As a former family mediator and the person who seems to holds the relationship secrets of others, I have often wondered, “Is any married couple happy?” It might sound overly negative, but when you consider our divorce rates (some say nearly 50%, others 1 in 3) you can’t ignore that it isn’t working for so many. As a solution focused Sexologist, I have always been fascinated at what we might be able to do differently.
Last year I reported on the idea of the ten-year marriage contract, which is a document you sign that can be renewed at the ten-year mark and committed to for another length of time. It can also be ended with two people completing a contract instead of failing at a marriage. This was not my idea but one I found from a woman in New York, Emma who is the author of Wealthy Single Mommy. When I have spoken about this previously, I have received criticism and negative comments. However, with the average length of a marriage in Australia for those who get divorced being 12 years and nearly 50% of the population getting divorced, she might be onto something or at least be giving us something to consider.
What’s the point in getting married then? Considering a ten-year contract is not saying the relationship is over after ten years, but it’s recognising that relationships might not be forever these days. It’s giving us a way to communicate more in depth about our own desires and needs. This can also be a way to discuss the possible end of a relationship if that were to occur and give us also a chance to restructure it and the goals as the years go on. Some people don’t want to sign a pre-nup as they feel it’s unromantic, but aren’t you better to make an agreement when you don’t hate each other or have ill feelings just in case? You might never use it but can we continue to enter marriages ignoring what’s out there? A marriage contract to me is a much nicer way of discussing the end than a harsh legal document and also gives a couple more control.
There is a risk when driving a car that you will have an accident and to minimise that we wear seatbelts and have airbags. Is this just not the seatbelt to an unpredictable romantic future? You don’t get into a car planning of having a crash and you don’t get into a marriage planning on getting divorce, but shouldn’t you be more prepared if something were to happen? And having a communication tool might even minimise the chance of an ending as well.
Divorce can be a nasty process and recently I had the pleasure of sitting in the family courts for my latest podcast to witness exactly what goes on. If a marriage ends, wouldn’t it be better to use the seatbelt and put in place your emergency plan instead of paying someone else all your money to fight an endless battle that has no winner and feels like no end? I would rather sign a marriage contract and have a few potentially awkward conversations then end up battling things out in the ugliness of family court.
A contract doesn’t necessarily just have to be about recognising that a marriage could end, rather using this piece of paper to design your own marriage and make your own rules with the person you are entering a marriage with. I see so many people get married these days and revert to the traditional roles of what they think a husband and wife should be and how they think a married couple should live (the should do curse) without thinking about if that’s right for them. We are currently challenging who a marriage should even be between these days, so why not go one step further and challenge how a marriage should work in general too?
To investigate a more romantic marriage contract I also interviewed Diane, a tantric teacher who has been married for 30 years and has a different type of contract with her husband which is revisited every New Year’s Eve. Her contract does not have an end date as such but rather looks at the goals each other has for the relationship, for themselves and for the future year. More like a relationship performance review. You can’t get fired but you have a time to discuss your past achievements and set future goals.
If you get married these days you sign some form of a marriage contract anyway, but it’s something that has been created not with the motivation of romance and intimacy necessarily. Whilst singing one might be important for legal rights, we need to be empowering couples also to use some form of a communicate tool to discuss how their marriage might work, continue to work and what happens if it does end. Don’t see it as unromantic or taking away the point of marriage, just being realistic about the current relationships environment we are living in. There is also a good possibility that recognising a marriage might not always last forever could in turn see you be more present and work harder on yours.
And if it does end, it doesn’t mean you have failed and doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get married again. I’m not sure if I believe all marriages are meant to be forever. I like the idea that it does but I wouldn’t want to be in one that was unhappy just for the sake of the romantic idea of forever. But should we place all the importance on marriage to stay together forever, or to make a more serious and public commitment to someone for however long that might be? Would you rather stay in a marriage that wasn’t working and couldn’t be fixed to say it was successful, or go your separate ways and have a chance at am amiable split and maybe even a friendship and healthy co-parenting relationship? A successful marriage is not necessarily a long one and we need to stop placing so much importance on that. Those who experience a divorce should not feel guilty that they have failed at anything, rather succeeded at something for a certain period of time.
You might not like the idea of a ten-year marriage contract and might not even want to discuss what happens if a marriage ends. But I urge you at least to consider that marriage is a choice and not something we are now expected just to do for economic security and child rearing. If it’s a choice (well unfortunately just for heterosexual couples at the moment) choose to be in the relationship you want to be in, not just one where the rules and expectations are handed down to you. And the way you might want to do that is setting your own goals and rules.
Is the aim these days till death do us part forsaking all others or being happy in a relationship together for as long as we can?
Dr Nikki Goldstein explores why the traditional construct of marriage may not make sense for the modern day in the latest episode of her podcast Sex & Life. Listen to it on Podcast One.