be forced to understand the reality of living independently. I rather like that idea.

    As for divorce, its a messy issue. People already go along getting into a string of short-term relationships and end up with the problems your suggesting. The issue with contractual marriage is that it would be something a culture would have to grow into. Nothing happens over night. In a few generations, it would be the norm and no different than the overly christianized union of marriage we have in our current society, except that it would be more in line with human nature, whether we want to believe that or not. Currently, we devote ourselves to long-term relationships, which doesn't stop us from looking, it just (hopefully) keeps us from touching. It's not completely natural, is it?

    Regarding premarital counseling, from my experience, it doesn't work. Once the marriage ensures, people tend to forget all the crap they learned or heard in counseling. I took mandated premarital counseling (Catholics do that) before I got married the first time and I was only married 11 months. I was with Matt 8 months before we got married and we've been married for more than 11 1/2 years. In February, we'll have been married for 12 years. There has to be some legal roadblocks to marriage, like disallowing it at 18, to avoid people just jumping into the fray and ending up divorced.

    As for the college thing, I can't even begin to address that here. There're so many reasons I feel the way I do, defending it in a comment seems wrong.

    Ultimately, however, my confusion comes from the fact that I wasn't suggesting we should have contractual marriage. I wasn't even defending it. I was saying it has problems and questioning it. In the end, though, it doesn't matter because that's not something our culture will ever see. It's not something that can work or even be entertained on any sort of intellectual level as long as emotion, religion, and marriage to "have a family" rule the issue.

  5. Allow me to say that I'm completely un-surprised and leave it at that. :)

  6. This really wasn't the point of the post, Pamie. Thanks for taking the time to leave me a thoughtful comment, even if it was off topic. Who knew spam comments (leading to websites selling things) were getting so thoughtful?!

  7. I think people might not be “divorcing” but they are ending marriages just the same, unable to settle in to a long-term commitment.

  8. Personally, when you decided to get married you know that it is a lifetime commitment, and you know what are you obligation to your future family. That's why I am not into contractual marriages, why will you do it if you know that it is only temporary??? Think what will the effect to the children. And your right, we should be more stricter in marriage regulations. The legal marriage should be at 25, at least both parties are mature enough to the responsibilities that they will be going through.

  9. The legal marriage should be at 25, at least both parties are mature enough to the responsibilities that they will be going through.