Marriage on the Installment Plan

Marriage on the Installment Plan

The recent conversations about same-sex marriage have got me thinking. Someone on a talk show pointed out that the argument for “traditional marriages” was questionable, since marriage “traditions” of our not so distant past included a man’s obligation to marry his brother’s widow, arranged marriages for financial and political agreements, and a 60 percent divorce rate. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we married for love, and that doesn’t seem to be working out so well. Seems like marriage (whether same-sex, opposite sex, lots of sex, or no sex) may need a little revamping!

As someone who performs weddings, I hear marriage vows all the time. While I have had a couple ask me to take out the faithfulness clause here and there, I never hear this: “I promise to stay with you until you cheat on me. I promise to stay until you stop cleaning house, or gain weight, or lose your job. I promise to stay with you as long as you make a certain amount of money.” Or, the flip side: “I promise to be unkind and nitpick over everything. I promise to try to change you into the person I really want, to alter myself and compromise my values to make you happy, to stop having sex with you. I promise to look to you for my identity and my worth.”

I don’t believe people should hang in there “no matter what.” I’m just saying we’re too quick to get committed or married, and are not honest enough about what we’re really willing (or not) to do. Many enter into agreements without the skills to fulfill them in a healthy way. Rather than not getting married, or not getting divorced, I think we should instead change the marriage agreement to reflect the truth. How about something like this: “I will stay with you as long as our values and actions are in alignment. I will stay with you as long as we are able to treat each other with respect and do not intentionally harm each other. I agree to make you my primary partner and if I have sexual relationships with someone else, I will do my best to protect you from the physical and emotional ramifications of my actions. I also promise not to blame you for my choices.

What if we made the contract of marriage a five- or ten-year renewal process with all the appropriate legal documents in place at the beginning? Rather than divorce attorneys, we would hire marriage attorneys to help us (as they do with business agreements) create a contract that specifies the division or sharing of assets should we opt not to renew. At the time of renewal, we would have to update the agreement to reflect changes like children and property. Then, if one or the other doesn’t renew, there is no need for a lawyer because the contract goes into effect. Wouldn’t this be a more authentic reality than the fantasy we currently call marriage?

My husband accused me of “taking the romance out of it.” My response was, “Maybe it will take the fantasy out of it.” People are currently getting married with the dream of “forever” and are hit with a bitter reality if they get divorced. If we instead faced the harsh reality at the beginning, with legal agreements, those who persevered would truly be romantic and committed.

“Doesn’t that make it awfully easy to get out?” he wondered. It doesn’t. It is not uncommon today for a couple to get married and divorced within a year. If the commitment was for a minimum of five or ten years, with no option for divorce prior to that time, they might think a little harder about the decision initially.

I don’t mean to sound cynical. I love my husband and my 20-plus-year marriage. I love performing weddings. I love that so many people want to create healthy relationships and families. I’m all for marriage. But, too many of us are choosing our partners by “looks good” and “feels good” without finding out if it is good.

What do you think?

Eve Eschner Hogan specializes in relationships and personal and spiritual growth as an author, coach, inspirational speaker, and retreat facilitator. She owns Heart Path Journeys, offering retreats, Heart Path Weddings, and The Sacred Garden, a peace sanctuary, all on the beautiful island of Maui.

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